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The Coaching Connoisseur

Posted Aug 4, 2011

It doesn’t take much to make Greg Roman content. Give the 49ers offensive coordinator family, football, some quality reading material and he’s pretty much set. But don’t be mistaken about Roman’s passion for football. The experienced NFL position coach and connoisseur of coaching techniques, is pleased to apply all his knowledge in what will be his first play-calling gig in the professional ranks. He’s also eager to work with his new family and football team, the San Francisco 49ers.
Click here to watch Roman's interview.

WHEN HE’S not working on the practice fields at 49ers headquarters in Santa Clara, offensive coordinator Greg Roman enjoys family life away from work. Truthfully, wife Dana, 1-year-old daughter Emily Grace and his two boys Connor and Gregory are never too far from his mind. Such is life for all NFL coaches currently caught up with the rigors of training camp. But that doesn’t mean Roman’s not thinking about teaching his boys how to turn a double-play in the backyard, or that he’s not thinking of spending quality time with his wife and baby girl. For now, Roman has to put together the 49ers offense in a hurry. Games start soon and he and his players are just getting to know each other.

Fortunately, the quick turnaround happens to suit Roman’s teaching methods. In his words, “My coaching style is, ‘Get it done.’” The versatile coach, who enters his 14th season in the NFL, has to get his players prepped in a hurry and will do so with careful thought. “It all starts with getting the job done – we want to play smart,” says the coordinator, who comes to the 49ers after two years on Jim Harbaugh’s Stanford staff. “We want to think our way through a game. We don’t want to be blind dogs in a meat house. We want to play the game with passion; we want to win every play.”

WINNING STARTED for Roman at a young age. The 38-year-old New Jersey native, who ran around his backyard bashing into trees with his Philadelphia Eagles helmet, quickly became a star player. Roman attended John Carroll University from 1990-93, where he would start two seasons on the defensive line. There, he would play alongside Washington Redskins linebacker London Fletcher and further develop his passion for football. “I had the football bug,” says Roman. “I was obsessed with it.”

Playing didn’t last forever, but Roman was intent to stay around the game he loved. Roman’s first exposure to the NFL took place at a young age when he helped legendary coach Paul Brown in various capacities at the Cincinnati Bengals’ training camp. “He made such an impact on me, so much so, I read about him and what an innovator he was, I started reading about other coaches and it became a hobby of mine,” shares Roman. “I started collecting books at a young age; I was always interested in it. But I’d say my time around Brown was profound enough that here I am in today in the profession.”

“THE CALL,” as coaches like to call it came in 1995 when the Carolina Panthers were founded. Roman received a phone call from a coach with the Panthers staff looking for his help. Roman jumped at the opportunity and became the team’s conditioning assistant/defensive quality control coach. “I looked at like getting my PhD in football from NFL coaches that have been doing it forever,” Roman says. “I’ve been very lucky over the years to have been around a tremendous crop of coaches who I’ve learned so much from.”

Many of those coaches were directly tied to his years in Carolina. There, he assisted Vic Fangio and Dom Capers on the defensive side of the ball. He also met Jim Harbaugh there for the first time as a player in 2001 and he worked for former 49ers Coach George Seifert. In total, Roman worked with practically every position group on both sides of the ball while in Carolina. His willingness to help out wherever needed caught the eye of Seifert, a two-time Super Bowl winner. “He was certainly one of the bright, young coaches that I’ve had a chance to work with over the course of my career,” says Seifert.

The former John Carroll defensive lineman thought he had a grasp of defense when he got to Carolina, but quickly realized he had to gain a deeper level of understanding. But when Dom Capers moved on to coach the Houston Texans in 2002, Roman followed and was moved to offensive side of the ball where he coached tight ends and quarterbacks over the course of four seasons. “The best thing that ever happened to me,” recalls Roman, who has never gone back to coaching defense since.

NOT CONSIDERED to be much of a golfer, Roman brags he’s beaten Fangio, the golf-enthusiast only once. Though golf isn’t his strong suit, Roman considers his diverse background in the game of football to be his biggest strength as a coach. “Having the understanding of how a defense looks at offense, how they defend it,” says Roman, “It’s always been a good club in my bag so to speak.”

Not only did his time in Houston give him an affinity for offensive football, it allowed him to find his favorite position, the tight end. “It’s a bridge between the running game and the passing game,” says Roman. “They’re involved with every aspect of the offense.” And so is Roman to this day. Following his tenure in Houston, Roman coached offensive linemen for the Baltimore Ravens in 2006 and then went on to serve as the run game coordinator at the University of Stanford, led by one of his old friends, Jim Harbaugh. Roman recalls his boss being a throwback player, or as he called it, “a down in the dirt type of player.” Roman appreciated Harbaugh’s tenacity as well as his undying quest for knowledge. There were times Roman would see Harbaugh lying on the floor in a coach’s office, watching special teams film and he was merely a quarterback on the Panthers roster.

Harbaugh always wanted to know more and so did Roman. Though he was out of football for one season following his stint in Baltimore, Roman wanted to be a coordinator. He had never coached in college, but after receiving a call from Harbaugh, Roman joined Harbaugh’s Stanford staff. “I decided to take a walk on the wild side and do something different,” says Roman. “It gave me the opportunity to be a play-caller and test all the theories I had developed all these years.”

WALKING ON the wild side paid off for Roman. In his first year, he served as the running game coordinator and added the tile of assistant head coach the following year. In total, Stanford’s offense enjoyed a meteoric rise under Roman’s watch. During his time in college, Stanford went 20-6 and allowed 13 sacks on offense. But once Harbaugh took the 49ers head coaching job, Roman was right there behind him. “The decision to join the 49ers and Coach Harbaugh was an easy decision for me,” says Roman. “We had spent the past two years at Stanford, refining how we worked the offense. We took logical and natural steps offensively so I looked at it as a natural progression.”

The relationship Harbaugh and Roman share has much to do with their like-mindedness. “I think Jim is going to do what he has to do to win, maybe think outside the box a little bit if need be,” says Roman. Some of those ideas will evolve off the team’s use of the West Coast offense. The 49ers coordinator understands that fans will expect the type of plays used in the glory days of the 49ers, but wants to let them know the offense is more than just the concepts developed by legendary 49ers Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh. “I’d say the West Coast offense has taken on a huge identity,” says Roman, who thoroughly enjoyed spending time in the offseason watching cutups of Walsh’s old installation meetings. “It’s kind of like Wal-Mart. It’s all over the place. It was developed first and refined over the years by Bill Walsh and he was able to really take it to its peak here with the 49ers.”

WITH THE 49ers, Roman has already proven to be a hands-on coach. Along with tight ends coach Reggie Davis, Roman spends a lot of time working with his favorite position group. “We have really good tight ends here that we look forward to getting involved in our system,” says Roman. “Our tight ends will have a lot to get their teeth sunk into.” Good thing the players are already taking copious notes. Roman recently joked that Vernon Davis’ playbook had so many notes that it looked like a copy of War and Peace.

Roman knows the more his players can consume early, the better the 49ers will be. “The more well-rounded players you have,” says Roman, “The harder you are to defend. We want to be a balanced offense, able to run the ball and throw it.” The tight ends will play a big part in that. But for now, they’ll go through Roman and Davis’ position drills with “mind-numbing repetition.”

“We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us to get that foundation built,” says Roman. “You might see some things you haven’t seen before and you might see some things you have. But whatever we do, it’s going to be whatever it takes us to win the big picture.”And surely, former colleagues like Seifert will keep a close eye on what the 49ers offense accomplishes this season. “He’s obviously hard-working and has a real insight into offensive football,” says Seifert of Roman. “I look forward to his tactics and some great play here in the future.”

But for now, Roman will enjoy the simple life. That’s all he ever wanted anyway. “My life is pretty simple,” he says. “It’s my family and my team. That’s all I have time for and all I want time for.”

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