The San Francisco 49ers officially introduced Jim Tomsula on Thursday as their next head coach. The 52-minute press conference left many concerned about what he brings to the table. Jed York previously stated the crux of the problem with Jim Harbaugh were philosophical differences. During the course of the press conference, it was difficult to comprehend what philosophy the 49ers or Tomsula looked to implement.
The easy route is to mock and ridicule the press conference, but I wanted to re-assess his press conference comments, as well as those in a later interview, to see if I could potentially get a better handle on what kind of coaching philosophy he will instill. But, to understand the change, we had to understand the difference and what did not work.
The San Francisco 49ers started the 2014 season with Super Bowl aspirations. After three straight NFC Championship appearances, it seemed this could be the year. The season turned out to be one of the hardest in recent years to watch as a fan. Expectations started high, but something was amiss. It was more than injuries, more than scheme or play calls, and even now -- it is impossible to pinpoint one thing.
Report after report came down from national and local media, an avalanche of sources about the front office and head coach dysfunction. The reports were easily dismissed in the beginning. It appeared irrational to even entertain a concept of the 49ers continuing without Jim Harbaugh. And, little by little, we began to accept certain hard truths about our beloved coach's personality and awkward traits.
Yet, even Harbaugh's purported deficits were endearing to most of us. He has a language of his own and rigid fashion rituals. Yet, after each press conference, we were amused.
We know now there were not only issues with management. There were grumblings from players. Harbaugh is a strict disciplinarian, he imposed arbitrary rules and regulations on himself. And, he did not stop there. In an effort to win at all costs, he set rigorous schedules and guidelines on the players and staff. In the beginning, the structure worked and he created a winning culture. The players and staff saw a tangible result, which made the exhausting schedules and behavioral restrictions worth the sacrifice.
On plane trips, as an example, Harbaugh prohibited the players from listening to music aloud. Headphones were required and when players socialized, they could not play cards or games. Every aspect of the travel was rigid and players felt zero freedom, some reports indicated players felt they were treated as children.
That is not to say players did not respect Harbaugh. They did. However, accumulating losses coupled with the rigidity and blunt nature eventually wore on the team's psyche. All very little things, but those little things were persistently bothersome.
Jim Tomsula, through his sputtering and mumbling, seemed to highlight examples of little things. You know, Joan in payroll. Vilma at the front desk. Those comments initially made me raise my eyebrows, but after wading through the press conference and his later interview with KNBR, Tomsula is all about taking note of the little things.
Tomsula spoke about his philosophy about player ownership. In his interview with Tom Tolbert on KNBR, he stated players would be included in the decision making (e.g., in the scheme and player strengths). Tomsula stated:
"How do I know where you're at and where you're going unless I talk to you, and you let me know where you're at, what you feel, and your thoughts. So now, if we can open that up, now you'll tell me, you're the player, I'm the coach. You'll tell me where I need to go in coaching you. You'll tell me how I can help you. And a big thing for me, I firmly believe a coach works for the player. Demand your coaching. Now, there's structure, there's a chain of command, we've all gotta stay with that, or you have chaos. OK, so, it's built in a structure environment, but coaches essentially, what do I do? My job is to help my players perform better on Sunday. That's game day. So, everything we do is to maximize a player's ability, and his value on Sunday, within a team concept."
There is something to be said for seeking input from the players, how they feel and what they believe they can execute. If the players are not behind the schemes and overall vision, players go through the motions versus believing in the team's ability to win. Tomsula plans to continue to work the players against each other and guide them by working for them.
Hearing the support of players is encouraging. The fact Tomsula pays attention to the little things and wants to give the players some control within the confines of his structure gives us insight as to Tomsula's coaching philosophy.
Critics may not agree with the 49ers choice of head coach, but those familiar with the 49ers cannot deny Tomsula has been successful at coaching average players to punch above their weight. While Tomsula is not the prototypical NFL coach, we know there are different philosophies and more than one strategy can work. It appears Tomsula seeks to reach the players on a personal level, treating players as peers. This absolutely creates a new landscape for the 49ers, but it will be interesting to see how it translates on the field.
Jim Tomsula may turn out to be a fantastic head coach and this press conference could be a funny story about his journey along the way.