SANTA CLARA, Calif. - The San Francisco 49ers hired the candidate who was a favorite to become head coach all along.
They will promote defensive line coach Jim Tomsula to replace Jim Harbaugh, becoming the 19th head coach in franchise history, while also being the 17th coach on that list.
It will be his second stint as the team's leading man after taking over for the final game of 2010 when it fired Mike Singletary on an interim basis. Tomsula has been the 49ers' defensive line coach since 2007.
“After conducting a thorough coaching search, and meeting with a number of outstanding candidates, Jim Tomsula clearly is the right man to lead this team,” CEO Jed York said in a statement. “Jim is a great teacher and a tremendous mentor who conducts himself with great class and integrity.”
Tomsula will be tasked with replacing one of the most successful coaches in league history. Harbaugh became the first coach to take his team to the conference title game in his first three years, when he averaged 12 regular season wins.
“Our organization is excited to have Jim Tomsula leading this football team,” general manager Trent Baalke said in the statement. “We have had the privilege of working alongside Jim for the past eight seasons. He is a proven leader, teacher and mentor, and we look forward to seeing him apply his craft and vision to our team.”
The organization and Harbaugh "mutually" parted ways after the team's disappointing 8-8 season in which the offense failed to take the next step to compliment one of the league's premier defenses.
The team issued a press release immediately announcing Harbaugh's departure following his final press conference following the team's Week 17 win over the Arizona Cardinals, indicating the decision had been in the pipeline. Harbaugh landed on his feet at Michigan, his alma mater, after an agreement was made before leaving San Francisco.
“We didn’t win the Super Bowl. If we don’t win the Super Bowl, we’re not executing on our vision," York said in December. "Our mission is very simple: the San Francisco 49ers win with class. We haven’t won, and I don’t think we’ve conducted ourselves with the level of class that I expect of our organization. We’ve had off-the-field issues. That’s going to happen in sports. The level that it’s happened here is not unacceptable.”
It's been long believed Tomsula would be Harbaugh's replacement dating back to last offseason, when the team reportedly entertained conversations with the Cleveland Browns about a potential trade for Harbaugh involving draft picks. A reported rift between Harbaugh and the front office spilled into the season with rumblings of an untenable situation with the front office surfacing on a near-weekly basis.
Tomsula is extremely bright and personable, fitting the "teacher" qualities York said he was looking for after parting with Harbaugh.
"I think what made Bill Walsh so successful was that he was a great teacher, whether that was players or whether that was other coaches," York said. "...What I want to make sure that we have is somebody that understands that level of teaching. Understands how to get more out of less and continue to build an organization that wins both on and off the field.”
Tomsula, 46, is highly regarded by his players. But his lack of experience will come into question. Tomsula would be just the fourth active head coach in the league without coordinator experience in the NFL. Andy Reid, Tom Coughlin and Chip Kelly are the others, and they all have offensive backgrounds.
Choosing Tomsula creates questions about the rest of the 49ers coaching staff. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio could leave after being passed over for Tomsula. Fangio's defense was in the top five in total yardage in east of his four seasons as defensive coordinator.
According to the Bay Area News Group and CSN Bay Area, former Raiders defensive coordinator and 49ers assistant Jason Tarver could be added to Tomsula's staff. The News Group is also reporting former Bears head coach Marc Trestman is a candidate to become offensive coordinator.
The offensive staff remains in question as well. Baalke spent Tuesday in Denver interviewing Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase, 36, who would have likely taken over play calling duties. Gase is the only candidate to have two known interviews.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the offense took a drastic step back in 2014, scoring just 19 points per game. They dealt with a perfect storm of hindering factors, including a number of injuries along the offensive line and to tight ends, while attempting to evolve schematically into a more pass-oriented attack.
Ultimately, Kaepernick was unable to beat teams from the pocket consistently after being a more dynamic running quarterback during his previous two seasons as starter, including when he took over midway through 2012 before guiding the team to the Super Bowl.
Aside from his one-game stint as head coach following Singletary, Tomsula was the head coach of the 6-4 Rein Fire of the NFL Europe in 2006. He was the defensive coordinator of the Berlin Thunder in his previous two seasons. Mike Nolan brought Tomsula to San Francisco in 2007.
Tomsula, a former defensive lineman at Catawba College (Division II), started his coaching career in 1989 at his alma mater and Charleston Southern.