The Greg Roman Effect


Is Roman possibly the real genius behind the Niners’ revamp?  Source:  Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Jacksonville Jaguars are in the market for a new head coach, and with the door open for all candidates, we may as well start the analysis with someone who seems to be a front runner: Greg Roman.

Roman has been an assistant coach to the Carolina Panthers, Houston Texans, and Baltimore Ravens of the NFL as well as with Stanford.  Most recently he has gained a lot of attention for his help in the revamp of the San Francisco 49ers offense when he made the jump back to the NFL with Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh.  Under his and Harbaugh’s tutelage the Niners have gone from a joke in the NFC West to the class of the NFC.  How much of this is to be attributed to Harbaugh and how much to Roman?  We won’t really know until we separate them, but the data is limited as to Roman’s distinct influence as an assistant coach.  He was good enough for Harbaugh to bring with him, and Harbaugh’s word is good enough for me (at least based on his current success).

So, can we separate the data?  Is there a “Greg Roman Effect” to be found?  Let’s take a look at Stanford’s records and statistics pre-Roman, with-Roman, and post-Roman to try and extrapolate.


Harbaugh arrived in Stanford two years before Roman became an assistant coach under him.  Harbaugh inherited a 1-11 program featuring Trent Edwards at quarterback.  To say Stanford was in need of a revamp is an understatement.  So the hard work began under Harbaugh.  In 2007 the Stanford Cardinal went 4-8 with a much more dynamic offensive attack featuring T.C. Ostrander and Tavita Pritchard.  Stanford averaged 40+ passing yards per game (211) and 40+ rushing yards per game (111) better under Harbaugh and OC David Shaw than they did the year before.  Things were starting to come together for Stanford.

2008 featured a dominant running game with Toby Gerhart (Vikings) as the workhorse back.  The passing game regressed to a mere 152 yards per game while the rushing attack jumped up to 199.6 yards per game.  Stanford improved to 5-7.  During these two years Stanford’s offense was essentially the brainchild of Harbaugh and Shaw.

Andrew Luck has been screwing with Jags fans, even before he knew it was possible.  Source: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports


In 2009, Greg Roman was brought on as an assistant coach.  Roman was listed as the tight ends and offensive tackles coach as well as the running game coordinator by Stanford’s website.  2009 brought Andrew Luck and the offense exploded.  The passing attack averaged 209 yards per game and the rushing attack continued to grow to 218 yards per game.  Toby Gerhart’s development continued and the average per carry rose to above five yards per attempt.  Stanford finished the season 8-5 and lost the Sun Bowl 27-31 to Oklahoma.

2010 saw the departure of Gerhart but another stellar performance by the running game. Behind Stephan Taylor, Stanford maintained an average of over five yards per rush and posted 213 rushing yards per game.  Luck drastically improved and the passing average per game rose to 258 yards per game.  The season resulted in a 12-1 record and a 40-12 Orange Bowl victory over Virginia Tech.  During 2010, Roman was promoted to associate head coach/assistant head coach offense as well as retaining his position as coach of the tight ends and offensive tackles.  Shaw moved from offensive coordinator/running backs to offensive coordinator/wide receivers.


After Harbaugh left Stanford for the NFL he didn’t tab his OC to come with him, but rather his assistant head coach, Roman.  From there, the San Francisco 49ers have had a completely overhauled offensive scheme with pretty much the same personnel.  The Niners went 13-3 and made it to the NFC Championship game.  The passing offense was efficient and kept the ball safe, leaving room for Roman’s running game to dominate the league, becoming a top 10 rushing attack.  Harbaugh, an ex-NFL quarterback, brought along Roman who brought with him his running game prowess.

Back at Stanford, the 2011 Cardinal kept the Harbaugh magic going under now-head coach Shaw.  Shaw saw Luck reach higher heights and the passing game soared to 278 yards per game while the running game fell slightly to 210 yards per game.  Stanford finished 11-2 with 41-38 Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma State.  Luck continued to make magic happen and the offense benefitted in both passing and running.

2012 rolls around and sees the Niners continue to dominate.  San Fran finished the regular season at 11-5 and are a major threat in the playoffs.  The Harbaugh/Roman collaboration has generated a top five rushing attack complemented by a more prolific and still ball-secure passing attack.

Meanwhile, Stanford began to regress without Harbaugh, Roman, and Luck.  The passing attack fell to a 200 yard per game average and the rushing attack finally faltered back to sub-200 yard levels (174 yards).  Shaw’s team still went 12-2 and won the Rose Bowl 20-14 over Wisconsin.

I’m just as confused as you, Jim.  Source: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

So, What Did We Just Learn?

Truth be told, we didn’t learn too much.  We learned that Andrew Luck is pretty much the most gifted young quarterback of this generation and has a tremendous effect in both college and the pros.  We also know that the development of Stanford’s program was going (slowly) before the arrival of Luck and Roman.  We saw Roman promoted under Harbaugh to assistant head coach after one season, over OC (and ultimately, new HC) Shaw.  We also saw Harbaugh take Roman with him rather than Shaw and promote him to OC of the Niners.

Is there reason to believe that some of the success comes from Roman?  Yes.  Is it substantial?  No.  Did we just do a preliminary analysis of the past few Stanford seasons with little concrete takeaway?  Yes.

What we do know is that the Jaguars are pretty much the only team talking about Roman as a potential head coaching candidate while other teams are still searching.  We know that San Francisco is considerably better since Harbaugh and Roman came to town.  We just don’t know who is affecting the team more.  Did Harbaugh need Roman more than we thought?  Did Harbaugh just like his approach and didn’t see anything better at the NFL level?  If either are true, then he’s definitely worth trying to get when the playoffs are over.  New GM Dave Caldwell seems to think along those lines after all.

– Luke N. Sims

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