If ticket prices were cheap and the stadium was in Golden Gate Park instead of Santa Where-a, then, sure, we’d be more patient with Jim Tomsula.
If the 49ers were just a novelty instead of a regional source of pride and passion, we’d continue to admire him as the guy who once slept in an old red Cadillac, with his dog and cat and a litter box, to keep his coaching dream alive as a volunteer assistant at Catawba College. We’d smile at his malaprops and appreciate how he addresses media schlubs as “sir” and “ma’am.”
And we’d chuckle right along when he tells his team, as it threatens to lose every game the rest of this season amid uninspired performances and internal dissension: “Guys, it’s like an Italian dining room table. Everybody’s sitting around the table and sometimes it gets heated, dishes get broken, people leave. But everybody’s got to come back to the table to eat. And when it’s all said and done, we’re hugging and kissing and we’re eating good food again.”
Problem is, the tickets happen to be insanely expensive, the drive happens to be absurdly far, and the 49ers, who will be 2-6 after they lose today in St. Louis, happen to be the Bay Area’s reviled scourge and prime candidates if Bravo ever wants a sports reality gossip show. So, no, we cannot have much patience for Jimmy T, not when he’s a direct extension of the CEO and general manager who hired him after dumping the eminently successful Jim Harbaugh — and not when the NFL means Not For Long after it becomes clear that a head coach is underqualified.
He insists he isn’t a puppet for Jed York and Trent Baalke, that he makes his own decisions about personnel and schemes and injured players and when to (hint! hint!) yank a quarterback. If that is truly the case, then Tomsula must be held accountable for at least a good portion of the relentless disarray. And since allowing a surprisingly solid debut — are we sure the Minnesota game actually happened? — to fade into an unwatchable five-loss slide, frustration and chaos have been the underlying moods at 4900 Marie P. DeBartolo Way.
Under Tomsula, the players spend too much time denying locker-room fights and that they’re dating each other’s girlfriends, and spend too little time explaining how they plan on winning games. We knew this wouldn’t be an easy season after an earth-moving coaching change and mass exodus of players, which included quality leaders and cornerstones such as Patrick Willis, Frank Gore and Justin Smith. But with Tomsula preaching unity and cohesion, we at least assumed everyone might get along better than last season.
We were wrong. If anything, the troops have taken advantage of Tomsula’s player-friendly style, including his now-famous post-game trips through the locker room to ask each player, “How’s your body?” Last year, the knock was that Harbaugh was too demanding and burned out the players. This year, the knock is that Tomsula is too soft. Could it be the players in the locker room are the problem — the players acquired and drafted by Baalke, who is supported by York? Then again, the talent and good eggs who do exist aren’t being maximized by Tomsula and his staff. At the season’s halfway mark, there isn’t much evidence that player development is a strong suit of the Tomsula regime. He may have been effective as a defensive line coach, but as a head coach, he’s much too busy with media responsibilities and administrative work to get in the trenches and coach ‘em up. And he seems to know nothing about offensive football, a problem when his offensive coordinator, Geep Chryst, seems to know even less and has allowed Colin Kaepernick to regress at an alarmingly rapid rate.
Thus, chaos reigns in Santa Clara, much centered around Kaepernick, who claims his relationship with his teammates is “great” when he might want to ditch the colorful headphones that seem to block everyone out. Doesn’t that feed the Jay Glazer notion that he’s “on an island,” aloof in his own locker room? The only good news is that no one has been arrested lately, though the weekend is still young. When Tomsula addresses a raging controversy, such as Kaepernick, he tries to soothe the situation, smooth it over.
That doesn’t mean he’s having the least bit of success in fixing it.
“That was one of the things we talk about as a team — communicating, everybody,” he said. “Everybody communicating, not just him, all of us in the communication side of things. If something’s on your mind, there is a way to talk about things and go. But, no I would tell you right now I don’t see an island at all. I see a lot of interaction. I see the guys interacting. I see guys doing those things.”
His sentences tend to be repetitive, as if he’s having a hard time convincing himself much less the media and fans. If a player has a deep-rooted problem with Kaepernick because of, oh, his immaturity on Twitter or his love life, Tomsula won’t solve it by shutting off the house music during practice. But that’s how he claims to have addressed some communication issues. “We had a tough stretch there and you get frustrated,” he said. “What I don’t want is all that pent-up, then we start having boom, boom. So, I wanted to be in front of that before anything comes up in that way. So, communicate and let’s talk. Communication is going to help us get better and guys just working from the football side of it, in the locker room, in the meeting rooms, on the field. One of the things, we were going with the music in every team period. I cut that music out so that we can communicate. The music is off so that we can all communicate instead of just using our hand signals and body language.”
Um, because the music was on, players were communicating via hand signals and body language? What is this, high school?
Then there’s power running back Carlos Hyde, one of the few positives, who won’t play today with the same stress fracture in his left foot that he suffered against the Giants three weeks ago. I’m not certain if the decision to use Hyde against Seattle 10 nights ago was made by Tomsula or Baalke. But it was a bad idea either way. If that wasn’t clear when Hyde told the NFL Network before the Seattle game that he would play with the stress fracture, it was when he had to limp out of that game.
Today, of course, he’s a no-go. Did it occur to Tomsula that he might exacerbate the stress fracture by letting Hyde play through it — and that he might need an operation on the foot? At least Tomsula won’t have to keep apologizing for Jarryd Hayne; the Aussie rugby player was waived Saturday, meaning the 49ers finally are more serious about football than selling jerseys Down Under. Oh, how painful it was to hear Tomsula apologizing for him, every week.
Jimmy T looks lost, misplaced. And until he does something to alter that perception, I will continue to mention that the best NFL head coach who isn’t currently an NFL head coach works a few miles down the road in Palo Alto. When asked recently if he’d be interested in coaching the 49ers, David Shaw laughed it off and said he was happy at Stanford.
He makes $2 million a year on the Farm. York could merely skim the Stadium Builder’s License fund and triple Shaw’s salary. Before hiring Tomsula, Jedster and Baalke were ready to trot with noted offensive mind Adam Gase, who has managed to revive Jay Cutler’s ailing reputation in Chicago this season. When that whim failed, they went with the upbeat line coach who’d only been a full-time head coach once — in Europe nine years ago. They went with the dude who slept in his car and worked on the side as a carpet salesman. It was a charming story for a while.
Now, it only speaks to management’s utter cluelessness.
Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.