San Francisco 49ers

On 49ers: Tomsula’s squad to go from ‘Mighty Men’ to ‘Merry Men’

Jim Tomsula tried to find assistant coaches whose personalities would would mesh. He’s seen here working with defensive end Tank Carradine.
Jim Tomsula tried to find assistant coaches whose personalities would would mesh. He’s seen here working with defensive end Tank Carradine. AP

New 49ers coach Jim Tomsula still has a few items left on his to-do list.

He hasn’t settled on a wide receivers coach. And there are a couple of minor positions – assistant special-teams coach, for example – that must be filled. That’s why we’re about to enter the second week of February and there’s been no announcement about Tomsula’s staff.

The biggest pieces are in place and enough is known about Tomsula’s plans for some analysis of how he will run the 49ers and how that will differ from the way his high-profile predecessor handled business.

Here are three observations:

▪ Because they have a new head coach, the 49ers are one of the teams that get a head start on their offseason program. Teams with returning head coaches can’t assemble until April 20, but Tomsula’s crew can come in April 6 and can hold a voluntary minicamp before the May draft.

And because they promoted quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst to offensive coordinator, the 49ers will keep the same offensive system and the players won’t have to learn a new system.

Of course, that wasn’t the team’s intent. Chryst wasn’t the first or second – or third? Or fourth? – choice for offensive coordinator. And the ease with which Tomsula’s staff gets out of the starting blocks in April quickly will be forgotten if the team struggles in September.

Still, Chryst’s selection gives the 49ers and quarterback Colin Kaepernick continuity heading into the season. Five years into his career, Kaepernick has had to learn one offensive system. Alex Smith, by contrast, was on his fifth offensive coordinator and his fourth offensive system at that point in his career.

On defense, players made it clear at the close of the 2014 season they had a strong defense and a strong system and they were looking for continuity.

New defensive coordinator Eric Mangini never was a defensive assistant under Vic Fangio in Mangini’s two seasons with the 49ers. But he’s expected to run a base 3-4 defense like Fangio, and with Tomsula – who is very familiar with Fangio’s system – influencing the direction of the defense, that unit also is expected to have carryover.

One change players and fans might expect is a more aggressive, more blitz-heavy approach.

▪  The 49ers’ offense last season had a disjointed, too-many-cooks feel about it. Coach Jim Harbaugh, who has an offensive background, had an NFL-high 12 assistants working under him on the offensive side.

Some of the assistants on Tomsula’s staff will specialize in specific areas of game planning, too. New offensive-line coach Chris Foerster, the Miami Dolphins’ offensive coordinator last season, is expected to be the main architect of the running game. Quarterbacks coach Steve Logan is expected to have a heavy influence in the passing attack.

But one of Tomsula’s goals is to make sure the process has a more organic, inclusive feel than it did under Harbaugh. Nobody will retire to a room to work on red-zone offense and then emerge at the end of the week with the results. The key word under Tomsula will be collaboration.

That also applies to the players. Every coaching staff says it seeks input from players, especially the quarterback. The degree to which that input is utilized, however, varies. Early indications are Tomsula’s staff will skew toward the very upper end of that spectrum.

▪ Personality was important to Tomsula as he assembled his staff.

It’s his most distinct quality. Anyone who has watched behind-the-scenes footage of 49ers games can’t help but notice the ultra-gregarious Tomsula prowling his team’s bench, exhorting players, hugging players, kissing players.

The man exudes warmth. So does Logan, whose personality rivals Tomsula’s and who had a popular radio show in North Carolina the past two years because of it.

We’ll leave it to Tomsula to explain why he retained Chryst, the only coach with a significant background with Harbaugh who remains on staff. But it’s noteworthy that others have described Chryst as a “player’s coach” and someone to whom Kaepernick often turned for succor and support. Chryst’s personality seems to fit Tomsula’s formula.

But the NFL is not a personality contest. And it’s already been noted the 49ers ousted a notoriously abrasive personality in Harbaugh for his apparent opposite in Tomsula. If Harbaugh’s team was a bunch of “Mighty Men,” in his words, then Tomsula seems to be looking for “Merry Men.”

“I want people to have fun playing football,” he said last month at his introductory news conference.

Harbaugh’s squads finished first or second in the NFC in three of the past four seasons. Will Tomsula’s nice guys finish last? Or will his energy, enthusiasm and bonhomie trickle down and boost what remains a talented team over the top?

It’s the subtext of the 49ers’ offseason and, unfortunately, one that won’t be answered for seven months.

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