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San Francisco 49ers: Will Coordinator Greg Roman Replace Gary Kubiak in Houston?

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San Francisco 49ers: Will Coordinator Greg Roman Replace Gary Kubiak in Houston?
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Could Greg Roman return to Houston?

In a relatively inevitable move, Gary Kubiak was fired as head coach of the Houston Texans Friday, after Houston lost to Jacksonville, 27-20.  It’s not an altogether surprising move; the Texans are 2-11, worst in the league, and even though they won the AFC South in the previous two seasons, they underperformed toward the end.

Last season, after starting 11-1, they lost four of their last six games, resulting in their second consecutive exit in the divisional round of the playoffs.  Add in the fact that Kubiak’s contract expired at the end of 2014 anyway, making it relatively inexpensive to fire him, and the writing was on the wall.

The Texans job is still a fairly desirable one—most of their losses have been close, they’ve got the building blocks of a great defense in JJ Watt and Antonio Smith, a fantastic receiver in Andre Johnson, a solid offensive line and likely the ability to take a franchise player of their choosing in the 2014 NFL Draft.  Head coaching candidates will find the job a tempting one.

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Roman has had success with Texans quarterbacks in the past.

One name that came up in the immediate aftermath of the move is San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman.   He’s been mentioned as a potential candidate by ESPN’s John Clayton and NFL.com’s Michael Silver, and he does have significant ties to the Texans, having served first as tight ends coach and later as quarterbacks coach for the franchise from 2002-2005.

He helped guide David Carr, Alex Smith, and Colin Kaepernick to their best seasons as professionals, which bodes well for his odds of working with either Case Keenum or Teddy Bridgewater, depending on which direction Houston chooses to go with their first-round draft pick.

Roman’s been linked to a number of jobs this season, either by official or unofficial sources.  Gambling website Bovada had Roman at 6-to-1 odds to get the then-vacant USC head coaching job, and Josh Katzowitz of CBS has listed him as the eighth-best head coaching candidate out there.  Going to the Super Bowl is going to get your name thrown into those particular hats, and succeeding with multiple quarterbacks tends to have your name gravitate to the tops of those lists.

Stephen Lam/Getty Images
Roman's offense has sputtered without Michael Crabtree in 2013.

Of course, there are several factors working against him, both for this particular job and any job in general.  The 49ers offense has fallen back to Earth quite a bit this season as they’ve dealt with a quarterback still struggling through some early-career issues and an injury-depleted wide receiver corps.  Football Outsiders ranks the 49ers offense as 14th-best in the league after adjusting for the difficult schedule they have faced, and the raw yardage and point totals are among the lowest in the league.  Some voices have even called for Roman to be fired outright, especially if the 49ers miss the playoffs.

In addition, Texans owner Bob McNair has said that he wants his next head coach to be someone with NFL coaching experience, putting the likes of Jon Gruden or Lovie Smith ahead of Roman in the pecking order.  It’s not an unreasonable stance; if you believe that Houston’s real talent is closer to the level they performed at the previous two seasons, and that this season has seen a lot of bad luck and injuries artificially deflate their performance; then you’re not looking for a coach to start a rebuilding project, but one expected to put you in the playoffs immediately.  Roman doesn’t fit that profile; he’s never been a head coach on any level.

All in all, it seems unlikely that he’ll get the nod for this particular job—especially if San Francisco makes the playoffs again, reducing his availability for interviews with Houston.  If San Francisco had put up the same offensive numbers this year as they did last year, that might be a different story, but it doesn’t seem like McNair wants to wait too long to get a hot head coach installed; why else would he start the search now, with three weeks left to go in the regular season?  The timing and situation doesn’t add up for Roman to end up in Houston.

However, that doesn’t mean the end to questions about Roman’s future.  He’ll continue to be a name mentioned for other NFL jobs.  Leslie Frazier may find himself on the outs in Minnesota after their poor season, and Roman’s ability to juggle multiple quarterbacks stands out in clear contrast to what the Vikings have suffered through this year.

Dan Snyder also seems temped to fire Mike and Kyle Shanahan in Washington and could hope that Roman and Robert Griffin III could develop a strong working relationship.  Roman wouldn’t be the splashiest pick there, which would seem to go against Snyder’s sensibilities, but the name would certainly come up.  Tampa Bay and Oakland are two other teams that may think a recent Super Bowl offensive coordinator could spruce up their squads.

Even more likely, perhaps, would be the odds of Roman leaving to head up a college program somewhere.  Roman was a finalist for the Penn State job in 2012, and his success with Jim Harbaugh at Stanford could lead to a team like Florida or West Virginia taking a look at him.  I think his services will at least be requested, whether or not he chooses to take anyone up on the offer.

It’s not time to start looking for a new offensive coordinator for San Francisco yet, but this silly season of the coaching carousel is just getting started.  Who knows where Roman will end up when all is said and done.

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