Funny how a piece I wrote two years ago can still apply to the current 49ers’ situation…
If in recent weeks a sports organization has made their fan base more frustrated and puzzled than the 49ers, then please feel free to shoot an email.
Last Thursday’s press conference to introduce Jim Tomsula, the 19th head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, showed who really won the Jim Harbaugh versus Trent Baalke power struggle. Safe to say that it definitely was not the former.
Before getting into the thick of things, allow me to give a quick rundown on what has occurred these past four weeks.
On December 28, 2014, Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers agreed to mutually part ways after their 20 – 17 season-ending victory against the Arizona Cardinals.
What caused this split ranged from disputes regarding Jim Harbaugh’s contract to gameday rosters to player discipline. At the end of the day, the consensus among team sources was that Jim Harbaugh’s act finally ran out of steam and began rubbing some people – including General Manager Trent Baalke – the wrong way.
“This was a mutual decision,” said 49ers’ CEO Jed York as he sat side-by-side with Trent Baalke during the press conference after the December 28th game. “This is not just Jim. Trent could have done more. I could have done more. We all could have done more and we all should have done more.”
Right. Sure. Okay. We get that you all could have done more. Yet one person paid the price with his job: Jim Harbaugh.
Fast forward to the head coaching process.
Both Baalke and York spent countless days and hours interviewing potential candidates.
Make that 17 days, 18 hours, and 23 minutes to be more exact.
Those who were interviewed ranged from in-house candidates like defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, to well established coaches such as Mike Shanahan, to outside “newbies” under the mold of an Adam Gase.
This “process,” as Trent Baalke would call it, resulted in…Jim Tomsula, who was at that time, the 49ers’ defensive line coach.
Well…that was a bit underwhelming, to say the least.
Long story short, Jim Tomsula has coached football for a total of 25 years, starting in 1989 as an assistant at Catawaba College in Salisbury, North Carolina (this also happened to be his alma mater). In 2006, he joined NFL Europa and became the head coach of the Rhein Fire, leading them to a 6 – 4 record. Tomsula then moved on and became the 49ers’ defensive line coach in 2007. Prior to being named the 19th head coach of the 49ers, he served as the team’s interim coach for one game in 2010.
This is not to say that the result or choice was necessarily bad.
With all the supposed conflict between the front office and Jim Harbaugh, it became almost paramount that the next head coach needed to be someone who could smooth out the tensions from the previous regime.
He had to be a likeable guy by the front office to work with…and manage as well. Essentially, the pick had to be safe…for Jed York’s and Trent Baalke’s sake.
Ladies and gentlemen: cue Jim Tomsula.
However, a “safe” pick does not always necessarily mean that it was the right one. In this case, the “safe” pick of Jim Tomsula brings to question the decision-making abilities of Jed York and Trent Baalke. Specifically, the abilities of both men to separate the emotion from their decision-making.
Let’s be honest here: the 49ers’ situation did not involve a disastrous 4-year coaching tenure. In fact, before the underperforming 2014 season, Jim Harbaugh had led the team to 3 straight NFC Championship games, with a Super Bowl appearance to go along with it.
Oh no: this situation was all about the power struggle between 3 alpha males.
When Jim Harbaugh was hired to coach the 49ers back on January 7, 2011, the power structure went something along the lines of this: (1) Harbaugh would have full autonomy on his coaching staff and gameday rosters; (2) Baalke had final say on draft picks and the overall 53 man roster; (3) York would handle the business aspects (i.e. stay out of football operations). At first, all was harmonious for the most part.
However, there were inklings of discontent from within, first with Jim Harbaugh’s contract (he wanted to be paid like a Super Bowl winning head coach…York balked) and then the rumors of a potential trade that would have sent Harbaugh to the Cleveland Browns for draft picks (Harbaugh was close to signing off on the proposal, but backed out at the last minute).
One would like to assume that 3 grown men could resolve their personal differences for the team’s best interests. Championship teams like the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers are experts of this approach.
The same cannot be said with the 49ers. Heck, this is not even the first time that 49ers’ management has had “philosophical differences” with their head coach. Anyone still around to remember Steve Mariucci’s dismissal in 2003 from similar circumstances? Yeah…
At the end of the day, both Jed York and Trent Baalke came to the conclusion that even without Jim Harbaugh, their team would be just fine. After all, Baalke was the architect who filled the roster with immense talent and hired an excellent head coach that prior to 2014, led the team to amazing 3 year stint. Surely Baalke could get the job done once again, right?
York believes so.
The fanbase, on the other hand, does not share that same view.
It is up to both men to change that.
The hiring of Jim Tomsula implies Jed York and Trent Baalke are essentially betting against themselves, in that they will continue to win games (and Super Bowls) using THEIR process.
Is it a big gamble?
Harbaugh’s “mutual parting” was the 2nd occasion during the York’s ownership tenure where front office has clashed with a very successful head coach. There are no more excuses.
York and Baalke had a winning head coach in Jim Harbaugh, yet their egos got the best of them. Hiring Tomsula was an attempt to help smooth front office relations and to maintain continuity within the coaching staff. The latter goal has failed miserably.
Anything less than a NFC Championship appearance this upcoming season should be (and will be) considered a failure.
The front office knows this (they will try to deny it).
The coaching staff knows this (whoever remains from the previous regime anyways).
The fanbase knows this (being “spoiled” with recent success helps).
No doubt about it.
So how will the fans hold you accountable, Jed York? What should they be looking for to evaluate your performance?
“…I think you’ve all heard from me from the time I came to San Francisco, I only have one goal on the field and that’s to win the Super Bowl,” he answered.
And what will happen if this does not happen within the next 3 years, Jed York? Who should be held responsible for the failure of not winning the Lombardi Trophy?
“I’m accountable,” he replied.
All right then.
Jed, Jim, and Trent: the ball is now in your court. From this point forward, all three of you will be held responsible to the goal that the 49ers will make it back to the Super Bowl within these next few years.
“Do you have a stopwatch?” he quipped.
Why yes I do. This is no different than the NFL Draft. So without further ado: Jed, Jim, and Trent…you are now on the clock.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the writer are solely his, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Associated Students.