SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Francisco 49ers' firing of Jim Tomsula some two hours after their fool’s gold 19-16 overtime victory to end the 2015 season felt empty.
Almost as empty as the promises Niners CEO Jed York made when he surprisingly tabbed Tomsula to replace Jim Harbaugh last January, pumping him up as a teacher and a mentor in the mold of Bill Walsh while imploring 49ers fans to hold him, as in York himself, accountable.
Tomsula, who was hired to be more a motivator and pseudo-cheerleader, did that job well, as it was hard to find anyone in the Niners' locker room who did not enjoy playing for him.
“It’s rare in this league that you get a coach that truly, genuinely cares about his players,” free safety Eric Reid said. “We all understand it’s a business and that’s part of it, but he’s one of the rare coaches in my football experience that you look him in the eyes, and when he asks you how you’re doing, he really wants to know how you’re doing. He asks you how your family’s doing, he really wants to know how your family’s doing.
“I think that’s why the players love him so much.”
Love was indeed in the air of the Niners' locker room after the victory.
“I love him,” NaVorro Bowman said. “He’s been with me my whole career, like I said, and we won the last game. The way things have been going for the team to come out and play like we did today, I think it says a lot about his direction throughout this process.
“As the season has been going up and down, the players have responded to how he has coached throughout the week. The evidence we got was today.”
Alas, it turns out Tomsula was held accountable as an X’s-and-O’s guy for 16 games, which is not what he was hired to be, at least not publicly.
“Jimmy has been a valuable member of the 49ers organization for the last nine years,” York said in a team-issued statement that was released on Twitter and on email to media outlets. “We all know he is a man of high character, and his contributions on the field and in our community have always been greatly appreciated. This entire organization is proud and grateful to have worked so closely alongside Jimmy. We all wish him and his family great success in the future.”
York will address the media Monday at 10:30 a.m. PT. Given the landscape he provided when hiring Tomsula, it will be more than interesting to see how York spins the decision.
Tomsula said in his postgame media conference he had yet to have any conversations with team ownership about his future despite rumors and reports flying that Tomsula was coaching his last game in Santa Clara, win, lose or draw.
“Haven’t had any conversations of the such [and] wouldn’t expect to until the season is over,” said Tomsula, who had been with the Niners since being hired as the team’s defensive line coach in 2007.
“What I would like to say to everybody is: I’m not going to make this about Jim and Jim’s job status here today. OK? I’ve got a group of guys here, players that just won a football game. They’ve been through a very tough season. They’ve stuck together and went and won a game in overtime and they fought like crazy. Today is all about those players. My job status and anything going forward there can be handled throughout the rest of the week.”
It was handled shortly thereafter and, for the second time in as many years, the Niners, once one of the league’s more iconic and proud franchises, are again embarrassingly embarking upon another coaching search.
Consider: Take away the four Harbaugh seasons and the 49ers are a combined 42 games under .500 (51-93) since parting ways with Steve Mariucci following the 2002 season.
And now the Niners are expected to “explore” the potential of making a run at New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton, who, like general manager Trent Baalke, is part of the Bill Parcells tree.
But with Payton still under contract with the Saints, the Niners would have to compensate them for the coach’s services, likely in the form of draft picks. Baalke loves his draft picks.
Plus, in a logical world, should Baalke not be on a hot seat now since he’s the one who cobbled together a roster that Tomsula could only get to 5-11? Knute Rockne, Vince Lombardi or even Harbaugh himself would have had trouble doing much better with this group.
Then again, Harbaugh himself appeared to weigh in from Michigan.
Do not be deceived. You will reap what you sow.
— Coach Harbaugh (@CoachJim4UM) January 4, 2016
But was it aimed at York, or Tomsula? Either way, it too rang hollow in the grand scheme of things at Levi’s Stadium.