One would think that very soon we would get some ideas as to which coaches will be retained among the current 49ers staff. Newly hired head coach Jim Harbaugh had said he was going to work right after the press conference was over last Friday.
I would like to think that Tom Rathman, current 49ers running backs (RB's) coach, would be a prime candidate to stay on board with the new regime. I say this for several reasons, not the least of which is that Rathman is a good coach who is well-liked by his peers and his players.
But there are other obvious things that tie Rathman both to the 49ers, Bill Walsh, and the West Coast Offense (WCO). Let's explore Rathman the former player and current (and hopefully future) coach...after the jump.
Tom Rathman was born, raised, and played football in Nebraska...right up until he was drafted by the 49ers in 1986. Ironically my family is moving to Nebraska (Lincoln, actually...where Rathman played college ball at the University of Nebraska) in February and I myself will be leaving for there this Friday.
Rathman averaged over six yards per carry as a fullback at Nebraska and rushed for over 1,400 yards in his college career. His senior season he rushed for 881 yards and averaged 7.5 yards per carry - quite a feat for a guy playing a position most known for being a blocker.
When Rathman joined the 49ers he joined another Nebraska alum: teammate Roger Craig. Talk about familiarity and blocking for a guy who's your boy...who was Gore's FB at Miami?!?
More importantly though was the head coach of the 49ers in 1986...a man some of you might have heard of before: Mr. Bill Walsh - innovator of the West Coast Offense.
Walsh's WCO used split backs (RB and FB) often as this imbalanced the formation and forced defenses to abandon their traditional alignments. Every skill player in a WCO was required to execute precise pass routes predicated on timing and reading the defense.
Rathman once had over 600 yards receiving in a single season in this system. To put that number in perspective, many teams don't have multiple wide receivers with over 600 yards receiving in a given year. In fact, Rathman finished his career with 600 yards MORE receiving than he did rushing.
The fullback position was not just a big bruising battering-ram in the WCO. Rathman understood his role and executed it to perfection.
He is also the same guy who coached Frank Gore to four consecutive 1,000+ yard seasons - the first 49ers RB to ever accomplish such a feat. Speaking of Gore, we've all seen how versatile Frank The Tank can be. He's known as the best pass protection RB in the NFL by many and he has excellent hands in the passing game. How many games have we seen where Gore was the entire offense?
Rathman has 49ers dynasty history. Bill Walsh history. West Coast Offense history. And he's not a bad coach on top of all that.
Check out this piece by Kevin Lynch from a few years back when Singletary was making the same decisions Harbaugh is with regards to coaches. Lynch notes that:
In tours with the 49ers, Lions and Raiders, Rathman has coached it all, power game, mobile linemen, gap runs, and most intriguingly, he has learned and then taught the zone blocking scheme that's been the only positive development in an otherwise dark Raiders era.
Lynch also notes how Rathman routinely got excellent production out of the myriad of RB's the 49ers had to work with in the late nineties and early 2000's...and, as Lynch says:
Who knows more about the 49ers and the running game than Rathman? He was reared in Bobb McKittrick's system
I can't think of any feasible reason to NOT retain Rathman as the RB's coach at this point and I'd honestly be a bit upset if Harbaugh let him go. He embodies the era of 49ers football to which we all desperately want to get back in addition to being a proven coach with a great track record.
Just for a little bonus, check out this video on NFL.com of Rathman demonstrating how to deliver a block as a FB and also how to "truck" a defender as a ball-carrier.