The Levi’s Stadium auditorium is not unlike a college lecture hall, and today I had flashbacks to the last two quarters of my senior year at UC Santa Cruz. That’s back when I hit a personal wall as far as my studies were concerned, and I lost the ability to focus on what my professors were saying unless the subject matter was incredibly interesting. Some call it “Spring Fever.” I took a business law class that held my attention, but throughout my other courses I couldn’t keep from getting lost in my own thoughts while professors droned on and on.
I had a flashback to those days during the Jim Tomsula introductory press conference, which carried the exhilarating combination of being both extremely lengthy (about an hour, although to be fair they allowed a lot of questions) and short on pertinent information.
Tomsula seems like a very, very nice person — especially compared to your standard NFL head coach. He’s the anti-Harbaugh in that he didn’t really seem to know what was going to come out of his mouth when he started speaking. Calculated, Tomsula is not. Or, at least he sure doesn’t seem like the kind of person who’ll stick to talking points and catch phrases. One can tell why players and staff are comfortable with him, because he seems like a very warm person.
The team will be controlled by an outwardly cold person in Trent Baalke, who interjected and sharpened some of Tomsula’s answers during the press conference (one that the 49ers clearly didn’t care about winning, based on the performances seen on stage). The key moment had to be after Tomsula’s rambling answer to a question about “Xs and Os” that contained many words but said nothing.
Baalke piped in: “Matt (Barrows), I think somewhere in there, he says we’re going to run the football.”
In one sentence, Baalke confirmed that (1) he was aware that his coach’s answer could’ve been clearer, (2) the offensive philosophy will swing back to POWER SMASH MOUTH FOOTBALL, and (3) Baalke is the one who’ll lead the parade.
Baalke was already in charge of personnel, and with this change in head coaches he’ll be able to put a product on the field that is the purest extension of his vision as possible. However, he bristled at the idea that he’s the man.
“I get tired of the same questions all of the time about who’s got the final say,” Baalke said with a scowl. “We’re doing it.”
No, Baalke is doing it. Tomsula just wants to coach.
The idea that they put forth throughout the afternoon is that the 49ers are making decisions collectively, and there was a definite family vibe that permeated the beginning of this press conference. Tomsula mentioned several times how his kids had grown up around football players, how football players back in his NFL Europe days never needed to be told to watch their language around his daughters. Players even taught his daughters multiplication in elevators, he said.
At least, that’s what I think he said. Maybe I was dozing off. He also mentioned something about jazzercise and watching Karate last night. I don’t know.
Tomsula also talked about the team’s work in the community with a few charities, and how “class” in his mind involves all the little things. Like, when a meeting is over with, reminding the players to pick up after themselves. He admitted that it takes more than that, but all of these so-called “little things” add up. Jed York, who didn’t say a whole lot today (maybe he was beaten into submission from his interview with Brian Murphy) repeated that same bit about all of the little things adding up.
Tomsula mentioned “Joan in payroll” and “Vilma at the front desk” as reasons to be grateful that he works for such a fine organization. In a meeting with writers after the press conference, Tomsula talked about how one of the joys of coaching the 49ers is that you don’t have to worry about “the fields” (which isn’t exactly true), “the equipment,” and “the medical.” He just has to worry about football, although he mentioned a bit later that he has experience delegating from his time as a head coach with the Rhein Fire.
The 49ers’ new head coach isn’t polished. At all. Nervous was more like it. That actually surprised me a bit, because he’s been fairly quotable over the years for a defensive line coach. Despite the messages not being too clear (actually, it wasn’t really worth quoting Tomsula at all), he showed that he’s an East Coast brand of folksy, for lack of a better description. He’s likable, even sympathetic after this press conference — which is just fine, because Baalke should get about 99% of the scrutiny for this hire and everything else for the foreseeable future.
In Baalke’s post-presser interview session in the locker room, there were a few things that stood out.
Did they ever offer the job to Adam Gase?
“No,” said Baalke. “The job is offered to one person and one person only. That is Jim Tomsula.”
In response to a question about whether he was looking for a “guy who’d play physical football.”
“You have to have like-minded people building a team. If you don’t have like-minded people building a team, coach, coaching staff, front office, who are not all looking at the same characteristics, the same types of players, it’s tough to build a unit that can go out there on Sundays and win football games.”
He used “like-minded” … twice.
“I’m not going to get into all the schematics. Just like I won’t with this staff, I won’t with the last staff. I’m not the X and O guy. I’m not the scheme guy. I’m not the coach, and don’t want to be. What I want to do is be able to look at the team from a 30,000-foot view, and bring in, acquire as much talent as we can. That talent acquisition, I learned a long time go, it’s not just players. It’s coaches, it’s front office people. It’s everyone on the football operations side. And I think if you ask Jed, it’d be no different for the organization as a whole, business or football.”
Translation: I’m not just acquiring players, I’m in charge of the coaches and just about everyone else that Jed doesn’t control.
In response to my question about whether Colin Kaepernick would start Week 1 of the 2015 season, barring injury:
Once again, obviously Colin’s our starting quarterback. And I’m not going to get into specifics of every position. Colin Kaepernick’s the starting quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers.
I’m not sure if I’m overly influenced by the team’s radio color commentator, Tim Ryan, frequently broaching the idea that the 49ers might think long and hard about keeping Kaepernick around next season. I asked the question — which I admit sounds crazy on the surface — because the 49ers can cut ties with Kaepernick before April 1 without any financial repercussions.
Are the 49ers keeping Frank Gore?
“Do I really have to answer that? Frank’s a 49er. Frank knows exactly how we feel as an organization about him and that discussion’s already been had.”
“If you look at the organizations that have had a lot of success, they’re organizations that have had a lot of stability. They’re organizations that are able to lose a competent coach, and replace from within. That’s the type of staff we’re looking to build.”
Nothing fosters stability like gutting the entire staff besides two assistant coaches.
Baalke used a word repeatedly that gave me a flashback to a different time in my life. He described the “synergy” required to put together a great coaching staff, which reminded me of my days working for large tech companies that also spent a lot of time fussing about “corporate culture,” the latter word being another one of Jed’s favorites.
“I think, when you look at building staff, once again, it’s synergy. You get too many people with too much experience, that all, maybe looking for the next step, that doesn’t always work either. When you lose somebody, you have to have somebody within that can replace them at key positions,” Baalke said.
Too much experience is bad, apparently. Baalke wants worker bees, and Tomsula is a willing and loyal worker. He’s thankful, grateful and provides a human face to the business.
And like all corporations, this was a decision based on power and money. Tomsula will make a salary that’s firmly in the bottom half among NFL coaches, in all probability, and word is he’ll work with a smaller coaching staff that undoubtedly will be cheaper than Harbaugh’s (“streamlined” is how Tomsula put it).
The press conference didn’t provide a single answer as far as Tomsula’s plan for the team, other than that the 49ers will “outwork” their opponents. I’m not sure if Tomsula even knows what he wants this team to look like, or if he’ll move from station to station providing tips on technique, when he isn’t motivating players and assistants and reporting to Baalke, who’ll probably be a more ubiquitous presence during practices and everywhere else in 49erland.