The San Francisco 49ers face the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, looking to build on a strong Week 1 performance. While wins are obviously important, this game has a little extra meaning for the 49ers head coach. Jim Tomsula grew up in Homestead, Pennsylvania, less than eight miles from Heinz Field. He played football at Steel Valley High School, which is where he started his coaching career.
Tomsula got some questions about growing up near Pittsburgh. His best response had to be when he talked about attending games as a kid. He was asked how many games he went to as a kid. He asked if they meant officially, or sneaking in. He wouldn't give up how he snuck in, but he knew how. Back before security was what it is today, sneaking into stadiums was something kids could do, particularly at the older stadiums. That is no longer the case, but it makes for some great stories.
"OK, injury report; [RB] Reggie's [Bush] got that calf strain, we're not taking him. We're going to leave him back here and let him get the treatment. We want to make sure that's 100-percent before we move there. Feel great about it being 100-percent fast too. So, we'll be there. And then, [WR Bruce] Ellington came in this morning, he's got an ankle that's, it was bugging him. I mean, he's going to practice. I don't know that he's going to show up on anything, but he's got an ankle that was bugging him. So, that's what we have there. Any questions?"
Does that effect your punt return situation?
"No, he's one of them, yeah."
But, he could still be a punt returner on Sunday, Ellington?
"Yeah. I don't have a whole lot of information on it. I just, I told you I'd be straight up with stuff like that when it came. I don't think that's an advantage one way or the other for the opponent. So, he's in, he's getting, you know it's his ankle. So, I'll find out today in practice and we'll go from there. But, yeah he's one of the crew. You know, you've seen the crew of guys that we use there."
But, one of your crew guys is Bush.
"Yeah. Well, Bush does it, Bruce does it, [RB] Jarryd Hayne does it, [WR] DeAndrew White does it. So, I mean, we've, that's why they all do it."
You've mentioned the 53 and a third, 100 yards long, to us a couple times in the last week. Is that something that you talk to your team about too? Is that part of the pregame speech, that these are the parameters that we are looking at, nothing changes from week to week?
"Yeah, I mean that's where we stay. The difference, to me, I mean, what are the parameters? There's 11 guys. I mean, how do we play the game? Find out the parameters and work within the parameters. That goes back to defense. You've got a cover-two corner or a half-field safety and he's playing a half over there. Well, there's nobody over there from the other team. We really don't need you protecting grass. You've all heard those analogies before. So, that's just all we're talking about and that's where we, here's the opponent, here's what they do, here's the information we have, this is where we go with it and we put a plan together and we get it. Not getting into all the other. Just deal with the facts. I mean, that's the way we deal with injuries that's the way we deal. I just want to deal with facts. We don't need to do what, what is it? If ‘ifs and buts were candies and nuts, it'd be Christmas throughout the year.' I mean, we're just not, I've got a couple other analogies. I'll be in trouble. I don't want to ruin your weekend [49ers vice president of communications] Bob [Lange]."
But, do you do that to sort of cut the distractions, especially on a road trip like this? I'm sure there's a lot of things going against you guys, short week, 10 am start, yada yada.
"Don't see it that way at all. Just don't see it that way. I mean, we've had a week. We're going to get on an airplane today and go there. We'll wake up the same time tomorrow as we would wake up if we were home, practice at the times. We'll take the afternoon, the guys get away, get something to eat. And then, we'll meet at the same time in the evenings and we'll get up and go play football. I mean, there's really not a whole lot to talk about. In the offseason, yeah you talk about it, you plan it, you do those things. But, we don't really have anything. Been zero talk about it this week."
We've talked with you about nicknames, particularly in the summer and LB Michael Wilhoite called 49ers defensive coordinator Eric Mangini, ‘Mangenius'.
"Yeah. I don't think Eric really likes that nickname to be honest with you. And, I think for other reasons. I think it's been misrepresented. Eric's an extremely smart guy. I mean, that's well documented, you all know that. But, he's a really personable guy too. There's a lot of interaction in everything he does. I think that gives the connotation that there's this guy in a lab. OK, that's not the way it is at all. I mean, that whole defensive crew is together all the time and they are all working together. It's a collective, and Eric coordinates, just like [49ers offensive coordinator] Geep [Chryst] coordinates. They use everybody that's there. We want to use all our resources."
You've gone up against Pittsburgh Steelers RB DeAngelo Williams before. How did he look in that first game?
"I'll tell you what, he looked really good, really good. I mean, that's a guy that watched himself on film and was proud of his performance."
What unique challenges does that Steelers offense pose for your defense?
"Well, I mean, you've got Big [Pittsburgh Steelers QB] Ben [Roethlisberger]. You've got [Pittsburgh Steelers WR Antonio Brown] 84, you've got Brown, you've got the running game, you've got offense. They're whole, they're a very talented football team, they're very talented and they're coached well. And, they can attack the field in all directions. So, you've got to play sound defense and we've got to be sound. And, I mean, when you're going to play the Pittsburgh Steelers you better strap your helmet up a little bit tighter and tie your shoes a little tighter. Let's go. So, we have nothing but respect for them."
First offensive play last week, the offense came out with three tight ends and it was successful. You stuck with it throughout the game. Going into the game, what made you think that that formation, personnel grouping might be successful? A lot of teams don't use it on the first play.
"Again, too, obviously liked the matchup against the opponent and we like our tight ends. We like those guys. I mean, we think those guys are really good football players. So, we're always trying to get, we want to utilize everybody on the roster. When you get to the 46 we like to go, we'll, our goal, doesn't always work this way, but our goal, guys that are up we want them on the field. We want them to be able to participate and have a role in that game that's going to help us win. So, those guys in that particular game, we felt good about it. We were ready to go other places and there was more to it, but we just didn't. But, we like those guys."
One of the things that stands out about RB Carlos Hyde as a runner is his ability to get yardage after contact. I think throughout the preseason and obviously on Monday, he really excelled in that area. Do you notice that the rest of the offense kind of builds off that from an emotional standpoint? Do they see that and say, "Maybe we'll hold our blocks a little longer?" Is there something to that?
"Well, again, I hear what you're saying there and I acknowledge. I guess I just don't come from it that way. Our guys block because they're prideful blockers. Do they love having Carlos back there? Yeah. But, does Carlos love having them up there? You know what I mean? I can go onto a tangent there but I think they all just really love playing together and they all want to do really well and it's a prideful group. He's starting at me like I'm, did I really go goofy there?"
No, you hit your microphone and it spun around.
"Yeah, did you see that? It spun nice."
I'm sorry if you were asked this the last couple of days, but it seemed like LB NaVorro Bowman played well in his return. Obviously a long time since he'd played. What does that mean for this defense to have him out there?
"Once again, they all admire him and what he's done and I think we all do. There's no denying NaVorro and the road he's traveled. Just how hard he's worked at it. But, there were a few other guys on the field that day that hadn't played. [DL] Glenn Dorsey, [NT] Ian Williams. There's guys here that have overcome some stuff. And you talk about surgeries and things like that, get back on that football field. And I think that kind of, they're all together in that way. But, obviously, Bo's a dynamic football player and he's just, he's done a great job. But, so have those other guys."
You guys reached an injury settlement with former 49ers RB Kendall Hunter yesterday. Is he somebody that you could add, that you're looking to add possibly later in the season if that situation arose?
"Yeah. I'm not going to get into all that. I think everybody here knows how I personally feel about Kendall Hunter. And it's unfortunate. He had to get that thing cleaned up again. But, and however that all works, I'm not going to tell you that I'm all the way into the workings of the rules and things. I mean, I know you're at the settlement, when the settlement's done, you've got six weeks before you come back. I'm educated enough in that sense, but he's got the, he can get that thing right and be ready to go."
Did he have another operation?
"I don't know if he had an operation. But, whatever, when he had that, you mean this? I don't know about that."
"No. But you know, from the other, when he had to go back and have that."
You said you like your tight ends. What do you like about TE Garrett Celek in particular?
"I'm going to flip this on you a little bit because you're watching him too. Isn't it cool to see? That guy's running, he runs some nice routes. He'll block you. He'll stick his face right in there. There you go, there's an undrafted free agent that comes to work everyday man, he grinds hard. He's my kind of guy. We've all watched him. Just keep doing that you know. That in itself fires me up. He's a really good player. He can run. He catches. He's smart. You can use him in a lot of ways. And he's got that grit and toughness. He's a big body guy. He's got that grit and toughness where he doesn't mind mixing it up with you either. So, but that whole group, that whole room is, you just really, you like that room."
How many Steelers games did you go to as a kid?
"I don't know that. Official or sneak in? Hey, I can talk about it because that was old Three Rivers. We knew how to sneak into Three Rivers. But, yeah, family-wise they were all there. Not my dad, he was working. My Uncle Tic, I don't know if he ever missed a game. But, Aunt Jeanie, I mean a lot."
We hear how important chemistry is for a team. What do you do as a coach to help build chemistry with your team?
"I don't know that you, when you say build chemistry, I don't know that you build chemistry. I think you get like-minded people together and you put them in an environment where they can grow together. To me, it's a growth process. Guys coming together and growing together. I don't know that you can ever walk into a room and give them chemistry. I think you can give them an environment in which they can interact and get to know each other and form bonds that way. I hope I'm answering that."
So, how did you sneak into Three Rivers?
You were talking about keeping this game normal for your players, first road trip. How do you keep it normal for you? I'm sure you have a lot of demands, radio stations, newspapers calling you from Pittsburgh, family.
"Oh, I don't. I don't. He [Lange] might though."
So he keeps it--?
"That's where my lack of cell phones and internets and all that stuff is good for me. I really haven't done anything."
How many tickets are you leaving?
Uncle Tic must get tickets.
"They figure it out and handle it, which I'm grateful to. I've never done tickets. I don't know how you can do that. I don't know how guys do that. You've got people calling for tickets, this and that, will call. Two hours before the game and you're worried about where you're going to put tickets or how you've got to get something or, no, I don't go. I got nothing to do with it and any home games, my wife handles everything. So, don't depend on me for any of that stuff. If they don't have a helmet on, I'm not paying much attention to it. Thank you all. Have a great day."