I remember when I met Jim Tomsula for the first time. I had seen him on the sidelines and did stories on him, but it wasn’t until an impromptu meeting with the media in the 2011 season. At the time, the media had some limitations to their access to the players under Jim Harbaugh. It was Harbaugh’s first season and understandably, he was trying to ensure that his first season went well without distractions.
However, the 49ers’ defensive line was excelling that year. Rookie Aldon Smith and fellow pass rusher Justin Smith were both making big waves. Aldon was starting to gain traction in the rookie of the year discussion and Justin was a serious candidate for defensive player of the year. (Tomsula was a major advocate for Justin Smith when the pass rusher was a free agent after the 2007 season.) We in the media wanted to speak with the coach behind the resurgent defensive line and Tomsula obliged with an almost hour-long discussion with the media in December.
Here is the piece I wrote following the discussion.
That one-hour discussion (it might have been longer, I lost track) was one of the best moments during my final season covering the 49ers. One thing about Tomsula that you will notice when you meet him is that he’s very friendly. In fact, I don’t even know if friendly is the best word to describe him. He’s such a pleasant guy to talk to almost about anything. He’s encouraging and delightful. He understands that everyone is different but he appreciates the differences in you.
During that discussion, I remember my first thought was that it was going to take a long time to transcribe the interview. Shortly after that thought, I threw that notion out the window. He was just so enjoyable to talk to and listen to. I think that what caught my attention the most is that Tomsula is a player’s coach. He doesn’t berate anyone and he ensures that every player on the team is respected and feels important. That may not seem like a big deal, but for as a player, that’s the kind of coach you respect.
He was elevated to the interim position after Mike Singletary was fired and the 49ers had one game remaining in the regular season. When he met with the media after that announcement, winning was his only goal. “We’re going to win,” he said. “Let me make that clear. Jed’s made that very clear.” I was not too surprised by this move at the time. He was the most experienced coach in terms of leading a team (he spent time in NFL Europe as a head coach) and the players respected him.
Following the regular season finale win, instead of soaking in the praise, the entire time he deflected the praise to the players. The 49ers finished the season at 6-10 and he knew there was a chance he might be retained as the head coach. Ultimately, his greatest moment at that time of his career was all about the team.
So as the 49ers look forward with Tomsula as their new head coach after four very good years from Jim Harbaugh, they are reminded that they have a coach that the players respect. He’s been through many ups and downs and remained loyal to the team. He may not have all the experiences that you may want from an ideal head coach, but a part of me believes that he has everything the players want from a leader.
There are big shoes to fill and the 49ers still remain very talented. Now the question is whether or not Tomsula (and his new staff) can take what has already been established and make it work. He’s smart enough to do it. He’s extremely qualified. Now it’s time to see how it all unfolds.