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Tom Rathman: ‘The [49ers] organization is in good hands’

Anyone expecting sour grapes from former 49ers running back coach Tom Rathman may be a bit surprised. The recently departed coach was on KNBR to discuss his departure and has nothing but praise for the organization, both for his past job, and the direction they have going forward. As he said, “I understand the business.”

Let’s just come out and say it: losing Tom Rathman sucks. The longtime San Francisco 49ers running backs coach has been through four straight coaching regimes (five total if you count the Steve Mariucci days). On regime five he hasn’t been so lucky, as Kyle Shanahan fulfilled a promise to new 49ers running back coach, Bobby Turner, bringing the latter over to take Rathman’s job. They tried to work out a role for Rathman, but he decided it was better to depart from the 49ers.

I made a comment the other day that if Kyle Shanahan did make this promise, it would have been worse if he didn’t follow through with it—and it seems like Rathman understands that. Nothing but a bad look once people start talking about unfulfilled promises. Rathman was unfortunately a victim of bad situation—and he said just as much on KNBR Tuesday.

Rathman was nothing but professional, saying everything’s been up front, fair, and there’s no ill will towards the organization. Furthermore, he’s been complimentary of Jed York, John Lynch, and Kyle Shanahan, saying the organization is in good hands going forward. You don’t hear this much praise from a former 49ers coach—in fact you don’t hear much at all. Rathman had nothing but praise of his former employers in a 15 minute interview. I picked out most of the parts talking about the 49ers and his departure, but if you want the full thing, give it a listen here.

On leaving the 49ers:

Well basically, everybody has to understand the business. It’s a volatile industry and the bottom line is you have to win football games. Teams that are successful, you’re not having coaching chances. This has kind of been a wheel-go-round, so to speak, just the last three four years with the head coaching changes here.

I do believe they have it right now, to be honest with you. With Kyle going in there and John Lynch. I mean, two great football knowledge guys. You talk about John Lynch, he played the game the way the game was supposed to be played. So the demeanor’s there, the style of coaching when Kyle is there. He’s a very dynamic young coach coming up and I think they’ll do well.

What happened to me is very similar to what happens all throughout the league. You get a new head coach, he’s got his guys that come with him. He promised Bobby Turner a job to coach running backs. It just happened to be the same position I was coaching. He was going to bring Bobby in to coach running backs. And that’s great, you know what I’m saying? He should feel comfortable with the guys that he brings in here and works with. I just thought taking a step back, I didn’t want to have anyone feeling uncomfortable with me being there. So I just decided to take a step back and let these guys go. Let them develop their own relationships with these guys, mentor them. And they’re in good hands. Bobby Turner is a damn good coach. Carlos [49ers running back Carlos Hyde]is in great hands. Nothing but positive things to say. What works out best for me is to try and get another running back coaching job. Unfortunately, that’s going to be some place else. But that’s just the nature of the business, unfortunately.

I’ve been through five head coaches here so as far as my coaching, choices, two obviously playing. So I’ve been through seven head coaches here.

On Kyle Shanahan finding a role for you:

Just sitting down talking to Kyle, I don’t think there was going to be a role that was going to be very comfortable. So that’s what i say, let those guys develop their relationships, let them mentor those kids, let them develop those relationships without me being in back, I didn’t think it was going to work. Just a comfort level going in there. Just being unified. I probably was just better to take a step back and I just want to coach, I’m looking for a coaching job. Because of the circumstances of this way played out, going into the Super Bowl, it obviously didn’t happen until late and by February all your jobs are filled.

On where he may go:

I’m just kind of waiting to see what my next opportunity is. I don’t really have any direction right now.

On if he’d go to the college ranks:

I got a call about that. I’m not really willing to go to college. I think I’d love to get another opportunity to go to the Super Bowl, win a Super Bowl. I like this level.

Would he sit out for a year to wait?:

That may be a possibility. That may be what’s going to happen, try to get back into it next year with whoever gets a job. It’s a volatile industry, everybody knows that. These are the risks you have every year.

On if Frank Gore is a proud moment of his career:

Here’s the way I approach coaching. I coach the game, like I’m playing the game through the players. So everything that I try to coach and emphasize is exactly the way I played. All the extra little things, we’re trying to teach those guys to do those, because we know they’re good for the team. Hard nose football, that’s what we teach. That’s what we emphasize with the group I work with. Not to be able to do that, that’s the way it goes sometimes, but it’s been fun.

On Carlos Hyde and his health:

The thing I was most disappointed in this year was the ability to take care of the football. This was the worst season I had been around in 28 years of football as far as taking care of the football for some reason. It all started in training camp. We emphasized it every day, about squeezing it, high and tight, taking care of it with a clasped hand. There was things we taught and it didn’t get carried over in games. That was probably the most disappointing thing was the fumbles. If you look at the history of the running backs that I’ve worked with, I think over the last 18 years with regard to last year, I don’t think anybody can match what we’ve done as a group of running backs, but last year for some reason we were jinxed. That was the most disappointing thing, but Carlos is going to be a fine player. I mean he’s been in the league three years, so he’s right where he needs to be, he’s at the prime, he’s been coached the way the game should be played—-I believe, the last three years. He’s gotta keep growing and he’s gotta stay healthy, like you said, that’s an issue. If you don’t have a guy who can answer the bell every week, you better have two of them. Maybe you have three of them.

On coaching contact:

In my opinion, if you initiate the contact you have a better chance of surviving as opposed to absorbing, so that’s a philosophy of mine. Attack instead of letting the game come to you, you have a better chance of staying healthy. But he’s a physical runner and takes a lot of shots and I think that’s why he had some of the fumbles. You’ve gotta do a better job going into contact. That’s probably a big reason why he’s hurt, is because he’s taking a lot of those big hits. He’s gotta be smarter in that regard, and as he moves forward.

What can he say to 49er fans regarding the state of the franchise:

Well I’ve been in it. So I know a lot of the stuff that people don’t know. But I’ll tell you this moving forward, I think the organization is in good hands. I think John Lynch, I think Kyle Shanahan will do an outstanding job. I think they will start moving forward. How quick that’s going to happen? I mean they have to get some good players in here obviously. They’ll get coached and then the players have to ultimately go out and perform. That’s the bottom line; it doesn’t matter who’s coaching, doesn’t matter what scheme you’re running, the bottom line is players have to take responsibility and they have to go out and perform. I’m talking about a high level and I’m talking about consistent play. I’m talking snap after snap. When you get that collectively with 11 guys out there, I’m talking about championship football. Just living through it in reality when I played. It takes all that stuff. Until you start getting that from the players, that consistency, you probably are not going to have a successful football team, a championship football team. But I think the thing is in the right hands. I think John Lynch will do a dynamic job as far as acquiring talent just by who he is and what he stood for and obviously Kyle will do a great job because he’s a young, dynamic coach. I think Jed wants to win. I know Jed and John York want to win. I think was is the best move that they could have made bringing those two guys in and running the football operations.

On John Lynch’s statement of “We need to embrace the past more.”

Championship football, that’s what we need to embrace. That’s what it was back then. Now there was a lull, and this is the second lull so to speak since I came into the league in ‘86, that they will have to dig themselves out of. How quick they can do that, here again, bottom line is it’s up to the players.

On the emotions going forward:

Am I sad? Not really because I understand the business. I’ve been in it 28 years. I loved the 49ers twice, once as a player and once as a coach. I didn’t get retained back in 2003 so I had to move my show on the road so to speak for six years. I’m not saying it could ever happen, but I’ll always be a 49er. I have nothing bad to say about the 49ers. I’m rooting for the 49ers because I want that brand to mean what it should mean. It’s going to be a long road getting there, but I think like I said they got the right people in place.