For the 49ers, Adam Gase is the one who got away.
The Miami Dolphins’ coach was a finalist to replace Jim Harbaugh in 2015, and for a few hours that January, he appeared on the verge of getting the job. The 49ers ultimately made an unconventional pick in Jim Tomsula, but even after that move, they continued to push for Gase.
Tomsula flew to Denver International Airport, where Gase, who spent 2014 as the Denver Broncos’ offensive coordinator, was preparing to interview for the offensive coordinator position with the Chicago Bears. Tomsula pleaded with Gase to join his staff.
Gase, 38, said Wednesday there were no hard feelings over what transpired and said his experience interviewing with the 49ers that year – they were the only team with which he had a second interview in 2015 – helped him the following season when he landed the Dolphins’ job.
“I’ll say this, I have a lot of respect for Jim,” said Gase, who was on the 49ers’ staff with Tomsula in 2008. “He always treated me so great. When I was an offensive assistant, he always approached me and we had a great relationship.
“And that was very tough for me as far as deciding to go to Chicago, because I thought that was the best move for me at the time. And I have a lot friends in (the 49ers’) building. And I have a lot of people (there) that I respect. And obviously my respect for the York family is very, very high. I want the best for those guys all the time.”
Tomsula was fired after a 5-11 season and replaced by Chip Kelly. Gase lasted just a year as Chicago’s offensive coordinator only because the Dolphins snapped him up as their coach.
After a rough start this season, Gase has led the Dolphins to five consecutive wins. Miami (6-4) can still challenge the New England Patriots for first place in the AFC East and is considered a front-runner for a wild-card berth.
The Dolphins’ offense isn’t special and ranks 26th in yards per game. But it seems to have found its comfort zone in using second-year tailback Jay Ajayi, who ranks sixth in the NFL in rushing, and a play-action passing game. During the team’s recent winning streak, quarterback Ryan Tannehill has thrown for six touchdowns without an interception.
“His offense is really fun to play in, does a lot of things to help a quarterback,” Tannehill said of Gase on a conference call. “Just his knowledge – being around all the quarterbacks he has – he’s learned so much and can help you in so many ways.”
When the 49ers visit Sunday, they will find not only Gase but a couple of other former assistants.
Shane Day, who served as a quality control coach in San Francisco from 2007-09, is Miami’s tight ends coach. The Dolphins’ defensive coordinator is Vance Joseph, who served as defensive backs coach for the 49ers from 2005-10. The 49ers pushed to hire him as their defensive coordinator in 2015 but were blocked by the Cincinnati Bengals because he was still under contract.
Another one-time 49ers assistant, Mike Martz, also has his fingerprints on the Dolphins.
Gase served under Martz for three NFL seasons, including when Martz ran San Francisco’s offense in 2008. Gase said there are traces of Martz in everything he does, from how he structures practices and meetings to how he coaches players.
He also said Martz has passed down his famously aggressive style to him.
“You know, Mike always talked about, ‘It’s the offense’s job to go win the game and not to prevent you from losing it,’ ” Gase said. “So when we get into situations when we have opportunities to go win the game, I have a lot of confidence.”
As an example, Gase cited a Week 7 game against the Buffalo Bills in which the Dolphins led 21-17 late in the fourth quarter. Instead of relying on the defense to preserve the lead, Miami’s offense took care of the outcome with an aggressive downfield pass to wideout Kenny Stills.
“I have a lot of confidence that our guys are going to go win plays and we did and we scored a 66-yard touchdown,” Gase said of the 28-25 win. “And that’s kind of how we play. That’s our attitude. ... I learned that from an early age from (Martz). That’s obviously in my DNA because that was the way I was raised by him.”