This is my Friday column.
The San Francisco 49ers hit the iceberg weeks ago. So, why are they benching Colin Kaepernick now? What does this move say about the mindset of the franchise?
We’re looking at two issues here: the Jim-Tomsula issue, and the Jed-York-Trent-Baalke-dynamic-duo issue. Although the issues are similar. Let’s deal with the Tomsula issue first.
Tomsula is desperate. He realizes he’s in over his head, and probably will be on the street after this season. He knows the media and the league think he’s a puppet of Baalke and York.
He also sees other head coaches and assistants around the league getting the axe. Just the past few weeks, the Dolphins and Titans fired their head coaches, and the Lions and Colts fired their offensive coordinators. Tomsula knows York and Baalke may make a move on him with the bye week coming up after Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons.
Tomsula is trying to save his job, a job that probably is not savable. He’s at wits’ end. He needs to do something just so it looks like he’s doing something.
That something is replacing Colin Kaepernick with Blaine Gabbert for one game at least. Maybe benching Kaepernick will save Tomsula his job if Gabbert plays well. Worth a shot from Tomsula’s perspective. If he had a better idea, he would have thought of one by now.
Which brings us to York and Baalke, the dynamic duo who hired Tomsula in the first place.
York and Baalke are desperate, too. They know they’ve become jokes around the NFL. Every time they pick up the sports pages, or turn on ESPN, or flip to NFL Network — the league’s official television channel — they’re getting hammered. That has to wear on them eventually. It’s probably worn on them already.
How much negative ink can they withstand before they pull a Tomsula and do something just so it looks like they’re doing something? They want to appear like they’re doing something. Keep in mind, Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium is only three months away. During the build-up to that game, media from all over the country will talk about the decline of the host franchise, not any positives about it.
York and Baalke need positive press. From their perspective, benching Kaepernick now shows they’re at least making an attempt to turn things around, even if it’s too little too late. Even if it doesn’t matter in the long run.
And if benching Kaepernick changes nothing, and the Niners get blown out again on Sunday, you can bet York and Baalke will fire Tomsula a day or two later for show.
Not that firing Tomsula midseason would accomplish anything. There’s no point in changing captains when the ship already is 80 percent underwater and all you can see is one little smokestack and one end of the boat poking out of the water, pointed toward the moon. And that’s just the point. Nothing York and Baalke do at this point has a point.
The Niners had the wrong guy at the helm in the first place, and York and Baalke are the ones who chose him, for whatever reason.
They had their reasons for parting ways with Jim Harbaugh, one of the best football coaches in the world. Everyone knows Harbaugh tends to wear out his welcome and move on to the next job every four years or so.
Once York and Baalke dumped Harbaugh, they needed to hire a quality coach. Clearly it was not possible to replace Harbaugh with anyone better or even as good.
But York and Baalke could have hired someone solid, someone with a track record as an NFL head coach. Someone like Jack Del Rio of the Oakland Raiders. Del Rio is a case in point.
Del Rio is no Harbaugh, but Del Rio can coach — that’s been clear for more than a decade. He made the Jacksonville Jaguars competitive, which is almost impossible, and he instantly made the Raiders competitive his first season coaching the team. Their record is 4-3. They could make the playoffs as a wild card.
Del Rio was available this offseason, and the Niners could have had him. But York and Baalke never even interviewed him. Apparently, Tomsula was their guy all along. Shame on them.
Now, their ship is sinking, and they’re beginning to throw people overboard. After Tomsula, it will be the assistant coaches. It may even be Baalke, as York tries to save his own life before the ship goes totally under.
No one is safe, except for York. He’ll make it to shore in a private yacht while the wreckage of the 49ers ship litters San Francisco Bay.
Does the bay even reach Santa Clara?
Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.