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Living a Coach’s Dream

Posted Feb 16, 2011

Forgive Greg Roman for occasionally pinching himself. The new 49ers offensive coordinator is living out his dream.

Roman opened up about his longstanding admiration of the 49ers on Wednesday, making his first public comments as the team’s offensive coordinator.

For all the years he thought of defeating the 49ers, the 38-year-old, first time NFL coordinator is now making sure that very same team doesn’t get beat.

“To be a part of this 49ers organization and what it has meant to the NFL over the years is a dream of mine,” Roman said.

“When I first started out in coaching, I would lay in bed at night thinking, ‘How are we going to beat the 49ers?’ Because they were up here,” Roman said motioning his right hand in the air.

“There was a huge standard and mystique, but it all came down to a standard that was set and where 49er football was up here. I’m very, very, very, very excited about being a part of 49er football; it’s a professional dream come true.”

That’s the word “very” being used four times in succession – proof of how much the opportunity means to Roman.

He’s eager to coach the offense, but equally enthused to continue his working relationship with head coach Jim Harbaugh. The two worked side by side at Stanford the past two seasons guiding the Cardinal to a 20-6 record during that stretch.

As much as Roman proved his worth as Stanford’s running game coordinator in 2009 and with an expanded role in 2010 as assistant head coach of the offense, he earned Harbaugh’s approval long before their time in Palo Alto.

Go back to 2001, that’s when Harbaugh and Roman’s relationship was forged. With Harbaugh entering the final year of his career with the Carolina Panthers, he took a liking to the team’s assistant offensive line coach

One day during warm-ups, the veteran quarterback told Roman there would be a spot on his coaching staff for Roman the day he became a head coach.

To which Roman replied, “What?”

Harbaugh made good on his promise, adding Roman to his Stanford staff and once more with the 49ers.

Roman recalled Harbaugh as being “all football.” He remembered how involved Harbaugh was with the details of the game.

“When I first met him, he was always around the facility,” Roman said. “He’d be sitting in the special teams coach’s office on the floor as the special teams coach broke down opponent film. You don’t see guys doing that. I’ve never seen that before or since.”

While Harbaugh has been influential on Roman’s career, the offensive coordinator brings a vast array of knowledge having worked with several NFL teams over the course of his coaching career.

After a seven-year stint with the Panthers that saw him work with multiple position groups, Roman went on join the Houston Texans (2002-05) and Baltimore Ravens (2006-07) coaching staffs where at different points, he coached quarterbacks, tight ends and offensive linemen.

Roman was reunited with Harbaugh in 2009 and from there, the two became close confidants in building the Cardinal offense.

Now that the two are collaborating once more in the NFL, the initial goal has been to get organized fast. Priority one for Roman is to build the offense’s foundation with “breadth” to it.

Roman wants to build the offense around the strengths of his players.

As for who calls the plays, much like how it was at Stanford last season, both will be involved in the process. Roman said he will be in the press box while Harbaugh roams the sideline.

“Jim’s the head coach and however Jim sees things getting done, I will work with that 100-percent, 100 miles an hour,” Roman said. “To get into specifics on that, we have a very good working relationship.”

That relationship yielded impressive results, culminating with a dominant Orange Bowl victory over Virginia Tech this past January. And much like his formula for success in the Pac-10, Roman plans on being flexible with the 49ers personnel.

“The players tell you in practice what they’re good at and it starts to shift one way or the other,” he said. “To just say, here’s the system, here’s what we’re doing… We’ll never do that.”

There’s no timetable as to when Harbaugh, Roman and the offensive coaches will complete their playbook. According to Roman, only bits and pieces of it have been installed in every facet of the game. The rest will have to wait on a number of factors, the resolution of the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement, free agency and the draft being most prominent.

But for now, coaches are preparing as if there will be a regular offseason with contingency plans in place. If there is a lockout forbidding teams to have any contact with players, the coaches will adapt to it and make the best of the situation. Roman said coaches can’t give playbooks out to their players either.

He also pointed out the variances of each individual game plan on a weekly basis as a glimmer of hope should a lockout take place. If players are able to learn a specific game plan in a week’s notice, picking up things in a shortened period is feasible in Roman’s mind.

But nothing is quite ready to be disseminated. It’s too early in the process. Roman and the coaching staff have gone over last year’s game film and have familiarized themselves on the players they’ve inherited.

“We’re too busy dotting ‘I’s’ and crossing ‘T’s,’” he said. “You don’t want to give players information that’s not fully in concrete. We’ll just have to take that as it goes.”

Roman’s current offensive philosophy is rooted in the West Coast offense, a system made famous by late 49ers Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh.

Roman’s offense uses popular terms from the West Coast offense just slightly adjusted. During his time in Carolina, he also worked for former 49ers head coach George Siefert. It was there Roman came into contact with Walsh’s highly sought after installation tapes. Roman watched them repeatedly as well as studied the 49ers playbooks from 1993 and ’94.

“I was very fortunate to be exposed to that,” Roman said.

He hasn’t watched them lately, but now that the 49ers have recovered several of Walsh’s installation videos, Roman hinted at a possible viewing party with himself and the rest of the offensive staff.

“We’re probably going to get some pizzas one night and just start rolling through them,” he said jokingly.

But with so much expectation associated with the 49ers and the West Coast system, Roman doesn’t want to pigeon-hole his unit.

“Our offense will be whatever gives us the best chance to win relative to our personnel, their scheme, their personnel, all those match-ups,” he reiterated. “We’re going to do what gives us the best chance to win.”

In referencing some of the current 49ers throughout his press introduction, Roman sounded eager to work with his new pupils.

“I think there’s a lot of good young talent that we look very forward to getting our hands on,” he said.

With some of his expertise being at the tight end position, Roman has inherited arguably the best at the position in Vernon Davis. Roman’s offense at Stanford was very tight end-friendly and he expects the 49ers offense to utilize Davis’ strengths.

“We love tight ends that can do a lot of things. Vernon has shown he’s got a lot of multi-dimension,” Roman said. “(I’m) really looking forward to talking football with Vernon.”

As much as Roman spoke positive of Davis, he realizes there’s more to be done in the evaluation process. Until he gets to coach the players up, it’s tough to understand individual strengths and weaknesses.

Free agents in particular pose a sticky situation for Roman initially. With quarterback Alex Smith reportedly meeting with Harbaugh during the offseason, Roman and the other coaches have to make important choices as to who will lead their offense.

Roman echoed Harbaugh’s recent positive statements on Smith and said the six-year veteran is strong in certain areas. But added, “We just have to wait and see how it plays out. It’s a pretty fluid situation.”

But make no mistake; Roman’s preparation for this position is not fluid whatsoever. He’s been training to take on an opportunity like the one presented to him in San Francisco.

This just so happened to be his dream destination.

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