The 49ers should know by the end of the week whether they need to find their 10th offensive coordinator in 10 years for the 2012 season. Greg Roman, the team's main play caller this season, interviewed in November for the head coaching job at Penn State and is on the school's "short list" of candidates, Roman's agent confirmed Monday. News of Penn State's interest in Roman first was reported by Tom Dienhart of the Big Ten Network.
Roman also in November interviewed for, but ultimately turned down, the head-coaching job at Tulane University. The school last month announced it had hired Saints wide receivers coach Curtis Johnson for the position. Jim Harbaugh brought several assistants, including Roman, with him from Stanford when he was hired by the 49ers a year ago. Harbaugh and team officials have been aware of and have encouraged Roman's interviews, Roman's agent, Mike Harrison, said.
Penn State fired Joe Paterno, the school's football coach for the last 46 years, on Nov. 9 amid sex-abuse allegations against a former assistant coach. Penn State is expected to make a decision on Paterno's replacement in the next week.
ESPN and USA Today reported Monday that the top candidate is another NFL offensive coordinator, New England's Bill O'Brien, and that the two sides currently are working on terms of a contract. Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Munchak and Green Bay Packers quarterbacks coach Tom Clements also have been reported as candidates for the job.
Roman's San Francisco offense finished 26th in total yards this season. However, he's added creativity to the run-first attack that was missing in previous years, and quarterback Alex Smith - who appears to be a lock to return next season -- has had the best season of his seven-year career.
The 49ers also took better care of the football than any team in 2011. The offense committed only five interceptions and five fumbles, down from 23 turnovers a year ago. The 10 turnovers in the regular season also tied an NFL record for fewest turnovers dating back to 1941.
The offensive coordinator position has been a revolving door for the 49ers over the last decade. Smith has had a different coordinator every season he's been with the 49ers. In Harbaugh, however, Smith for the first time has a head coach with an offensive background, which would add a degree of continuity if Roman were to depart.
Harbaugh was not asked to comment on Roman's candidacy on Monday. In November - about the time that Roman was interviewing with Penn State - Harbaugh said that all three of his coordinators, Roman, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and special teams coordinator Brad Seely, deserved consideration as head coaches.
"I've been around a lot of coaches, seen a lot of coaches, both as a player and as assistant coach and as a head coach," Harbaugh said at the time. "There's no doubt in my mind those are three great coaches."
While the offensive coordinator may be different next year, the quarterback promises to be the same. Harbaugh reiterated his stance that Smith, who signed a one-year deal in July, is his quarterback for the future, and he said he's told Smith as much.
"I told Alex, 'Hey, we're going to want you to come back here next year,'" Harbaugh said. "He's focused on the season, and that's where his mindset wants to be. And I totally respect that, and we'll talk about it and address it once the season is over. That's the way I understand it right now."
-- Matt Barrows