Saints running backs respect new RB coach
NEW ORLEANS -- Running back Aaron Stecker didn't know who Johnny Roland was when the Saints hired him from the Green Bay Packers to coach his position. So he got on the Internet, and was wowed.
"I couldn't wait for him to come, because I knew I could learn a lot from a guy who's been around some of the greatest running backs who have ever played," Stecker said. "I was just going to be a sponge and take in all the knowledge and criticism that he had."
Now he and the other running backs are worked to exhaustion with drills focusing on foot movement and hip flexibility. After practice, they're sweat-soaked and noticeably drained.
"Everything is so rapid-fire that you don't get the chance to have a break," Stecker said. "I think that simulates being on the field for a long drive, 12 plays in a row or something."
Roland said, "I told them if they can get through my individual drills, practice is easy."
He spent eight years playing in the NFL, and has coached for 27 years, most of it in the NFL. In addition to the Packers, he has coached the Philadelphia Eagles, Chicago Bears, New York Jets, St. Louis Rams, Arizona Cardinals and Notre Dame.
Perhaps his most notable pupil is Walter Payton.
"Very easy," Roland said. "He was a guy who loved to play football. He loved to practice."
He deflects any credit for Sweetness' success.
"What could I teach him?" Roland asked. "God gave him the ability to run."
Coaching Emmitt Smith, toward the end of the career of football's all-time leading rusher, was just as easy, Roland said. Just like Payton, he wanted to be coached. They wanted any advice Roland had on footwork and pass protection.
"They were not only smart football players, but they were great individuals as well," Roland said. "The class and character of both of those guys are impeccable."
Deuce McAllister says Roland's record inspires respect.
"If you look at some of the running backs he has coached, he's probably coached four Hall of Fame running backs. So his knowledge is vast, and it can only continue to help you get better as a player," McAllister said.
Roland said he left the Packers partly because of worries about job security, since coach Mike Sherman is in the final year of his contract, and partly because the Saints offered him more money.
He replaced Dave Atkins, fired in the offseason because of what coach Jim Haslett deemed a disappointing rushing attack.
Loitering around in the dead moments of practice, Roland's running backs mimic his walk and running style. "But it's all good," Roland said.
He coaches the way he'd have wanted to be coached. Sure, the players can have some fun, but he's still demanding.
"We are on the same page because I did play," Roland said. "Football hasn't changed, all defenses try to do is trick you. There ain't nothing new in ball."
Information from: The Times-Picayune, http://www.timespicayune.com
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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