Matt Barrows posed a good question last week.
Every season has ups and downs. But in no season in recent memory has the mood swung as wildly as this one for the 49ers. Players were dancing and celebrating in the visiting locker room Sunday as if they’d won a playoff game. What will be the temperature in the room – and in CEO Jed York’s office – if they lose to a two-win Browns team this Sunday?
After perhaps the worst loss of the season — and that’s saying something, since they lost by 40 in Week 3 — the 49ers sounded like a team that was ill-prepared to take on the Browns juggernaut.
#49ers Joe Staley: “We just came in with the wrong mentality. …We can’t take anybody lightly. We’re not in a position to do that.”
— Cam Inman (@CamInman) December 13, 2015
More #49ers Staley: “We’ve got to play our ass off every single week and we didn’t do that. We thought we were just going to show up & play”
— Cam Inman (@CamInman) December 13, 2015
#49ers Ahmad Brooks: “By us getting a win last week, maybe we got a little big-headed … and thought that things were just going to happen.
— Eric Branch (@Eric_Branch) December 13, 2015
“It was a piss-poor effort” — #49ers WR Anquan Boldin.
— Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoCSN) December 13, 2015
Joe Staley is very candid and knows he’s good enough to start at left tackle for a variety of teams, so he sees no reason to hold his tongue. Ahmad Brooks is rapidly playing himself out of the league and doesn’t seem to have much of a filter, either on or off the field.
While it’s impossible to quibble with Anquan Boldin’s assessment, there were two individuals who took issue with what Staley and/or Brooks had to say. One was a player who wouldn’t mind seeing more playing time over the next three games.
— Cam Inman (@CamInman) December 13, 2015
Of course the other was Jim Tomsula, the embattled 49ers coach who went from a sure thing in 2016 to getting questioned by none other than Kevin Lynch, who created a 10-part slideshow describing why the 49ers should keep Tomsula and his staff. Yesterday Lynch changed his tune considerably in a story titled, “Reversal: Loss in Cleveland makes you question the 49ers coaching staff.”
Also, in nearly every game, the 49ers look completely uninterested to start a game. Sometimes the 49ers come back after their slow starts but often, like Sunday in Cleveland, they don’t. You have to wonder if the slow starts are due to uninspired game plans.
Tomsula isn’t articulate in a press conference setting. OK, that’s an understatement. Tomsula sometimes talks himself in circles, to the point where everyone listening (or reading the transcript) finds their eyes rolling, back into the deep inner recesses of their skulls. I’ve probably lost a few thousand brain cells trying to keep up with Tomsulogic this year.
But I’m convinced that Tomsula is a survivor who’s clever in his own “Hey, I’m just a football guy from Pennsylvania, OK?” kind of way behind the scenes. How else could he have lasted through three different coaching regimes with the same franchise?
The Jimmy-Tom in the mirror
He’s spent most of the year finding different ways to say the buck stops with him.
After getting blown out in Pittsburgh: “Coaching-wise, maybe we shouldn’t have guys flying out of there from such a low level, but we’re evaluating all that today. I knew all that stuff was (in the game plan), and any fingers to be pointed, they go right here.”
After getting blown out in Arizona: “But, looking at it every week and we stay on top of it and we are, again, that 46 that are up for the game, that’s me. I’m the guy. There’s only one guy to point a finger at.”
After fizzling out against Green Bay: “No, it’s not fractured. I think there’s a little frustration there, but not fractured at all. No. Offensively, we have some problems there that we’ve got to get fixed. That starts with me. It’s the coaching staff, and we’ve got to get that straightened out right away.”
After an ugly loss in St. Louis: “What we did today was not good enough, and that was me. One hundred percent.”
On the day of the Cleveland loss: “We played poorly. There’s not a man in this locker room that doesn’t own part of this, starting with me.”
Maybe he’s tired of taking the blame, or perhaps he doesn’t feel nearly as safe as he did a week earlier, because his tone changed quite a bit on Monday when he faced questions about what Staley and Brooks said.
Reporter: How do you respond seeing some remarks from players that maybe they overlooked Cleveland or took them lightly?
Tomsula: “Yeah, [49ers vice president of communications Bob Lange] Bobby was telling me that. I guess [T Joe] Staley was one of the guys. And I’d have to disagree with Joe on that. Maybe he was speaking from a personal note, I don’t know, but that was something that was addressed all week. Number one, we have no right to overlook anyone. Number two, in the NFL, I don’t care if you’re 14-0, you better not overlook anyone. I don’t see that as a factor. And again, it’s a group that comes to work and they work. But, I didn’t see that. I saw a game where we didn’t, and I don’t use this word a lot, but we didn’t execute. I didn’t see an effort problem. We talked about that, but we didn’t execute.”
Reporter: Does it concern you that’s coming out of your locker room from more than one player, those kinds of thoughts?
Tomsula: “Yeah, I disagree. What are you talking about half the locker room?”
Reporter: Well, LB Ahmad Brooks used the word bigheaded.
Tomsula: “Well, those two guys. Yeah, I would just have to disagree. I don’t think that was the case at all.”
It’s interesting that Tomsula chose this time to use the word “execute,” since in football terms the e-word generally isn’t used to describe poor gameplans or lackluster effort. It’s a way coaches let everyone know that the players were put in positions to succeed, they just screwed up.
Tomsula would eventually pin the blame tail on his own behind on Monday, but he required prompting after the exchange about Staley and Brooks.
Reporter: After some of these losses, you say it starts and ends with you and everything goes through you.
Tomsula: “Yeah, it does.”
Fast forward to Wednesday, when he was asked whether he spoke with Staley.
“Yeah. Not in depth, to be honest with you, not in depth. But, ‘What the heck?’ and ‘Yeah I didn’t mean it that way.’ So, there’s nothing to it. We’re moving forward. There’s nobody that overlooked anybody or anything like that. That’s very clear.”
Well, maybe not “clear” to everyone. Browns head coach Mike Pettine, whose job security is just as much in question as Tomsula’s, if not a good deal more, effectively went Greyhound over Tomsula with his Wednesday comments.
— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) December 16, 2015
Calling out another team’s attitude is kind of a no-no among those in the so-called coaching fraternity, but no one who watched that game objectively could disagree with Pettine. And as the season mercifully comes to an end, we’re getting a pretty damning list of coaching weaknesses from Tomsula and his staff.
— It’s gotten better in recent weeks — since the demotion of Colin Kaepernick and the Vernon Davis trade — but Matt Maiocco recently noted on Tim Kawakami’s podcast that the 49ers had a “bad” locker room earlier in the season.
— The 49ers had to simplify things to keep the team from getting blown out weekly, especially on the offensive side.
— Tomsula’s team has been outscored 73-18 in the first quarter — the 49ers’ points came on four field goals and a pick-six from Jimmie Ward.
— They’re 1-6 on the road. The win came against a team tied for the worst home record in the NFL, and the 49ers only won because Robbie Gould forgot how to kick field goals.
— The 49ers have been flagged four times for having 12 men on the field, and have called several timeouts to prevent 12 men on the field penalties. I’ve covered a few dozen high school football games in my life, and I doubt I’ve seen more than one or two “12 men” penalties in those prep games.
We could also throw in all of those fourth downs late in games when the 49ers punted, even though they were down multiple scores, or their unwillingness to remove ineffective players for several weeks or at all (Marcus Martin, Jordan Devey and Erik Pears come to mind), or the fact that Geep Chryst is somehow still employed. However, front office executives may be to blame for some or all of those questionable decisions.
For now, all Tomsula can do is hope his team stays competitive over the final three weeks to give him more bragging points than the one he tossed out during Wednesday’s press conference.
“There’s a core of young guys that you’re really excited about. We keep talking about them, that you see that in them and it’s growing,” said Tomsula. “And, I think that is what we are in the process of building. If there’s something we’re building, that’s what we’re building.”
The lack of conviction was stunning, but Tomsula can’t feel too great about how things are trending. I still think he’ll keep his job due to the reasons I listed last week, but it’s not a lock — especially if the team doesn’t show more fight the rest of the way than they did in Cleveland.