Jim Tomsula Faced an “Impossible” Job in 2015. Are You Kidding Me?

Jim Tomsula & Colin Kaepernick

I keep hearing this sentiment from some of my fellow Niner (on social media boards and forums). Some fans seem to have this idea that Jim Tomsula was given an “impossible job” with the 49ers in 2015.   Their message is that he did the best with what he had to work with this season.  Clearly this sentiment had spawned from FOX’s NFL commentators during later regular season games.  Late in the season, when it was beginning to rumor that Tomsula would be fired, you’d commonly hear the FOX game broadcasters conveying the type of rhetoric indicating that Jim Tomsula had done a pretty good job, and that San Francisco’s disastrous 2015-16 season wasn’t Tomsula’s fault at all.

This completely baffles me. Honestly, you have seriously got to be kidding me.  Hearing these so-called “experts” on FOX during the games speaking as if Tomsula shouldn’t be fired just made want to bang my head against the wall.  Sure, Jim Tomsula wasn’t given the perfect situation. No, obviously he wasn’t just handed the keys to a Super Bowl caliber roster.  For Christ’s sake, what percentage of first year head coaches are handed a Superbowl ready team?  At the same same time, even Trent Dilfer said (during the week 1 broadcast), that the 49ers cupboard isn’t exactly bare, as he referenced the young players on defense such as Tank Carradine, Tramaine Brock, Cory Leamonier, and spoke of Navorro Bowman’s return to full strength. So, it’s not like he was handed a roster full of garbage either.

What I find even more ridiculous, the same guys who are eager to give Tomsula a pass, just happen to be the same people who are always eager to criticize Colin Kaepernick the very first chance they got. They never had any problem putting the team’s losses right at Kaepernick’s feet (but always find elsewhere credit the 49ers past successes).

So….Impossible job for Jim Tomsula…
Not impossible for Colin Kaepernick….
Got it.

But with regard to Jim Tomsula job performance in season 1, are we just supposed to dismiss and ignore the totally unqualified, & downright embarrassing, staff that he put together?  Tomsula’s staff was the equivalent of electing a local city councilmen as president of the united states and filling his cabinet with other local mayors.  Nobody is going to know what to do because nobody has been close enough to the top guy to even see the job done.  And, they’re all going to have to learn as they go, use trial and error, trying to emulate their predecessors.

Are we also supposed to dismiss other mistakes during is tenure. For example, Jim Tomsula choosing to increase Carlos Hyde’s carries in games where the guy was clearly playing through an injury.  He rode the new young star till his wheels fell off. Tomsula rode him to the point where it was obvious, by Hyde’s walk, that he was ailing an injury. Hyde couldn’t even make a cut but was still feeding him.  I guess we’re not supposed to dock Tomsula any points for gambling with Hydes career.  After all, it’s not like he’s one of the team’s brightest young players or anything.  But, this led to eventually losing Hyde for the year which could have been just a few weeks had Tomsula considered the consequences. But, who cares, right?

Please let me know if we’re just completely ignoring the following when evaluating Tomsula’s performance;

1. The lame & predictable game plans; unbalanced offensive attack from week to week.  After the week 1 win over Minnesota, I was eager to see the game plan for week 2 at Pittsburgh, following a 2000 mile travel after Monday Night. The the run-heavy, ball-control, and screen pass type attack worked so well in against the Vikings.  But, this was the Steelers on the road.  Surely, they would have to mix it up in order to keep the tenured Mike Tomlin guessing (esp. with no film on Tomsula’s 49ers).  However, the game plan in week two (at Pittsburgh) was the exact same game plan as week one (vs. Minnesota) and the Steelers were all over it.

So, after the run heavy plan didn’t work in week 2, it was time to go back across the country to face the Cardinals.  This time they went with an absurdly pass-heavy attack early and totally different formations (using the same plays they used in the 2nd half, desperation mode minutes against the Steelers).   However, this was against the Cardinals’ top pass rush and elite secondary (& with little practice time and another 2000 miles of travel).  Colin Kaepernick’s week 3 performance was by far his worst.  Kaepernick’s two horrible pick-6’s to start the game put tomsula back in run-mode and made it hard for any comeback to mount.  Kap’s horrible game took the focus of Tomsula’s disastrous coaching strategy (or lack there of) for weeks 2-3. After week 3, it was obvious that this guy was still learning how to game plan on the fly .  It was clear he didn’t know how to get the most out of the team personnel.

2. The 49ers often looked uninspired & disinterested from week to week, evoking veteran players like Vernon Davis to voice his displeasure in practice.  Reports & rumors stated that the outbursts were directed toward Kaepernick, but there was no real quotes or direct evidence to support it. However, we’ve seen an upset Davis back in 2011 when Mike “I want winners” Singletary (who always demanded respect) sent Davis to the locket room in the middle of the game.  What did Tomsula do to handle Davis’s outburst?  He ran to mommy and daddy (aka Balkee & York), who went and traded Davis to the Broncos.  Davis is now in Denver; jogging through routes, dropping catchable balls, and opening new Jamba Juices branches in the Mile High City.  Kaepernick always thrived with speedy, pass-catching tight ends who can help stretch the field.  After Davis’s trade, the 49ers offense was left with Vance McDonald (who drops more balls than Davis) and Garret Celek.

3. He did a terrible job of roster management.
Aside from the Carlos Hyde disaster, the 49ers were making questionable roster moves every week…..

-They had new a new return man every other week.

-They activating/deactivated Jarrod Hayne three times and he WAS THE WEEK 1 STARTING punt returner.  How can a guy go from top of the depth chart (and third string running back to start the year) to a practice squad player in 4 weeks (when the player only saw 3 or 4 plays of game action)

-He continued to make questionable moves on the offensive line and finally took them 9 weeks to even make an effort to improve the blocking up front.

4. Jim Tomsula made awful use of his challenges (0 for 8 in the first 12 games).

5. There were games where he would choose to give up and punt away the football on 4th down in games where they were down 3 scores in the 4th quarter.

6. His situation play calling was horrendous and showed no ability to adapting to the flow of the game.

Deep route passing plays in games when the opposing pass rush was schooling the offensive line (and  the quarterback was getting less then a 1/4 of a second to throw).  And of course, Screens and draws when our offensive line was getting good push off the ball.

7. The 2015 49ers showed a lack of discipline; and often made very sloppy and costly penalties on both sides of the ball  Commentators would say things like; “That’s just a sign of a young team”.

To me, I just find it baffling that anyone can actually claim he did a good job.  His staff and their performance was a total an embarrassment to the 49ers.  Sure, it wasn’t the perfect situation.

However, when you are the least qualified of all the candidates and in order to go with you, the team has to get rid of the experienced Vic Fangio, you better do a damn good job and exceed expectations (at least meet them) if you plan on lasting.

8. Benching the starting quarterback out of desperation. To top off the embarrassment of the 49ers, Jim “in-over-his-head” Tomsula thought he was making a Harbaugh-esque type of calculated risk when he decided to bench Kaepernick for Blane Gabbart (a QB with 5 career wins in 4 seasons as a starter).  Tomsula thought this would suddenly get this team to make magic, just as Kaepernick did in 2012 for Harbaugh. But, one problem. Gabbart isn’t Kaepernick.

The only effect this reactionary, rookie coaching move had was;

1. It showed that Blaine Gabbart can be a decent QB (but still a backup talent).
2. It proved the QB position was the last position that needed addressing.

But the biggest effect this move had was….
3. It undermined Kaepernick’s position & leadership with the team
4. It allowed more rumors to swirl about the team trading their franchise QB.
5. Sparked Gabbart/Kaepernick comparisons (as if they’re in the same class)
5. Put the magnified glass on the 49ers & made them the NFL’s 2015 punchline.

I’d watch games with friends of other teams like the Eagles, and they would say things like, “I really hope the Eagles go after Kaepernick next season” or “I can’t believe Blaine Gabbart is actually the 49ers Quarterback right now.”

It blows my mind too….No way in hell that a qualified, experienced head coach makes a desperate move like benching the franchise QB in the middle point of the season without an injury. Veteran and savvy head coaches have a long term plan for the personnel they have and can evaluate the talent prior to the start of the season.  Quality coaches also get the best out of that talent.  Good coaches know that moves like this create all kinds of bad attention, and it effects stability and perception. When Harbaugh switched from Smith to Kaepernick, the circumstances were entirely different.  This was during a time when Smith got hurt.  Kaepernick was a second year guy they had plans for to eventually become the starter.  Kaepernick also out-performed Smith and showed that he as more dynamic of a player.

This season, Kaepernick started the season facing 4 teams who went on to make the playoffs, with cross-country trips (back & forth) between all of them. He also faced this schedule so with a new head coach & new OC who have never even experienced coaching in their respective positions (and we’re learning on the fly). He also had to do this with an new offensive line that lost two pro bowl caliber players, a solid center.  But, he also had to be the leader of a team that suddenly had half of their starters departed, and had to do it with everyone saying that this was the year Colin had to prove he was worth his contract. So, who really had the impossible job here?

I believe every fan (if they want to formulate their own unbiased opinion on their team) should watch at least every other game with the TV on mute. Fans should, at the very least, question the TV commentators who spew the same drama-inciting rhetoric from week-to-week.  Fans need to understand that the NFL commentators & TV talking heads have opinions like you and I.  While they may call themselves experts, their opinions are just opinions and it doesn’t make their views any more paramount than the avid, intelligent fan.  In fact, these TV guys have relationships with players and coaches around the league.  Therefore, a network TV commentator is more inclined to have a favorable opinion of the players/coaches he likes personally. I honestly don’t see how any avid follower of 49ers football can claim that Jim Tomsula did a good job as head coach in 2015.

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Lou Palumbo

Lou Palumbo is a freelance sports writer and professional sports betting analyst. Lou has worked for several sports handicapping services throughout the country as a beat writer and researcher. At 32 years old, he's been a 49ers fan his entire life. From a young age, he traveled to countless stadiums across the country to see the 49ers play and was alive for every 49ers Superbowl. Plays like; "The Catch", Young-to-Owens TD against the packers, Montana to Taylor (Bengals), Alex Smith to Vernon Davis (divisional playoff vs. the Saints), Kaepernick Rushing Record in the (NFC Wildcard against the Packers) give him chills to this day. He will be the last guy to ever move on from bad beats like the No Holding Call in the 2012 Superbowl (vs the Ravens). But, win or lose, every Sunday, Lou is dialed in, watching every play of fro the 49ers and looking at the team from a broad-minded perspective. Lou has lots of insight on the 49ers and is a "Wiser 49er Fan"