Looking at this past season, it’s not hard to see why the 49ers decided to part ways with former head coach, Jim Harbaugh. It was a season filled with front office tension, underperforming players, and lots of delay of game penalties.
But many who follow football are puzzled by Harbaugh’s dismissal considering his previous work with the 49ers before. His first season in 2011, he took a team which had previously finished 6-10 and had not made the playoffs since 2003 to the NFC championship. The next year the 49ers finished 11-4-1 and made it to the Super Bowl. The following year the 49ers finished 12-4 and made it to the NFC championship again. Jim Harbaugh was the only head coach in NFL history to make it to three straight NFC championships in his first three years.
The 2014 season was a completely different story. The 49ers finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs for the first time in Harbaugh’s tenure. The offense was 25th in points scored, 20th in total yards, and 30th in passing yards. The offensive line was often injured and depleted and quarterback Colin Kaepernick had a down year in stats with more interceptions, less rush yards and pass yards per attempt. The 49ers also had a reported eleven coaches working the offensive playbook, so the system was far too complicated for the players to adjust to. At the end of the year the 49ers parted ways with Jim Harbaugh and promoted defensive line coach Jim Tomsula to head coach.
Jim Tomsula has huge shoes to fill, and his promotion has generally been looked at as totally safe and uninspired. Tomsula has served as the 49ers defensive line coach since 2007, and was interim head coach for one game in 2010. He was also on the coaching staffs of several European football teams.
The first thing Tomsula wanted to make clear was that he is not Jim Harbaugh. He repeated that in his first press conference. His only head coaching experience came in 2006 as the head coach of the Reign Fire in Germany. He also said that he prefers a “streamlined” staff, in contrast to Harbaugh. The 49ers ended up firing nearly everyone on their coaching staff and are now in the process of putting it back together.
While it’s easy to look at Tomsula’s promotion as too conservative and the revamping of the entire coaching staff as too radical, one thing that’s important to note is the players’ opinions.
Having been with the organization since 2007, Tomsula is someone the players know very well. Additionally, Tomsula reportedly has the whole support of the 49ers players, something Harbaugh allegedly lost during his final year as head coach. He has been with the organization and he knows the players and team schematics. Tomsula’s promotion could also entice veteran pro-bowler Justin Smith to return for one more year. Smith played defensive end on the defensive line, the unit Tomsula coached before his promotion.
As with any coaching hire, there will always be lots of speculation as to whether it was the right decision or not. So while many fans are deriding this choice and seemingly giving up on the following season, it might be worthwhile to remain hopeful and see how the season turns out.