What Roman needs to be head-coaching timber

Here is my Monday column on Greg Roman.

We’re in a football lull right now, but the 49ers are always in season.

So, let’s dissect their most recent move, signing their promising offensive coordinator, Greg Roman, to a two-year extension through 2015.

Roman is a good offensive coordinator. From 2011 to 2012, the 49ers’ offense ranked third in rushing yards and ninth in points per game.

Jim Harbaugh thinks Roman is great. This offseason he told Yahoo! Sports, “He’s basically revolutionized offense as we know it.” Move over, Bill Walsh and Sid Gillman and Mike Shanahan, because Harbaugh says Roman already has surpassed you.

Roman has expressed interest in being a head coach, but he’s not one yet. Most media members believe an NFL team will hire Roman to be their head coach sooner than 2015. Some insiders expected Roman to become a head coach this past offseason.

Eight teams had head-coaching vacancies, but none hired Roman. He was available for head-coaching interviews during the 49ers’ playoff bye week, but none of those eight teams interviewed him. After the bye week, NFL rules prohibited teams from interviewing Roman until the 49ers lost in the playoffs, which happened in the Super Bowl, and no team wanted to wait around that long to hire a head coach. That’s what he claims.

“It’s a little bit of irony,” Roman told Yahoo! Sports, “the more you win the less chance you have of getting those jobs.”

Is he correct?

Here are nine coordinators who were hired to be head coaches right after they went to the Super Bowl: Mike Shanahan, Bill Belichick, Norv Turner, Romeo Crennell, Ray Rhodes, Dave Wannstedt, Buddy Ryan, Ted Marchibroda and Bill Arnsparger.

If you’re good enough, teams will wait for you.

Apparently Roman is not yet good enough, nor is he a student of history.

What performance-based issues could NFL teams have that made them wait and see on Roman?

Here are five.

1. He’s a running-game coordinator. The 49ers generously call Roman their offensive coordinator, but he’s really their running game coordinator. He draws up the running plays and game-plans the rushing attack every week. John Morton, the wide receivers coach, is the passing game coordinator. He draws up and game-plans the passing plays. And quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst is the red zone coordinator. He draws up and game-plans the offensive plays in the red zone.

Roman has little pedigree in the passing game. He was the running game coordinator at Stanford, and before that he was the assistant offensive line coach for the Ravens. As an offensive thinker, his horizon currently ends at the line of scrimmage. He’s still learning to see the whole field.

2. Play calling. He has not developed a go-to play the 49ers can execute perfectly, even if the opposing defense suspects it is coming. Roman’s go-to play always is a trick play. He had four chances to score a touchdown inside the 10-yard line with the Super Bowl on the line, and the best play he called was a quarterback draw, a tricky play the 49ers had run a few times all season. When Bill Walsh had to call a play to win Super Bowl XXIII against the Bengals, he called a slant to John Taylor, a play the 49ers had run hundreds of times and could run in their sleep.

Roman needs to become a more responsible and prudent play-caller. He threw away a road game against the Rams last season when he called a left-handed triple-option pitch to Ted Ginn Jr. with 3:11 left in the game and the 49ers backed up on their own 17. Of course, the pitch flew way over Ginn’s head. The Rams recovered it and returned it for a touchdown. They tied the game one play later on a successful two-point conversion, and eventually won the game in overtime.

In that situation, an offensive coordinator never should call a left-handed triple-option pitch. It’s way too dangerous. The prudent thing would have been to run Frank Gore up the middle or throw it to Michael Crabtree on a short route.

3. Personnel use. Roman takes what the defense gives him, a repudiation of Walsh’s philosophy. Walsh took what he wanted, never had a problem getting the ball to Jerry Rice who was consistently double-teamed. But Roman has been unable to consistently get the ball to the best tight end in football, Vernon Davis. Roman has used Davis mostly as a decoy to get other receivers open. Teams that invest a lot of money in an offensive skill player usually want a head coach who has a plan to get the ball to him, even when the defense tries to take him away. Otherwise, the team is wasting its money on that player.

4. Coaching/preparation. Roman has a gigantic playbook and the most complex rushing attack in the NFL, but his offense lacks polish. His plays take forever to get snapped because they usually involve a huddle, a check and at least one motion. So, the 49ers burn timeouts and get flagged for delays almost every game. On Roman’s quarterback draw call near the end zone with the Super Bowl on the line, the offense practically walked from the huddle to the line of scrimmage with just 15 seconds left on the play clock. After Colin Kaepernick sent Delanie Walker in motion and yelled out a signal to the offensive line, the play clock was down to 1 and Jim Harbaugh had to call time out.

Greg Roman can’t just coach a lot of plays. He has to coach situational football. If he wanted to call that draw with the Super Bowl on the line, he should have practiced it every day for the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl until the offense could run the play perfectly. Otherwise, call something else.

One more thing. The 49ers’ offense was penalized for an illegal formation penalty on the first play of the Super Bowl – Michael Crabtree lined up on the line of scrimmage instead of a step behind it. This nullified a 20-yard completion to Vernon Davis. This was the first time in Super Bowl history an offense’s first play was an illegal formation penalty. So, Roman made history. The first play of the Super Bowl is the play an offense is supposed to practice dozens of times for two weeks. A coach cannot let his players get this play wrong.

5. Leadership. Roman is the opposite of Harbaugh. Harbaugh is a charismatic former NFL player. Roman is a relatively quiet football academic. He does not have Harbaugh’s charisma, and he seems content to exist in Harbaugh’s shadow.

A good head coach must be more than just a good tactician. A good head coach is a leader. Roman has to show he has those qualities. There have been plenty of good coordinators who have failed as head coaches – Dick LeBeau, Dom Capers, Norv Turner, Mike Nolan, etc.

Roman must improve his leadership qualities and eliminate his weaknesses if he wants to become an NFL head coach. Then the league will take notice no matter what time of year it is.

Grant Cohn writes two sports columns per week for the Press Democrat’s website. He also writes the “Inside the 49ers” blog. Follow him on Twitter @grantcohn.

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