For the second straight season, the 49ers parted ways with their head coach after a win in the finale.
This time it was Jim Tomsula, who at 5 p.m. Sunday was gushing about how much fight his players showed in a 19-16 overtime win over the Rams and shortly thereafter was told by CEO Jed York he would not get a second year as head coach.
“Jimmy has been a valuable member of the 49ers organization for the last nine years,” York said in a statement. “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.”
Tomsula finished 5-11 after taking over for Jim Harbaugh, who had gone 49-22-1 with three trips to the playoffs for the 49ers and who went on to have a 10-3 record and a bowl victory in his first year at the University of Michigan. After Tomsula was fired, Harbaugh posted this on his Twitter account: “Do not be deceived. You will reap what you sow.”
Tomsula became the fifth head coach in franchise history to be fired after one season and the first since Pete McCulley was let go during the 1978 season.
Tomsula’s dismissal underscores the 49ers’ massive miscalculation entering the 2015 season as the front office initially thought the team would be competitive in the NFC West. General manager Trent Baalke a year ago called the decision to move on from Harbaugh a “reload,” not a “rebuild.”
Instead, the 49ers finished last in the division and narrowly avoided becoming the first 49ers team since McCulley’s 1978 squad to lose all of its division games. It’s clear from the 49ers’ youth and reshuffling coaching staff that they are very much in a rebuild situation now. York was not seen before or after the game, but he is expected to hold a news conference at 10:30 a.m. Monday.
The 49ers will owe Tomsula the remainder of his four-year contract, which calls for him to earn approximately $3.5 million per season. Onetime 49ers assistant Mike Holmgren already has indicated he is interested in the job, and other NFL coaches, such as the Saints’ Sean Payton and ex-Eagles coach Chip Kelly, could be in the mix.
Sunday’s topsy turvy overtime win was one of the best, at least statistically, for Tomsula and the 49ers. They finished with a season-high 458 yards of offense, which ensured that the Rams, not the 49ers, would end the season with the league’s lowest-ranked offense. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert threw for a career-high 354 passing yards and was sacked only once.
458 Total yards by the 49ers, their season high, against the Rams
As in most of his starts, Gabbert mostly was content to throw short passes. One was to wide receiver Quinton Patton in overtime.
Patton avoided two tacklers and streaked downfield for 33 yards before he was tackled at the St. Louis 5-yard line. On the next play, the 49ers sent out Phil Dawson for a chip-shot field goal that ended the game with 3:27 remaining in overtime.
The theme in the locker room afterward was that the 49ers showed fight and resilience throughout the game and that the effort reflected well on Tomsula.
“He’s a fiery coach and provides the energy and enthusiasm on a daily basis that the players thrive off of, the competitive nature that he instills in us and that we try and take to the football field,” Gabbert said. “He’s been a lot of fun to play for.”
Dawson, who was part of a number of sorry Cleveland Browns teams before joining the 49ers in 2013, said he appreciated that Tomsula allowed a multiyear veteran like him opportunities to go home and spend time with his family during the year whereas other coaches wouldn’t.
“He was also just a fun guy to play for,” Dawson said. “Every day he’d come in here and it wasn’t a miserable environment. I’ve been in plenty of those.”
But those descriptions also may have been Tomsula’s downfall. He’s been criticized this season for being too conservative and for being too soft on his players. He also has given a poor impression of his leadership skills with his often muddled news conferences.
He was also just a fun guy to play for. Every day he’d come in here and it wasn’t a miserable environment. I’ve been in plenty of those.
Phil Dawson, 49ers kicker
After Sunday’s game, however, he was far more strident in congratulating his players on the win, arguing that the young squad was headed in the right direction, and in parrying questions about his future. At the time of his news conference, Tomsula said he had not spoken to York and did not know his fate.
He said he wanted the focus placed not on him but his players.
“They’ve been through a very tough season,” he said. “They’ve stuck together and went and won a game in overtime, and they fought like crazy,” he said. “Today is all about those players. My job status and anything going forward there can be handled throughout the rest of the week.”
In the locker room afterward, safety Eric Reid said it would be “unfortunate” if Sunday’s game was Tomsula’s last as head coach.
“We love to play for him,” he said. “Obviously we put ourselves in bad situations this year. And I don’t think you can blame one guy for that.”