San Fran finds its offensive man in Roman

San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman, right,

San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman, right, talks with tight end Vernon Davis during practice. (Jan. 5, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

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SAN FRANCISCO -- When Greg Roman came to the lectern in the tent-like facility at Santa Clara that the San Francisco 49ers use for media interviews, he noticed a plastic bottle of water next to the microphone.

He reached for it, halted and then, with a smirk, asked, "Vic didn't drink from this, did he?''

Roman, the offensive coordinator, was referring to the man who preceded him by seconds, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. Can't trust those defensive guys.

Roman and Fangio came together, if not as a package, from Jim Harbaugh's staff at Stanford after Harbaugh left the university to be the 49ers' head coach this season. Before that, Roman and Fangio were on the Baltimore Ravens, working with John Harbaugh. Jim managed to haul both to the Pacific Coast, if a year apart: Roman in 2009, Fangio in 2010.

Where the 39-year-old Roman, a onetime linebacker at John Carroll University in Ohio, goes next is the question.

Harbaugh certainly would prefer to keep him.

"This is a Greg Roman offense,'' Harbaugh said of the plays that helped San Francisco arrive at tonight's NFC Championship Game against the Giants.

Maybe not too much longer, though. Roman was a finalist for the just-filled head-coaching position at Penn State. A year ago, he was considered by Tulane. Now there is talk about the Indianapolis Colts.

Asked how close he was to being hired by Penn State, Roman said, "I don't really know how close. I love where I'm at, and I'm really looking forward to this game.''

Run or pass, Roman is the man. At Stanford in 2009, he developed an offense in which Toby Gerhart ran for 1,871 yards and finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting. A year later -- same place, different player -- Roman worked with Andrew Luck, who passed for 3,338 yards and finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting. Who knows, maybe the two will reunite with the Colts.

Now Roman's runner is Frank Gore and his passer is Alex Smith, although in a clever play call late in the divisional playoff round against New Orleans, Roman turned Smith into a runner. The quarterback swept 28 yards around left end for a touchdown.

Roman is Smith's seventh offensive coordinator in seven seasons. Roman and Harbaugh said they ignored what had been said and written about Smith as a bust and judged what they saw in practice. The change has been remarkable.

"A lot of what we do during the game is aimed to deceive,'' Roman said, "so a lot of what [Smith] says at the line of scrimmage is more, you know, there's not really much going on there. It's making people think we're doing something when we're not. But there are times when we do that when we really are doing something. So Alex is the kind of guy who can handle both. He does a really good job at it.''

Roman has done a good job even though, until this year, he never had the title of coordinator at any level. At Stanford he was listed as "associate head coach/assistant head coach offense/tight ends/offensive tackles.''

"Multi-tasking is nothing new to me,'' he said. "I love it.''

He calls himself a "big highlighter guy.'' He prepares various plays and uses a yellow marker to highlight certain ones for specific reasons, such as the probability that tonight's game will be played in the rain.

"I haven't seen a lot of people who have had success against the Giants recently, going back to the Green Bay and Atlanta playoff games,'' Roman said.

"You have to be ready for anything. I call the plays, but if somebody's got something better, I'm going with that. The way we do things, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts . . . I know one thing: We're going to need a lot of those good calls against the Giants."

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