This is my Saturday column.
Here’s how you know Jim Tomsula probably will return next season: Look at his forehead.
Not one bead of sweat on that puss. He used to trudge into interviews face down pouring sweat as if the temperature in the room was 115 degrees. Then he’d stare at reporters with his red cheeks and blank expression and mumble answers as he hunched over the podium and made himself look as small as possible.
He seemed terrified of the questions, of his future, of his present.
He also seemed ashamed, like he knew he was a fraud who didn’t deserve to be the head coach and expected to get fired any minute, maybe during the press conference. He would keep looking over his shoulder at 49ers vice president of communications Bob Lange, as if expecting Lange to walk over, tap Tomsula on the shoulder and whisper, “Jed York wants to see you now.”
Meek Tomsula doesn’t exist anymore. These days he acts like he’s the Great Tomsula. Thursday morning he walked into the interview room beaming — the biggest smile you’ve ever seen. One by one, he made eye contact with every reporter in the room and said, “Merry Christmas.”
He stood at the podium with his chest puffed out, hair neatly combed and face completely dry. He seemed 10 feet tall. Seemed proud of himself, like he was a coach with 10 wins instead of 10 losses. He’s been acting this way for weeks.
Why is Tomsula so confident all of a sudden? What does he know that we don’t?
Jason Cole of Bleacher Report may have given us a clue on Wednesday. He posted a video in which he said, “While (the 49ers) haven’t made a final decision on Tomsula, and he might ultimately be fired, they’re leaning towards keeping him at this point in time.”
That doesn’t mean the Niners definitely will keep Tomsula, but it means they want to. Why???
Let’s try to see things from their perspective. If the Niners were to fire Tomsula after this season, they’d probably have to fire general manager Trent Baalke, too. But for whatever reason, Jed York seems to believe in Baalke. It’s not clear why. Baalke is just as responsible, if not more responsible than Tomsula, for this embarrassing season.
Baalke hired Tomsula. And, Baalke put together this atrocious roster — Tomsula merely inherited it. He’s doing the best he can, which isn’t very good, with the players Baalke acquired, players like Vance McDonald, Marcus Martin, Brandon Thomas, Corey Lemonier, Tank Carradine, Jordan Devey and Jarryd Hayne. Non-functional players.
If the Niners were to fire Baalke, they’d have to hire a new general manager who probably would want to fire Tomsula. That means the Niners can’t fire one or the other — they’d have to fire both Tomsula AND Baalke. The Niners probably don’t want to do that, and Tomsula probably knows it.
York has more reasons to keep Tomsula. He comes cheap. He has three years on his contract. So, if York fires him, he’d be paying Tomsula and the new coach. It’s not how the cost-conscious Yorks operate.
York can tell himself so many players have retired or been lost to injury. Maybe York doesn’t blame Tomsula for all that, although some of those defections may be Tomsula’s fault. Tomsula already is talking about building a new core of leaders. Tomsula may have sold York on keeping him as the head coach.
Check out how Tomsula spoke to the press this week.
A reporter asked him on Monday his impression of rookie outside linebacker Eli Harold.
“We figure we pack on a little bit more muscle and a little bit more weight, he’s going to be striking with everything he puts on,” Tomsula said, projecting a future that clearly includes him.
Another reporter asked Tomsula about the lack of leadership in the locker room.
“The core is gone; we’re developing another core,” Tomsula said, projecting a future that clearly includes him.
Thursday, a reporter asked Tomsula about flying the team across the country on Saturday this week. Usually, Tomsula schedules cross-country flights for Fridays.
“If (we) change up on how we do things on road games, this was a great opportunity to do that,” Tomsula said.
“Do you mean for next season?” a reporter asked.
“Well, yeah. We’re going to look at it. Why not?” Tomsula said, looking ahead with bright eyes.
Ladies and gentlemen, your head coach of the 2016 San Francisco 49ers. The case looks stronger all the time.
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.