After talking to—among others—Mike Shanahan, Dan Quinn, Todd Bowles, Rex Ryan, Josh McDaniels, Adam Gase, and Teryl Austin, the 49ers opted to stay in-house and promote defensive line coach Jim Tomsula to the big chair.
Actually, Tomsula has been here before: after Mike Singletary was fired with one game left in the 2010 season, Tomsula was named the team’s interim head coach. The Niners beat Arizona 38-7 in that season finale, and San Francisco went on to hire Jim Harbaugh.
And while Tomsula doesn’t have as high a profile as San Francisco’s former coach or some of the names bandied about as a potential replacement, he’s not exactly an unknown. Tomsula had a strong interview with the Vikings prior to Minnesota hiring Mike Zimmer last offseason, and he was rumored to be the leading candidate to replace Harbaugh when reports surfaced of a possible trade that would send the 49ers coach to Cleveland.
Tomsula is a 31-year coaching veteran, spanning the ranks from high school to the NFL—and the globe as well; Tomsula made many of his NFL contacts during nine seasons in NFL Europe, a stint that included a season as the head coach of the Rhein Fire. At the time, the 38-year-old Tomsula was the youngest head coach in NFL history.
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Tomsula has never been an NFL coordinator, having spent the past eight seasons as the 49ers’ defensive line coach. Not to worry, as lack of previous coordinator experience hasn’t prevented the likes of Tom Coughlin, Andy Reid and Steve Mariucci, among others, from finding NFL success.
In fact, San Francisco is the only NFL organization for which Tomsula has ever worked. He started under Mike Nolan, stayed through Mike Singletary, and was kept on by Harbaugh, who at the time said of his decision to keep Tomsula on staff, “He’s had a special gift of presence, personality, of teaching ability and that came shining through.”
Platitudes for Tomsula rain down from all levels of the 49ers organization. At Tomsula’s introductory press conference, owner Jed York said, “Jim is a great teacher and a tremendous mentor who conducts himself with great class and integrity.”
General manager Trent Baalke added, “He is a proven leader, teacher and mentor.”
NFL veteran and current 49ers defensive end Justin Smith called Somsula the best coach he’s ever had and told the Post and Courier, “He will make a great head coach.”
By all accounts, then, Tomsula is held in high regard by both the players and the front office, who certainly appear to be pulling all of the strings in San Francisco. The same, however, may not be true for the 49ers’ decision to stay in-house with their offensive coordinator hire and promote quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst.
Chryst has spent the past four seasons as San Francisco’s quarterbacks coach. During that time he helped guide Alex Smith to his best NFL season (2011) and oversaw the development of Colin Kaepernick from his rookie campaign of 2012 through last season. Overall Chryst has 20 years of NFL experience, including a two-year run as the Chargers’ offensive coordinator (1999-2000) as well as two different stints as the quarterbacks coach in Arizona and tight end coaching gigs with the Panthers and Cardinals.
San Diego’s numbers during Chryst’s time there don’t speak particularly well of him, as they ranked in the bottom six in the league in both total yards and points scored during that span. However, the Chargers’ quarterbacks in 1999 and 2000 were a 36-year-old Jim Harbaugh and rookie Ryan Leaf; San Diego’s leading rusher during this two-year span was Jermaine Fazande.
Chryst’s first NFL job came in Chicago when Harbaugh was the Bears’ quarterback, and under Harbaugh in San Francisco he’s had some play-calling experience—most notably as the coach who came up with the “Vernon Post”, the game-winning touchdown pass to tight end Vernon Davis in a 2012 divisional playoff game against the Saints.
Chryst has also been responsible for the 49ers’ red zone offense the past four seasons; during that time San Francisco’s red zone offense has ranked 29th, 15th, 15th, and 30th last season.
Like Tomsula, Chryst migt be viewed as something of a consolation prize as Adam Gase, Rob Chudzinski, Kyle Shanahan and Lane Kiffen were all reportedly among the coaches the 49ers contacted regarding the position. Conversely, both the Bears and Raiders were reportedly interested in talking to Chryst about their OC openings.
Reaction to Chryst’s promotion was somewhat mixed in San Francisco. Colin Kaepernick was quoted by in a published report as saying he was “very excited”, especially with regards to Chryst being “open to taking shots down the field and opening up the playbook.”
Wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who was a rookie in Arizona when Chryst was the Cardinals’ quarterbacks coach, told the team’s website, “He’s a great football mind, and I think he can bring a spark to the offense.”
On the flip side, Bleacher Report’s Jason Cole quoted multiple players as being “dismayed by this hiring… because they believe that this is a sign that management has chosen to go incredibly cheap in terms of replacing the coaches that left.”
Ultimately Chryst’s success will be tied directly to Kaepernick’s, and after the Niners took a step backwards last season in points (11th to 25th), yards per pass (7th to 20th) and team passer rating (9th to 18th) the concern appears valid.
Chryst has spoken in the past of Kaepernick’s ability to run the read-option, and that sentiment was echoed by both owner York (who said the key will be “putting Kaepernick in position to make plays”) and head coach Tomsula (who mentioned Kaepernick’s athleticism) at a press conference introducing the 49ers staff.
So it certainly appears as if the plan going forward is for Kaepernick to run more frequently. Further supporting that theory is the hiring of quarterbacks coach Steve Logan, who called Kaepernick “my kind of guy—mobile, accurate and smart” at that same presser.
Logan has worked with such quarterbacks in the past, most notably at East Carolina where he helped develop future NFLers Jeff Blake and David Garrard.
The 61-year-old Logan has been out of coaching the past three seasons, working as a football analyst for a TV station in North Carolina. His most recent NFL gig was as the Buccaneers’ running backs coach. But as he told the station, “Jim Tomsula is one guy who I would open this can of worms back up for.”
With Frank Gore and Michael Crabtree free agents and Vernon Davis a potential cap casualty, Kaepernick will certainly be the centerpiece of Chryst’s offense. And with the cast of characters changing roles, there’s no reason to expect major changes; the run-first Niners will remain so. After hanging around in the pocket for 52 sacks last season, more running for Kaepernick shouldn’t mean a dramatic uptick in the hits he takes—but it could lead to a significant jump in his fantasy productivity.