49ers' offense got test run at Holy Spirit High School
When the San Francisco 49ers take the field today in Super Bowl XLVII, they will employ a creative, versatile offense that has been called “revolutionary” by coach Jim Harbaugh.
Some of those revolutionary plays were created by Ventnor native Greg Roman on the practice field at Holy Spirit High School. Roman, the 49ers’ offensive coordinator, spent the 2008 football season serving as a volunteer offensive coordinator for his alma mater.
Now, he calls the plays for a team that is favored to win the NFL’s championship game.
“I know people back home are very excited, and it’s definitely very exciting for me, too,” Roman, a 15-year NFL coaching veteran, said in a recent phone interview from San Francisco. “But my main focus has been getting ready for the game. … I have to be extremely focused and on top of my game. I’ll get to enjoy it if we win.”
Roman revamped the offense for the 49ers earlier this season to take advantage of the talents of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who replaced Alex Smith as the starter. He introduced a version of the “pistol” offense Kaepernick used at the University of Nevada.
Roman started formulating ideas four years ago. When the 2007 NFL season ended, the Ravens fired head coach Brian Billick and many of his assistants, including Roman, who was the team’s assistant offensive line coach. But rather than accept a job with another NFL team, he chose to return to his roots in Atlantic County for a year.
“I was kind of frustrated with the way my last year in Baltimore went,” Roman said. “I was at a place in my career where I wanted to run my own offense, but the opportunities weren’t there on the NFL level at the time, so I decided to go back home for a while and help out at the high school.
“That summer, I visited 14 NFL training camps and tried to pick up a few things from different offenses, then I went to Holy Spirit and had the opportunity to try some of those things out. It was a tremendous experience for me.”
Roman, 40, also enjoyed his time away from the pressure-filled NFL world.
Roman and his wife, Dana, who have three children, rented a house in Egg Harbor Township. In the mornings, Roman would drive his oldest son, Connor, to Ventnor City Elementary School, then head over to his boyhood home to have breakfast with his mother, Carol, and older brother Matthew, who has Down syndrome.
He would spend the rest of the morning and early afternoon doing landscaping for friend Joe McDevitt, of Leprechaun Lawn Care in Ventnor, before heading over to Absecon for Holy Spirit’s practices.
“I had a great time mowing lawns,” Roman said. “I would think about the future and about what I wanted to do with my career. It also allowed me to recharge and relax for a little while.”
One of the yards he mowed belonged to Joe Calvi, who coached in the Ventnor City Little League baseball program and for the Ventnor Pirates of the Atlantic County Junior Football League. Roman jokingly pointed out that Calvi made him the first overall pick in the Ventnor Little League draft when he was 9 years old.
“This is the best of both worlds for me,” Calvi said in a phone interview. “I’ve been a 49ers fan for a hundred years, and now Greg is coaching them in the Super Bowl. He was always an excellent football player. He was an ambitious, tough kid on the field, but also friendly and energetic. I’m not surprised at all that he became a coach, because he always seemed to have that mentality.”
Roman also showed it in high school.
The 1990 Holy Spirit graduate was a starting guard as a junior on a talent-filled Spartans team that also featured quarterback Al Mallen, running back Brian Little, wide receiver Kevin Hallman, tight end Chris Stoll and safety Mark Reardon, who’s now the head football coach at St. Augustine Prep.
In the fall of 1988, the Spartans finished with 10 wins and no losses, winning a South Jersey championship.
“Greg Roman’s my man,” said Little, who lives in Egg Harbor Township and runs the Youth Build program for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Atlantic City. “I’m not surprised he became a coach. He was a very good player, very aggressive, but also very educated in terms of his responsibilities within our offense. But what really impressed me was that although he was a junior, he had just as much energy and motivation for us as seniors. He cared, and we really, really appreciated having him on our team.”
Roman’s coaching career was also taking hold about the same time. Although he grew up as an avid Eagles fan — Carol Roman and her father, John Clary, who is now deceased, had season tickets to the Eagles when the team played at Franklin Field — he spent summers working at the Cincinnati Bengals training camp. Roman’s uncle, Jack, had written coach Paul Brown’s autobiography and got his nephew a job as a “go-fer” for the Bengals.
He got his start in coaching in 1995. After playing football at John Carroll University in Ohio, a friend offered him a job helping out as a strength and conditioning/defensive quality-control coach with the expansion Carolina Panthers. That was followed by stints with Houston (tight ends, quarterbacks) from 2002 to 2005, Baltimore (offensive line) in 2006 and 2007 and Stanford (running-game coordinator, associate head coach) from 2009 to 2011 before following Harbaugh to San Francisco last season.
Now, he is regarded as one of the top candidates to become a head coach in the NFL or at a major college program within the next year or two. But his main priority is helping the Niners win a Super Bowl championship today.
Several members of Roman’s family will be among the sellout crowd at the New Orleans Superdome.
His rooting section will include his mother, brother and his aunt and uncle, Pat and Jack Clary.
“It’s very, very exciting,” Carol Roman said in a recent phone interview. “I grew up as an Eagles fan (in Atlantic City), but I’m definitely a 49ers fan now because of Greg.”
Carol Roman, an Atlantic City native, has been to the Super Bowl more often than her son. In the 2003 season, when Greg Roman was an assistant coach with the Houston Texans, he secured tickets to that season’s Super Bowl at Houston’s Reliant Stadium.
Carol Roman and Greg Roman’s wife went to the game and watched New England beat Carolina, 32-29. Greg Roman stayed home and took care of his then-infant son, Connor.
“He told us, ‘I don’t want to go to the Super Bowl until I’m coaching in one,’ ” Carol Roman said. “And now, he finally has his chance.”
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