For the second straight year, the San Francisco 49ers will enter the offseason in search of a new head coach, as the franchise officially relieved Jim Tomsula of head coaching duties Sunday night.
The team announced the move following Tomsula’s fifth-career win over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday night, after the team exited a disappointing season with one final overtime victory at Levi’s Stadium.
The win handed Tomsula a 5-11 record for the season, the worst 49ers finish since Mike Nolan’s 49ers finished with the same record in 2007.
In an official statement issued by the team, CEO Jed York praised Tomsula for his work both on and off the field this year.
“Jimmy has been a valuable member of the 49ers organization for the last nine years. We all know he is a man of high character, and his contributions on the field and in the community have always been greatly appreciated. This entire organization is proud and grateful to have worked so closely alongside Jimmy. We all wish him and his family great success in the future.”
Following Sunday’s game, many 49ers players showed solidarity for the now departed head coach, praising him as both a good person and coach.
Leader of the defense, NaVorro Bowman, championed the defensive-minded coach:
“I love him. He’s been with me my whole career like I said and we won the last game. The way things have been going for the team to come out and play like we did today, I think it says a lot about his direction throughout this process. As the season has been going up and down, the players have responded to how he has coached throughout the week. The evidence we got was today.”
Likewise, quarterback Blaine Gabbert — who was afforded the chance to reassert himself as an NFL starter due in large part to Tomsula — echoed Bowman’s sentiments.
“He’s a fiery coach. Provides the energy and enthusiasm on a daily basis that the players thrive off of. The competitive nature that he instills in us that we try and take to the football field. It’s been a lot of fun to play for, and I’m just thankful that he gave me the opportunity to start for the 49ers.”
Tomsula wouldn’t speculate on the rumors that he would be dismissed prior to the 49ers official announcement. And although he diverted most attempts to broach the subject, he was very candid when asked whether he thought he deserved a second year at the helm of the 49ers.
“Well, you’re a coach. You always think that. How you think about that and those things, that’s irrelevant.”
Tomsula also went to bat for a coaching staff that has failed to overcome the roster struggles the team faced heading into the season, stating:
“I really believe in this coaching staff, the guys that are here. They are very good people. Again, when you go through tough seasons, which we all do or have if you’ve coach in this thing, what happens is you start getting one-offs and spinoffs. The season pulls at you. What we see all the time in the media is the breaks in the dam. There are no breaks in that dam, whether it be players or coaches.”
Despite facing an admittedly challenging task in heading a depleted 49ers team, Tomsula largely failed to impress in his first long-term stint as an NFL head coach.
The 49ers lost a trove of talent in 2015: right tackle Anthony Davis, defensive end Justin Smith, linebacker Patrick Willis, punter Andy Lee, linebacker Chris Borland, wide receiver Michael Crabtree, guard Mike Iupati, cornerback Chris Culliver, running back Frank Gore and linebacker Aldon Smith.
Those were just the starters, with even more rotational and special teams players leaving.
Under Tomsula’s watch, and with the departures, the 49ers plummeted to the depths of the NFL in both offensive and defensive statistics. Tomsula also came under fire for the seemingly conservative approach to his play calling in tight games and on third-downs.
It is not known which of Tomsula’s staff will be given their walking papers as well, but it stands to reason that offensive coordinator Geep Chryst will most likely be replaced after an unimaginative and stagnant 49ers offense failed to fool many of the league’s defenses.
With the recent vacancies in coaching across the league, it appears as if the lackluster season was enough to force CEO Jed York’s hand, as the franchise will test the market for the team’s 20th coach, and third in the last three seasons.
Names that have been linked to the 49ers have included former Philadelphia Eagles head coach, Chip Kelly, former Super Bowl champion Mike Holmgren, and even the possibility of Saints head coach Sean Payton, who is expected to be released from the team at the conclusion of the season.
There’s also 49ers tight ends coach Tony Sparano, the only member of San Francisco’s faculty with prior experience, and who stepped in for the Raiders after the team fired Dennis Allen in 2014.
According to Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer, a possible snare in the 49ers future coaching search will be general manager Trent Baalke, who will remain with the 49ers front office for at least one more season.
Baalke’s reported disconnect with his last successful head coach, Jim Harbaugh, and his insistence on handling the majority of the team’s drafting and roster building may be a deterrent to a majority of prospective candidates.
It didn’t take long for Harbaugh to send a clear message to the 49ers front office via Twitter.
Do not be deceived. You will reap what you sow.
— Coach Harbaugh (@CoachJim4UM) January 4, 2016
Perhaps the most important aspect of the 49ers future head coaching search is their ability to secure a candidate who will command a top-rate coordinator staff.
The 49ers were left short with viable coordinators after the appointment of Tomsula, partially do the their inability to entice upper-echelon coordinators to work under the newly appointed head coach.
Should the 49ers land themselves a respected head coach, they should have an easier time enlisting a top-notch staff of coordinators to support him.
Of course, the 49ers are not just one new head coach away from regaining their Super Bowl form. The team’s rapid deterioration of talent both on the field and in the coaching box has left many scratching their heads.
But while the appointment of a new head coach won’t fix all of the 49ers woes, it’s certainly one step forward in York’s attempt to produce a legitimate NFL product.