Jim Harbaugh

“Coach Trent” bodes well for Eric Mangini

Trent Baalke Jim Tomsula

Most people following the 49ers have heard the story by now, since it was reported by all the beat writers. Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt told reporters that the team’s General Manager, Trent Baalke, has spent time coaching them on technique.

“He comes down to practice a lot. He’s like another coach,” said Ward, last year’s first-round draft pick. “Sometimes I make a mistake and be like, ‘Coach Trent?’

“He’s correcting my techniques, too, when I’m on the field,” Ward added. “He’s a pretty good guy. I like him. I don’t mind that (coaching).”

While Ward has shined as the 49ers’ nickel back, Tartt has played in every game his rookie season and started the past six in place of the injured Antoine Bethea.

Tartt, a second-round draft pick this year, echoed Ward’s take on Baalke, with no hint of discontent toward coach Jim Tomsula nor secondary coach Tim Lewis.

“When you see him, he’s always going to coach something, and you have to be ready for it,” Tartt said of Baalke. “He’s pretty cool.”

I haven’t attended any practices this year, but in years past I saw Baalke at quite a few practices. Generally he seemed like an observer. One specific time I remember was in training camp last year, when I shot photos of Aldon Smith instructing Ahmad Brooks on hand placement while Baalke looked on.

I never saw Baalke instruct a player, although he was always a very hands-on GM. Literally. Before games, Baalke would stalk the field during warmups and hug key veterans across every position group. Baalke would get fired up, too. It wasn’t uncommon to see him give players a strong pat on the helmet or rump. His actions didn’t look all that weird, either. Jim Harbaugh, as we all know, acted like a backup quarterback during warmups and had his whole “smack the starting quarterback’s shoulder pads like a lunatic” thing going before the games started.

There was one big difference back then, however. When Harbaugh was in charge, Baalke wasn’t coaching anyone — at least during the open practices I saw during the summers of 2012, 2013 and 2014. Perhaps Baalke tried to step in and give some pointers that Ed Donatell wouldn’t or couldn’t during the regular season (when practices are closed to the media), but it seems highly doubtful.

Baalke’s involvement with Ward, Tartt, and possibly others produces several questions.

  1. Does Baalke stick to defensive backs, or does he coach other players?
  2. Do guys like Kenneth Acker or Marcus Cromartie get the same attention, or does Baalke focus mostly on his early-round draft picks?
  3. What does Tim Lewis think about this? Obviously he can’t tell Baalke to get the hell out of there, but Lewis has been coaching in the NFL for 21 years and was the defensive coordinator for four straight top-10 defenses with the Steelers in the early-2000s.
  4. Most (all?) GMs watch practice. Do any other GMs get their hands dirty and coach individual players? In any professional sport? (I just started chuckling because I can’t shake this image of Brian Sabean getting into the batting cage to give swing tips to Aaron Rowand.)
  5. Doesn’t Baalke have better things to do? Like, I don’t know, plan for his team’s most important draft in several years? Or bring in a better free agent class than the legendarily bad 2015 crew that included Darnell Dockett (cut), Shareece Wright (inactive for weeks, cut), Reggie Bush (made of styrofoam), Erik Pears (one of the worst tackles in the league) and Torrey Smith (terribly misused, bad body language with Colin Kaepernick, running incorrect routes with Blaine Gabbert)?

But concerns Nos. 1, 2, 4 and 5 are inconsequential compared to No. 3, and here’s why.

To keep Jimmy-Tom, or to fire Jimmy-Tom? That is the question. (Unless the 49ers make him a d-line coach again … LOL 49ers)

Here’s what we know:

— We knew Baalke would be micromanaging Tomsula from the moment he said, “Matt, I think somewhere in there, he said were going to run the football.”

— We knew Tomsula would have a difficult time landing the top assistants when they had such a difficult time finding an offensive coordinator and settled on Geep Chryst.

Here’s what we think we know (courtesy of Jason Cole, and thanks to David Fucillo for transcribing — emphasis mine):

“The San Francisco 49ers and their management would prefer that coach Jim Tomsula survive this season despite the fact that they’re on a 4-10 season, and have gone backwards significantly over the year; not only with the roster, with so many defections from the roster, but also on the coaching staff, with the loss of Jim Harbaugh. Despite all of that, management wants to have some type of continuity.

“However, there are concerns within this organization, and specifically in the locker room, about the ability of Tomsula to control the locker room and get guys focused on playing hard week in and week out. This team gave up over 200 yards rushing against Cleveland recently, and was out of the game on Sunday against Cincinnati in the second quarter with a litany of turnovers.

“Finally, one of the other big concerns for Tomsula as he goes into his second year, and assuming he makes it, is whether he’s going to be able to bring assistant coaches in to bolster the assistant coaching staff. If he’s going to be able to attract top-level people even though the interpretation of the situation, if he returns, is that he may only have one year left.

“There is lots of concern here for the 49ers about their future. And, while they haven’t made a final decision on Tomsula, and he might ultimately be fired, they’re leaning towards keeping him at this point in time. That might not be the best solution for the 49ers long term.”

I don’t really put a lot of stock in the “playing hard” thing. A bad team had a letdown against another bad team in their second straight road game at the end of a tough season. It happens. It’s actually kind of surprising that they played as hard as they did in Chicago after doing absolutely nothing on the road up until that point. Plus, Al Guido let us know that the 49ers were still in Tomsula’s corner AFTER the Browns loss.

Expecting Tomsula (or any potential 49ers head coach) to attract good assistant coaches is pretty hilarious, though. However, Baalke’s decision to step in shows just how much he respects the coaches Tomsula brought in.

Coaches all chat with each other, so “Coach Trent” was probably a known thing among the fraternity before Ward and Tartt told the beat writers. But for coaches who are in their own bubble and not paying attention to the terrible 49ers, wouldn’t these reports be a huge red flag that says “DON’T COME TO SANTA CLARA UNLESS YOU LOVE UNSTABLE SITUATIONS AND A GENERAL MANAGER WHO’LL STEP IN AND DO YOUR JOB FOR YOU”?

Even if Baalke never attended practices, it’s doubtful that Mr. NFL Europe would be able to replace Chryst and other substandard assistants with top-notch coaches. But the “Coach Trent” thing can’t be helping matters.

If luring better assistants is the goal, the Tomsula ship has sailed. He’ll be coming off a double-digit loss season, so his job security is nil … even though he’ll probably be back next year.

Just like a lot of what we went over yesterday, this is another boost for Eric Mangini, who’s playing this perfectly.

From today’s Mangini press conference:

Yesterday we were talking to Jimmie and Jaquiski and I was asking those guys that high draft stature, what kind of encouragement 49ers general manager Trent Baalke has given them and they pointed out that he comes down on the field and he’ll help coach them up and even go over technique issues with them. Can you elaborate on what’s the extent that Trent is on the field and does that interfere with what you guys are doing as coaches?

“No, I had like six jokes in reaction to that, but [49ers vice president of communications] Bob [Lange] didn’t like any of them. Well, he liked them all, he just didn’t like them for public consumption. Trent’s always been on the field and he talks to all the guys. So, it’s not like it’s exclusively Jimmie and JT and most GMs that I’ve been around are the same way. They’re vested not just from a picking players and putting together a roster, but also watching their development. It’s a positive thing when you have a consistent message coming from all the different levels. I think that’s a good thing. There are some GMs that I think, I haven’t been everywhere, but may not be as present and maybe that works for their style. But, each guy is a little different and Trent’s always been on the field at different points.”

Have you ever felt in a situation like that where maybe a GM would be overstepping his bounds? Does it feel like as a coach maybe that’s–?

“No, when you have that title, you really have, your bounds are different. It’s the same thing if you’re the owner or wherever you are in the structure. You have to look at the big picture. You have to look at everything and if you feel like there’s something that needs to be said or that you feel like there’s something that could help somebody, you’re going to do it. I know as a head coach I would do it to different positions or different areas if I felt strongly about something or if I felt I wanted to communicate something to somebody.”

Does Trent inform you or secondary coach Tim Lewis what coaching points he has for the guys on that day?

“No, no, I haven’t gotten those bullet points.”

Mangini had jokes for Lange, whereas Tomsula is always supposedly in the dark on everything until Lange briefs him on the way to the press conference. That part is striking.

Mangini also had perfect answers from an organizational standpoint. He’s secure enough to not just shrug it off, but call Baalke’s involvement “a positive thing,” all while also noting that the guys in power are powerful and they get to do whatever they like. Mangini is also very well-connected in NFL circles, especially compared to Tomsula. Mangini would probably have a much easier time convincing better assistants to accept a job with the 49ers, as well as convincing them that Baalke wouldn’t be a nuisance.

Again, Tomsula is probably staying because he’s beloved by the York family and firing him wouldn’t be the cheapest option. But Mangini is very strongly positioned to replace Tomsula. If the 49ers get impatient with how things are going and truly detest a good portion of the coaching staff — and their impatience level will spike exponentially if no one shows up for the last game of the year — I could see a scenario where the 49ers promote Mangini immediately after the season.

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