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Roland: Joining Packers A 'No-Brainer'


After a quarter-century coaching in the NFL, one can afford to be selective.

And so when Johnny Roland's seven-year tenure as running backs coach of the Arizona Cardinals ended last month, along with head coach Dave McGinnis' termination, he considered walking away from the game.

"Retirement kind of entered my mind, but really just for a fleeting moment," said Roland, who Friday was named the seventh running backs coach in Green Bay Packers history. "I had options. If I had an opportunity to take a job I was going to be selective about who I worked for and the job that I was going to go to.

"I was looking (for coaching positions), but I wasn't actively looking. I was kind of in that nebulous spot of making up my mind. But once I got to Green Bay and was sold on (GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman) and on the rest of the staff it was just a no-brainer."

To say that Roland wasn't actively looking for work would be an understatement.

The same man who coached NFL all-time leading rusher Walter Payton during latter part of his career and who groomed Payton's replacement, Neal Anderson, into Chicago's No. 2 all-time rusher, didn't even formally apply for the Packers position, which was left open by the departure of Sylvester Croom to become the head coach of Mississippi State.

Earlier this week, having already turned down a job with the Cleveland Browns, Roland contacted Packers offensive linebackers coach Larry Beightol -- whom he'd worked with at the New York Jets in 1993-94 -- to put in a good word for a colleague who was in the hunt for a player operations position.

And it was then that Beightol went from O-line coach to recruiting coordinator.

"'Beck' told me, after I got done with my spiel on my recommendation, 'Oh, by the way, I think we have a running back job that's open here. Would you mind if I submit your name to Coach Sherman?'" Roland recounted in a conference call Friday afternoon.

"I said, 'No, I'm not looking for a job, but go ahead and if it works it works and if it doesn't it doesn't.' I got a call from Coach Sherman on Tuesday, I was (in Green Bay to interview) Wednesday and inked the deal on (Thursday). So things happened pretty quickly."

It's almost as if it was meant to be. Roland, 60, began his coaching career in Green Bay 30 years ago when he was a special assignments coach under Dan Devine, who had coached him at Missouri.

Roland said he had no specific duties at the time, but moved back and forth to assist with both the offensive and defensive aspects of the game while he himself learned the coaching ropes.

It didn't take long for Roland to specialize. In 1976 he became the running backs coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. And other than four seasons he spent out of football from 1979-82, it's been his role ever since.

"That's what I played in the league for eight years and that's what I know and that's what I'm good at," Roland said of coaching running backs.

Now Roland inherits a Packers backfield that includes three-time Pro Bowler Ahman Green, plus promising youngsters Najeh Davenport and Tony Fisher.

It's a group Roland says he was excited to be involved with, stating that Green has the ability to be a great running back in the mold of Payton.

"I think he has those qualities," Roland said. "Obviously it all depends on staying healthy and him dedicating himself in his offseason workout program, but obviously you've got to be lucky too.

"(Green) is a workhorse guy and you want to use him and use him a lot, but you don't want to really burn him out either ... Ahman has the greater speed (than Payton), but Walter had great quickness, he had the elusive running style. I think Ahman probably runs with a more physicalness even though Walter had a great physicality about him."

Roland is currently living in Tempe, Ariz. His Packers duties will officially begin February 9.

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