As you know, I’m not one of Jim Tomsula’s biggest fans. All season long as I’ve commented on the 49ers and his role in their utter collapse, I’ve put “head coach” in quotation marks to indicate my disdain for his ability. I was horrified that the Niners — in a fit of ego pique on the parts of GM Trent Baalke and owner Jed York — fired Jim Harbaugh at the end of last season in one of the worst coaching moves by any team in my NFL memory (which extends back more than 50 years).
But now that the end of the season is upon us with the Niners playing their last game tomorrow, I’m loath to join the chorus of Johnny-come-latelys who have decided it’s time to dump the coach. Nope, after watching the Niners implode for the last 17 weeks, I’ve concluded that changing coaches right now isn’t the smartest move the team could make.
Instead, the Niners should fire Baalke. (I’d be advocating for York to go, too, but all those silly voices clamoring for that are apparently unfamiliar with the basic concept of “ownership”. You can’t force York to sell the team he owns. So why spend energy trying to make that happen?
So why don’t I still want Tomsula gone? Here are my main trains of thought:
Talent. The team overall talent level can only go up from here. Between injuries, early retirements, dumb trades and other weird happenings throughout the just-ending season, this is one of the thinnest Niners rosters in history. The good news is this gives the team great draft positioning. Properly utilized, the 2015 draft class could form the basis for a strong rebuilding process that won’t take many seasons to accomplish. Since talent isn’t and never was in Tomsula’s purview, we can hardly dock him for the problem.
Seasoning. Tomsula now has one very tough year as an NFL head coach under his belt. I can see some signs that he’s learning and growing into the job. He’s another season or two from respectability, probably, but the players — to a man as far as I can tell — love and respect him. If he manages to give his assistants and coordinators more leeway in guiding the team, particularly on offense, and plays the role of inspiration and steady hand at the tiller, he could be more of an asset than bringing in yet another new head coach. The non-verbals would also be powerful.
Fairness. This isn’t an angle I expect is very popular among Niners’ fans, or in management for that matter. But it’s going to count for something as this team staggers forward in the process of rebuilding over the next 2-3 seasons. If the 49ers fire Tomsula now, more veterans and second-tier guys are going to start listening for the footsteps in the dark, considering early retirement, and engaging in other behaviors pursued by folks who feel uncertain in their jobs. That won’t be helpful.
49ers General Manager Trent Baalke. Time to go.
Firing Baalke, on the other hand, will send the current and immediate future players a clear message that management recognizes the awful mistakes — in drafts, in handling coaching changes, in dealing with the press, in motivating players, and in so many other ways — Baalke has made. He’s really a pretty mediocre GM as those jobs go in the NFL. From that position, a guy ought to be able to play a highly inspirational, motivational role for owners, players and fans alike. When’s the last time Baalke inspired in you anything but discouragement or boredom? Thought so.
So I’m changing my tune vis a vis the 49ers Head Coach (no quotation marks…for now). Let’s give a rebuilding team some continuity of leadership with a players’ coach, get rid of the nimrod who’s been calling too many shots wrong for too long, and take a deep breath. In two, three maybe four years, we’ll have a powerhouse on our hands again.
Or at least a respectable team.