Roland to coach running backs

The Packers named Johnny Roland as running backs coach today. Roland is entering his 34th year in the NFL, including 26th as a coach.<p>

Roland was the position coach for the NFL's last two all-time rushing leaders: Walter Payton (Chicago, 1983-87) and Emmitt Smith (Arizona, 2003). He has spent 13 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 replaces Sylvester Croom, who left at the end of the season to be head coach at Mississippi State.

"I'm excited because I feel like I've finally got a chance to win," Roland said. "I'm tired of getting my head beaten in at my last few stops."

Besides working with Payton and Smith, Roland also tutored Jerome Bettis (St. Louis Rams, 1996) and Wilbert Montgomery (Philadelphia, 1977-78).

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 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.

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.

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.


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