Tomsula a hit in 49ers’ locker room

George Nikitin/AP PhotoSan Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula smiles during NFL football practice

George Nikitin/AP PhotoSan Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula smiles during NFL football practice

Jim Tomsula is pinned against the wall. Standing in the hallway just across from the red double doors, which lead to the 49ers locker room on the ground floor of Levi's Stadium, the new head coach is surrounded by a semi-circle of reporters. Their recorders, microphones and cameras are raised like fixed bayonets.

Tomsula does't mumble. He doesn't thank Joan in payroll or Raul and the boys downstairs.

Instead, he disarms the group with a joke.

“Want me to hold it for you?” He quips to a reporter who is struggling to hang onto a notebook, a phone and a mic.

Everyone laughs.

The first regular-season game is still three and a half months out, but already Tomsula, who face-planted in his introductory press conference back in mid-January, has come a long way.

On that day in Santa Clara, the newly-appointed head coach, with general manager Trent Baalke and CEO Jed York flanking him on either side, sat on the stage in front of a packed auditorium. Tomsula mumbled his way through the hour-long event, offering one non-sensical answer after another.

Serving as the voice of the organization is one of the central responsibilities of an NFL head coach, and based on that showing, Tomsula didn't sound like he could pass a high school public speaking class — much less command the respect of a locker room.

As the team's offseason program rolls along and training camp approaches, Tomsula is settling into his new role and winning the support of the 49ers veteran leaders.

“He's doing a good job,” Offensive tackle Joe Staley said after last week's organized team activities. “The perception might be that he's like a meathead D-line coach, but he's not at all. He's a very knowledgeable coach and he's very involved. He knows what he's talking about and guys respect him too.”

“I love him, man,” Safety Antoine Bethea said. “[He's] charismatic, man. He's one with the players. So, I think it's going to be a good deal for us. His energy with the players and everything.”

That energy can't be missed on the practice fields.

With his hair slicked back and decked out in the same red and black 49ers jumpsuit that Baalke always sports when the exec drops by the training facility, Tomsula is all about running an up-tempo practice.

“[We're] trying to add pressure to it,” The former defensive line coach said. “So, you have to think in a fast-paced environment, offensively. Defensively, that helps you in these critical times in games — the two-minute stuff. So, everything has to operate at a fast pace.”

Tomsula can't be missed during practice. The coach storms around, barking orders at defensive and offensive players alike. As Tomsula freely admits, the players are the reason that he has ascended to his current post.

“Justin Smith's gotten me a pay raise,” Tomsula said of the recently-retired defensive lineman, who was the stalwart of the unit that he used to oversee. “You know what I mean? Let's not hide the facts. The guy's an unbelievable football player.”

As he embarks upon his first season at the helm, Smith is not the only unbelievable player that Tomsula will have to do without.

Fellow defensive legend Patrick Willis has also called it quits and the franchise's all-time leading rusher Frank Gore is now a member of the Indianapolis Colts. A slew of quality contributors, headlined by the likes of Chris Borland, Mike Iupati and Michael Crabtree, have also left Santa Clara.

While talk about all those departures has dominated the offseason, Tomsula isn't listening to the outside noise.

“I never spoke a word about it,” Tomsula chuckled, when asked if he'd addressed the topic with his team. “I mean, honestly.”

Even if he doesn't acknowledge the chatter, the losses aren't the only challenge that Tomsula will be facing in the upcoming campaign.

Tomsula has been tasked with navigating the nasty NFC West — a division that includes the Seattle Seahawks who reached the Super Bowl a season ago, the Arizona Cardinals who racked up 11 wins and a St. Louis Rams team who is on the rise.

In such an environment, wins won't be easy to come by. While his offseason growth has been encouraging, Tomsula knows that it's ultimately only the win-loss record that matters.

“When you want to point a finger of blame, just point them all at me,” Tomsula said. “I have a comment on the offense, defense, special teams, player engagement. So, if it's on the field and you don't like it, you can just come see on guy.”

If the 49ers don't improve upon the team's 8-8 record from a season ago, there will be plenty of fingers pointed at the rookie head coach.

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