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Johnny Roland Named Running Backs Coach


The Green Bay Packers Friday named Johnny Roland running backs coach, GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman announced.

Roland, entering his 34th year in the NFL and 26th as a league coach, is one of the most experienced coaches in pro history. His credentials include:

  • The position coach for the NFL's last two all-time rushing leaders: Walter Payton (Chicago, 1983-87) and Emmitt Smith (Arizona, 2003).
  • Thirteen seasons on the staffs of two of the NFL's all-time winningest coaches: Mike Ditka (Bears assistant coach, 1983-92) and Dick Vermeil (Eagles assistant coach, 1976-78). He also played and coached for one of college football's winningest coaches, Dan Devine, at Missouri (running back, 1963-65), Green Bay (assistant coach, 1974) and Notre Dame (assistant coach, 1975).

Roland was the man behind one of the top rushing units in NFL annals, the 1980s Bears, coaching the top two rushers for the league's oldest franchise. Ditka hired Roland in 1983 to fine-tune Payton, who at the time stood 2,108 yards from Jim Brown's NFL record. Payton broke the mark in 1984, but Roland might be most proud of Payton's successor, Neal Anderson, whom Roland groomed into the Bears' No. 2 all-time rusher. The Bears during Roland's tenure led the league in rushing four times, and finished among the top three in seven of his 11 seasons. From 1984-88, Chicago rushed for 160.9 yards per game, went 62-17 (.785), made the playoffs five straight years and won Super Bowl XX.

Roland also has tutored Jerome Bettis (St. Louis Rams, 1996) and Wilbert Montgomery (Philadelphia, 1977-78). In Montgomery's second NFL season, 1978, he rushed for 1,220 yards, more than all but four players, including Earl Campbell, Payton and Tony Dorsett. Montgomery, who helped lead Philadelphia to Super Bowl XV, remains the Eagles' all-time leading rusher.

In returning to Green Bay, Roland inherits Ahman Green, the NFC's leading rusher in 2003 and second-leading rusher in Packers history. Payton was Green's idol (Green still watches Payton highlight videos before every game). In 2003, Green's 1,883 yards surpassed Payton's career-high, 1,852 in 1977.

His college coach at Missouri, Devine, launched Roland's distinguished coaching career in 1974, when Devine made Roland the Packers' special assignments coach. Devine may have been ahead of his time in hiring Roland, who in addition to scouting college talent and coaching, also developed and coordinated some of the first computer programs used by Packers coaches. Roland is one of seven in Packers history to serve multiple tenures as an assistant coach (also Zeke Bratkowski, John "Red" Cochran, Burt Gustafson, Tom Hearden, Tom Lovat and Bob Schnelker). However, Roland's 30 years between stints is the longest in the group.

This season will mark his 27th in coaching. After his lone year in Green Bay, Roland followed Devine to Notre Dame (1975), then coached on five more NFL staffs: Philadelphia (1976-78), Chicago (1983-92), N.Y. Jets (1993-94), St. Louis Rams (1995-96) and Arizona (1997-2003). He was in private business from 1979-82, until Ditka brought him to Chicago.

Drafted as a halfback in 1965 by both the NFL's St. Louis Cardinals and the AFL's New York Jets, Roland signed with the Cardinals and earned league rookie of the year honors in 1966. All-America in college, he started at both halfback and cornerback, then played eight NFL seasons, seven in St. Louis (where he left as the franchise's leading rusher) and one with the New York Giants. In 103 NFL games, he rushed for 3,750 yards and 28 touchdowns on 1,015 attempts, caught 153 passes for 1,430 yards and six touchdowns, returned 49 punts for 452 yards with two touchdowns, returned 22 kickoffs for 444 yards, and completed five of 13 passes for 130 yards and one score.

Roland lives in Tempe, Ariz., and has two sons, Johnny Jr. and James, and one daughter, Cynnamon.

He officially will begin his Packers duties on Feb. 9. Roland replaces Sylvester Croom, who in December became head coach at Mississippi State, the first African-American head coach in Southeastern Conference history.

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