Jim Tomsula was by no means polished or perfect during his podium session Thursday.
The 49ers’ coach had a persistent cough. He took a swig of water – a long swig of water – midway through. His dark brown shoes didn’t match his light brown belt. His buttoned-down blue shirt was decidedly un-buttoned at the top, revealing perhaps more than what fans want to see from their team’s coach.
But compared to his wobbly introductory news conference last month, Tomsula seemed as suave as John F. Kennedy and as in command as Winston Churchill.
There were no halting, disjointed sentences and long-winded answers that led nowhere. There were no instances that begged for rescuing. There was no grunting, something Tomsula resorted to during a television interview last month that was so painfully bad it went viral.
Instead, Tomsula articulated his vision, bantered with reporters and dodged uncomfortable questions like an NFL coach and, unlike his earlier performance, seemed at ease in his new role.
He even opened by referencing his January debut: “We’ll try this again,” he said to a few knowing chuckles from the crowd. Then, when asked about the earlier event, he said, “I didn’t do a good job. Bobby (49ers director of communications Bob Lange) was trying to get me to go to bed that night. I didn’t. So anyway, I’m driving him crazy. He called me three times last night to make sure I’m in bed. So we’ll get better at that.”
There were other differences beyond a solid night’s sleep.
Tomsula didn’t have general manager Trent Baalke and CEO Jed York to either side of him and probably didn’t feel as constrained as he did when he was introduced as Jim Harbaugh’s successor.
He also has his staff in place – a process that likely was a major source of anxiety one month ago – and could speak more freely about plans for 2015.
▪ Tomsula said new defensive coordinator Eric Mangini will run a three-linemen, four-linebacker defense just as the 49ers did under Mike Singletary and Harbaugh. “Our personnel is set for that,” he said, “and we’ll continue in that way. Offensively, we’re going to use the players that we have. We have some dynamic players, and we’re going to use those guys. But obviously, we’re going to run the football.”
▪ He said veteran defensive end Justin Smith, who is contemplating retirement, will be given plenty of leeway as far as making a decision: “He’s earned the right to make the decision on his terms.”
▪ He talked about new quarterbacks coach Steve Logan’s work with disparate passers in NFL Europe. “To watch Steve change his approach with each different guy and to really evaluate the mechanics and the traits of each guy and then coach them to those strengths – that’s what’s really neat about Steve Logan.”
Tomsula also said he has plenty of experience talking to large groups of players – and the media – from his stint in NFL Europe.
The developmental league was desperate to catch on overseas and tried hard to appeal to potential fans. That’s why league officials tapped Tomsula as a head coach in 2006 – he was funny, affable and good at communicating.
Tomsula never will appear polished; the broken sentences and everyman appearance are part of his appeal. Instead of saying he will meet with Smith in coming weeks, for example, Tomsula said he and Smith will sit down and “shoot the baloney.”
Which is more like the charismatic and quirky Tomsula that briefly captivated 49ers fans when he took over for Singletary – for one game – at the end of the 2010 season. It was at that point that team officials began wondering about the prospects of making him a full-time head coach.
Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.
NFL SCOUTING COMBINE
What: Weeklong showcase where college football players perform physical and mental tests for NFL coaches, general managers and scouts
When: Through Monday
Workout schedule: Today: Kickers, special teams, tight ends; Saturday: quarterbacks, wide receivers, running backs; Sunday: defensive line, linebackers; Monday: defensive backs
TV: Today-Monday, 6 a.m.-1 p.m., NFL Network