Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin: Jim Tomsula’s head-coaching debut a rousing success

There is nothing fancy about 49ers coach Jim Tomsula, but based on his team’s season-opening win over the Minnesota Vikings, he knows his football.
There is nothing fancy about 49ers coach Jim Tomsula, but based on his team’s season-opening win over the Minnesota Vikings, he knows his football. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

Until recently, Jim Tomsula couldn’t tell the difference between a Facebook posting and a tweet, which given his Silicon Valley surroundings is hilarious, if also sort of inexplicable.

Then there’s his appearance. With his thick physique, bushy moustache and obvious disdain of GQ attire – or, heaven forbid, a neatly pressed pair of khakis – the 49ers’ first-year head coach is an uniquely acquired taste on the sideline. The top job in the increasingly corporate NFL usually belongs to those who utter slick sound bites, ooze charisma and easily transition into the role of a television analyst.

That definitely is not Tomsula. He has about as much sex appeal as the lumbering, perpetually disheveled Bruce Bochy. But let’s see now. How many World Series championships have the Giants won? One? Two? Something like three in the last five seasons?

If Tomsula can summon his inner Bochy, say, the ease and sincerity in dealing with players, the confidence to assemble a quality staff, the ability to make quick decisions during games, and the toughness to enforce rules without cracking employees over the head with a hammer, the Bay Area might have produced another winner.

True, the 49ers won one game, 20-3 over the Minnesota Vikings on Monday night at Levi’s Stadium. But they were impressive, inspired, entertaining. For one night anyway, the issues and uncertainties evaporated. Was the offensive line deep enough? Were NaVorro Bowman’s abilities diminished following surgery to repair torn knee ligaments? Was Carlos Hyde a worthy heir to the respected Frank Gore? How would the departures of Patrick Willis and Aldon Smith affect the defense? How much of Kurt Warner’s brilliance did Colin Kaepernick absorb during their offseason tutorials, and for that matter, how would the fifth-year quarterback respond to a coach not named Harbaugh?

He has great confidence in his players, just going out and playing, and allowing us to make plays.

49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick on coach Jim Tomsula

A year ago, Kaepernick, who possesses a rare combination of strength, quickness and athleticism, was often conflicted about when to run and when to throw. He repeatedly telegraphed passes because he got happy feet and lacked the poise and patience to go through his progressions. But against the Vikings, this was a different quarterback. He scrambled selectively, mixed his familiar fastballs with touch passes and remained in the pocket long enough to consider his options.

“You’re watching the game,” Tomsula said when asked about Kaepernick’s effort, “and you see him getting us in the correct calls. You see him getting us in the correct runs. You see him killing a pass and going to a run. You see him killing a run and going to a pass. Doing all of those things. I thought he knows what he’s looking at. I thought Kap played a wonderful game. I thought he did everything we asked him to do.”

After a sloppy opening quarter, the men in black – and those were the 49ers in the much-debated alternate uniforms – owned the night. The defense stymied Adrian Peterson and never allowed quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to get into a rhythm. The offensive line protected Kaepernick and opened gaping holes for Hyde, the second-year back who carried 26 times for 168 yards, and deserved extra credit for breaking off one ridiculous spin move.

Ultimately, though, the game ball went to Tomsula, the rookie head coach who could run a temporary employment agency in another life. Been there, done that. He has coached at the high school, college and pro levels and held lesser-paying positions delivering newspapers and cleaning carpets. Until Jed York made the unusual move of promoting his defensive-line coach to replace Jim Harbaugh, Tomsula, 47, would have remained in the background, content to cash his very decent assistant coach’s salary and never utter a complaint.

I thought Kap played a wonderful game. I thought he did everything we asked him to do.

49ers coach Jim Tomsula on quarterback Colin Kaepernick

But we know now how that went. York tired of the Harbaugh dramatics, the internal feuds, the off-field distractions, and chose a simpler route, a lower-maintenance coach, someone to put salve on the 49ers’ wounds. Whether Tomsula can both soothe and succeed is yet to be determined. A three-game losing streak, and folks will be whining for the return of a certain college coach known for his withering stares and black sweater/khaki combinations.

It doesn’t hurt, though, that the 49ers’ most important player embraces the change of direction.

“(Tomsula) has great confidence in his players, just going out and playing, and allowing us to make plays,” Kaepernick said. “It’s amazing. And he continues to preach that. I think that’s what gives this team energy, gives this team life.”

For openers, that’s one helluva closing line.

The San Francisco 49ers host the Minnesota Vikings in their 2015 NFL season opener at Levi's Stadium. Video by Manny Crisostomo, mcrisostomo@sacbee.com

San Francisco 49ers RB Carlos Hyde talks to the media after the game where he had 168 rushing yards and two touchdowns in 20-3 win over the Minnesota Vikings.

​The San Francisco 49ers beat the Minnesota Vikings 20-3 and after the game Colin Kaepernick, Jarryd Hayne and Adrian Peterson meet on the field. Video by Manny Crisostomo, mcrisostomo@sacbee.com

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