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49ers' Greg Roman: Up through the ranks

He was a 5-foot-8 nose guard from a single-parent, cash-strapped family who earned his first paycheck long before he got his first pair of jeans.

In other words, 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman was different from many of his teammates at John Carroll University. Thanks to academic scholarships, Roman landed at the Division III college due to his intellect. But it was his over-the-top intensity that raised eyebrows.

The pricey, private Catholic school in suburban Cleveland wasn't exactly overpopulated with hardscrabble East Coast kids.

At one point, John Carroll coach Tony DeCarlo placed a call to Dr. Ken Leistner, Roman's tough-love surrogate father in East Rockaway, N.Y. DeCarlo didn't know if there might be a problem. Greg, he explained, wasn't a typical John Carroll kid.

Looking back, DeCarlo says Roman "settled down in a hurry" and became one of his all-time favorite players. For his part, Leistner, a legendary strength coach whose no-nonsense guidance helped shape his surrogate son, laughs at the memory.

"It was like they dropped a New York-New Jersey kid into a relatively genteel atmosphere in the Midwest and a bomb went off," Leistner said. "It was all positive. But it was like &‘Is this guy for real? Is he really 110-miles-an-hour, 24 hours a day?' Well, yeah. He is."

Two decades later, Roman, 38, has smoothed out his rough edges, but his drive and determination haven't diminished. In fact, it's clear the qualities that willed him into becoming a Lilliputian all-conference nose guard have fueled his rise through the NFL coaching ranks.

Sixteen years after breaking in as an unpaid assistant strength and conditioning coach with the expansion Panthers, Roman is in his first season as an NFL offensive coordinator.

And speak to Roman's bosses and colleagues — past and present — and a steady drumbeat explains how the NFC's third-youngest offensive coordinator has gone from there to here.

Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers, his boss in Carolina and Houston, labels Roman a "grinder."

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