For 49ers, this season all about one man

This is my Sunday column.

SANTA CLARA – Training camp for the San Francisco 49ers started today. What person on the 49ers is this season all about?

Is it the man standing in the middle of the practice field directing drills — head coach Jim Tomsula?

No. Practice isn’t the full picture. Games may not even be the full picture. Look beyond what the team presents you. The key figure is not the coach. The key figure lurks in the shadows.

I’m not letting Tomsula off the hook. We have no idea what kind of coach will he be. The players say he cares about them, asks for their input and tries to please them. That sounds good, but is it?

Football is supposed to be a hard life, like the military. It toughens you up. A head coach is supposed to challenge his players, not please them. Players are supposed to please the coach. Tomsula has made the daily schedule to please the players. Can you imagine Bill Walsh asking players for the schedule? Impossible to imagine.

But enough about Tomsula for now. I’ll come back to him shortly.

So, who’s in the center of the frame?

Is it the man watching practice from the sideline with his arms folded across his chest — general manager Trent Baalke?

No. He’s a supporting actor in the Niners’ drama.

I’m not letting him off the hook, either. You have to wonder about him, too. He may have assembled a shaky roster, especially at running back. Baalke let the dependable Frank Gore sign with the Indianapolis Colts during free agency, and replaced him with Reggie Bush, more of a receiver than a running back, and Jarryd Hayne, more of a Rugby League player than a running back.

The only workhorse left in the backfield is 23-year old Carlos Hyde, a talented young player who is unproven. He averaged 4.0 yards per carry his rookie season, nothing special.

If he gets hurt or doesn’t play well, the Niners will have to abandon their power-running offense and adopt a finesse pass-first attack. Then they’ll have big trouble.

But enough about Baalke. He’s secondary. Who’s the primary actor in the Niners’ drama?

Jed York, that’s who. He asked for the role. He begged for it. And he got it.

York is the one who fired Jim Harbaugh, one of the most successful head coaches in the NFL the past few seasons.

York is the one who made top assistant coaches like Vic Fangio and Mike Solari feel unwelcome, and he’s the reason they coach for different teams now.

York is the one who believes Baalke is more responsible than Harbaugh for the Niners’ recent run of success.

And York is the one who replaced Harbaugh with Tomsula, the neophyte.

This past Thursday, a reporter asked future Hall of Fame wide receiver and former Super Bowl champion Anquan Boldin his impression of Tomsula and the new coaching staff. Boldin, 34, has just one more year on his contract. He has no reason to lie.

“It’s different, for better or worse,” he said. “I guess you’ll find out when it’s all said and done.”

For better or worse. What an endorsement! Or non-endorsement.

If you see Tomsula floundering on the sideline next season, remember — he’s the coach York wanted. York orchestrated the startling head-coaching change. And he started orchestrating it before last season even started.

First, a report surfaced in February of 2014 that the Niners and Browns had discussed a Harbaugh trade. Who do you think leaked that story?

Then in September, before the regular season even started, Ian Rapoport of reported that Harbaugh had lost the Niners’ locker room (did he misplace it?) and probably would be fired by the end of the season.

Who do you think leaked that one?

York apparently wanted Harbaugh gone, and now Harbaugh’s gone. Last season was a self-fulfilling prophecy. And York was the engine behind all the change — certainly seemed to be.

Now York is the face of the franchise. He made himself front and center in a way most NFL owners aren’t.

Even Patriots owner Robert Kraft, one of the most powerful owners in the league, stays in the background more than York.

Why does York think he deserves to be the face of the franchise? Because he built a stadium?

Next season is a referendum of the 49ers’ CEO. If the Niners win more than eight games — their win total last season — York gets all the credit.

But if the 49ers flop — win eight games or fewer — York gets the blame. A few months ago, he said he’ll take full responsibility for the outcome of the season.

We’ll hold him to that.

Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at

This article has 79 Comments

  1. I feel as though I’ve read this script before. I don’t agree that Tomsula is a neophyte and I believe Baalke took insurance out on Mr. Hyde in the form of Davis. I think Staley put it best when he said, “There are a million factors that go into whether a team is successful or unsuccessful. You can’t predict that now. All we can control right now is getting better as a football squad.”

    1. You inherited your DNA from your father – the cynicism, the second guessing, the lack of football knowledge, and really a punk. I am old enough to to be your your grandfather , going to my first game in Kezar when I was 12. During the glory years, the only thing I regretted was the incredible mediocrity of the Chronicle beat writers for the 49ers by the name of Lowell Cohn and Ira Miller, what an embarassment to the City and the NFL. Writers with no creativity to build up the games and dynasty the NIners put together. . I am positive they never were never approached by SI or any other reputable sporting publication. It was humorous listening to them write about and question Bill Walsh. In my worst dreams I never imagined one of their sons would replace.

      1. “You inherited your DNA from your father”

        Technically he inherited half of his DNA from his father but my main question is, where did you get yours?

        1. I’ve stopped wondering where theYork/Baalke coolaide drinkers got their DNA . Comparing Kaepernick to Montana and Young by manipulating stats while Montana had Bill Ring and Walt Easley at running back (No Anquan Boldin or Jerry Rice) and returning kickoffs, #2 pick, left tackle, Bubba Paris gone for the season so the 49ers had to pick up a left tackle off the street–all this in the 49ers victory over Dallas in the ’81 championship and for Super Bowl victories. And try to make sense out of firing #3 ranked NFL D-Coordinator Fangio, and DB Coach, Donatell when he stated he would hire Ex-49er Superbowl OC, and 2-time winning SuperBowl Head Coach for Chryst, who last OC’d in 2000 is a sensible working formula for those same Neandertal DNA recipients. recipients..Incidentally, here’s one of the Coolaide drinker’s favorite statistical formula’s: Tim Tebow won a playoff overtime victory over Pittsburg, hitting Demayius Thomas with a pass, therefore, statistically, he’s better than Kaepernick because he has a 158 QB rating in the playof f overtimes..

      2. Look kid, I’m older than you so I’m going to set you straight on two things. It would be too exhausting to cover more of what is in your post.

        As someone else pointed out, DNA is shared equally from both the mother and the father — not that it’s relevant.

        Second, Ira Miller is in the NFL Hall of Fame. I think you’re looking for a story teller like Grantland Rice — as in “The Four Horsemen” by Grantland Rice. Or maybe Herb Cain.

        At your age you shouldn’t grip so much. Enjoy.

        1. I grew up going for the “green sheet” first thing in the morning. Jack Fiske (Boxing) is another one I miss.

  2. I beg to differ.
    JY is not the person that will control the destiny of the Niners.
    It is Kaep. He will either rise to new heights, or his regression will doom the season.
    He has all the skills to be elite, and Baalke has provided him with the weapons to get it done. Coach Tomsula will allow Kaep to utilize his skills and OC Chryst will provide the system for him to thrive. If the O line becomes a cohesive unit, I envision the offense to be unstoppable.
    The defense was top 10 last year, so if the offense can improve on the 30th passing rate, the Niners will bludgeon the opposition.

  3. So u think our players,coaches,opponents,Gm wont have any bearing on this season???lol
    A quote from a usually laidback anquan before anything begins is some kind of prophecy?ha?You media types will take anything and run wit it..i swear hahaha…

    And right on the heels of the new season too..tsk..tsk..tsk

  4. Grant it looks like you’re taking a page out of branch’s playbook with an out of context quote to further your own agenda. Not disagreeing with your story, just looking for alittle mote journalistic integrity.

  5. The best thing about the 49ers this year is no one really cares to talk about them. Really they are an after thought behind the Hawks, Cards and yes, the Rams!

    1. Hawks will find it harder and harder to get back to the main dance. Several of their players are dinged up and some are disgruntled over money. Their DC and LB coach left, so the defense may regress. Their first pick spoke volumes about their desperation to stay on top, but the Niners have reloaded and are biting nails to avenge their losses. Cards have lost many defenders, and the Rams are counting on an ACL RB.
      Niners did have losses in personnel, but the replacements are bigger, faster and younger. Kaep will play up to his potential, so the other teams will just try to keep up, but their hopes will be deflated.

      1. Agree with everything you said except the CK thing. I’m really hoping he can turn the corner!
        For SF to do anything, CK might have to play perfect football throughout the year. He doesn’t have to win games or carry the load. He just has to make others around him better. Make them become legit playmakers and game breakers.

  6. I wholeheartedly agree Grant. This season is on Jed York one way or the other, and he would most likely be thrilled to make Tomsula, Kaepernick, or Baalke (just to name a few) the scapegoat of his antics if the team has a similar or worse year.

    1. MidWest,

      York did fire the 3rd best Defensive Coordinator and Db coach in the league who offered to bring in the Mike Shannahan as OC. Both have been around the 49er way long enough to have acquired young football minds, as Jeff Fisher (ex-49er Dynasty Coach) did in hiring Jeff Garcia (or those who are about to claim that Shannahan was too old so too stupid to bring in young offensive minds like Walsh did with Holmgren and Seifert did with John Gruden, whose father, Gruden senior worked under John McVay…This is how a dynasty is built and it is proving to be too difficult for those currently at the helm.

    1. Grant sure does know how to pull a one-line sentence from a paragraph-long quote and then take it out of context and make it fit his own anti-Forty Niners agenda!

      Here’s Grant’s take:
      “This past Thursday, a reporter asked future Hall of Fame wide receiver and former Super Bowl champion Anquan Boldin his impression of Tomsula and the new coaching staff. Boldin, 34, has just one more year on his contract. He has no reason to lie.

      “It’s different, for better or worse,” he said. “I guess you’ll find out when it’s all said and done.”

      For better or worse. What an endorsement! Or non-endorsement.”

      Now here’s the full quote from Anquian:

      And that’s what it is, it’s different, for better or worse. I guess you’ll find out when it’s all said and done. I think everybody around here is happy with the way things are going. I think everyone is pretty much satisfied with Coach Tomsula and the way he does things around here. And we’re just excited. It’s a breath of fresh air. We’re ready to get back going and prove a lot of people wrong. Like I said earlier in the offseason, (Tomsula) seems to have a pretty good rapport with everybody. That bodes well for us. Guys are looking forward to coming and working and getting the job done.

      Way to bend the response to fit your agendas Grant! It’s BS like this that makes me
      super suspicious of anything you report.

  7. I’m almost inclined to say Kap because the QB typically gets the glory or the guff for wins and losses.
    But in this case I absolutely agree with Grant on this. We will all know by game 9-10 if little Jeddie broke his toy because he directed his tantrum towards Harbaugh or young Jed will look like a genius for making the tough decisions if the 49ers make it into the post season.

    No matter how the chips fall, JY will be the focal point throughout the season – which bodes well for Kap and Tomsula.

    1. Not really. They will be at ground zero when “changes have to be made” as sports ownership likes to state periodically.

  8. I think “all about one man” is over the top. And it’s barely about whether Tomsula is a better coach than Harbaugh now that a significant number of players on the team Harbaugh coached are no longer there.. Now if Tomsula has a lot of success you could certainly argue that he is a very good coach based on the hand he was given.

  9. Looks like there will be a strong segment of posters who will hear nothing negative about how Jed runs his team.

    For both points of view, positive or negative, it makes no difference who Grant holds responsibility. Unless Jed’s mom changes her mind, Jed will be running the team as long as he wants the job.

    Right now Jed has the money machine running in high gear. That’s sure to be high on mom and dad’s list.

    By the way, mom and dad were very unhappy with the way Uncle Eddie used family money to run the team during his days on the job.

    1. Nailed it. In all the bios of how the 49er dynasty was assembled, Debartolo Sr. was not at all happy with the way little Eddie was spending money.

      We might not like the opponent friendly acoustics or location and of Levis Stadium… but the Debartolo/Yorks have to be thrilled about the cash their multi-use venue is hauling in.

      If there’s one area of sensitivity they (might) have that has nothing directly to do with money, its the off field scandals. Reports are they were livid about Aldon hugging trees with the front of his car after (imbibing a product the NFL makes loads of revenue from).

      1. Senior may have disliked Eddie spending money, but when the Niners won, the money flowed in and made it a billion dollar franchise. To me, it was a good return for their investment.

    2. They said worse things about Eddie, especially during those 2-14 seasons. Also, Jed has Baalke, but do you remember Joe Thomas? Those sports writers had a field day writing about him.

      1. Joe Thomas was highly recommended by Sr. He may have even pressured Jr. to get a real football guy to run things — and a tough guy too.

    1. OK, I’ll bite. What happens August 4th besides Tuesday? Is that the first day of heavy pad contact?

  10. According to Pro Football Focus, Hyde forced a missed tackle every 3.3 carries. That ranks just behind Seattle Seahawks tailback Marshawn Lynch.

    Grant, in my neck of the woods, we call that special….

    1. Razor,

      I think Hyde also was best, or close to it, in the NFL in yards after contact.

      No reason for a “journalist” to include information like that, when dismissing a player’s abilities (only averaged 4.0 per carry).

  11. Cant wait, Got my 2 top 10 lists down and am wondering how the competition unfolds. Niners look good on paper and relatively healthy. They are dripping in talent, and I predict Seattle poaches a cut just to get intel on the Niner new playbook. I hope the Niners return the favor, and do a little addition thru subtraction like Baalke did with Dockette.
    Kaep should feign weakness, then destroy defenses. He has the right weapons, the right coach, and a golden opportunity to gain that sixth Lombardi.
    After years of futility, I am more optimistic that all the right pieces are in place, and Tomsula can be resilient and make the proper adjustments to achieve greatness. Brain dead coaching cost them the SB, but Tomsula is the right man for the job because he GETS it.
    I predict 10-6 because I am not delusional, they have the 3rd hardest schedule and the NFC West to contend with, but once in the playoffs, the Bay Area Mojo may emerge.

  12. …And do we get to hold you and Tim K accountable if they make the playoffs. Does York? Baalke? Tomsula? Mangini?

    From day one you’ve said this team will underperform. You better hope you’re right.

    Just so I am on the record, Niners will win west @ 10-6.

    1. Then I’m on the record too, that 10-6 won’t be good enough unless very strange stuff happens.

    2. I think I’ll put my money on Vegas Oddsmakers and every major NFL magazine at a supermarket near you… They pick the Rams ahead of the Niners. But the dinasaurs also hid their heads in the sand as the Meteor shower approached Earth.

        1. I think you misunderstood the tebow/kaepernick comment. He was saying that the “coolaid drinkers” are so busy manipulating stats, they would say tebow is a better qb than ck, based on playoff OT stats (with tebow’s being perfect off of the one TD pas to D Thomas).

        2. Look, it’s I struck a nerve with my comments about the pending Kaepernick trade rumors…But your crowd (the York/Baalke coolaide drinkers) are oblivious to history…For your types, it will repeat…I’m just acknowledging Kap trade rumors that were floated earlier (3 Months ago) by somebody…If you don’t ignore history, this was how the Harbaugh rumors began also. Someone floated rumors about his possible firing (we now know it was someone in J. York’s circle)…I’m suggesting the O-line will fail, causing Kap to look bad, Baalke, trying to find some one to blame will trade Kap (thereby blaming Kap), so the Eagles run an option play pass offense, perfect for Kap. We trade Kap to the Eagles (NOT STRAIGHT UP, BUT FOR TEBOW AND L-O-T-S OF DRAFTPICKS), which you keep leaving out to bolster your arguement.

          1. Seb

            Also, there is no way the 49ers would trade Kap for Tebow without including draftpicks, and any one reading this blog knows that so they see your arguement strategy for what it is…Just leave out stuff others type when they get in debates with you.

              1. Irony seems to me my word for today. The original comment seemed to me to be ironic. In fact it seemed to include Grant’s favorite tool — cherry picked data in spades.

              2. wilsonm73:

                Nope. As this conversation continued it became clear that it was seriously about trading Kaepernick for Tebow and five draft choices. I mislabeled it as irony.

  13. I plan to attend the practice on Wed night and will detail anything I find interesting……. I second sebnynah’s feeings on the season and when getting some spending $ from the sale of a house, am willing to put a $1k on the over 6.5 to double my spending $. ;)

    1. I am so jealous. They politely turned down my request for tix to see the practice.

      1. Did they offer to sell you tickets to last nights High School game? I thought it was a nice offer to include more of us in their cash flow picture.

  14. Sounds like Blake Bell has been getting some first team reps and looking good. If accurate, it doesn’t bode well for McDonald.

    The Kaep to Torrey Smith connection has also been working well apparently.

    1. Where are the pads, there aught to be pads, will someone bring in the pads. … Sort of “A Little Night Music”

    2. According to Inman, the right side of the line looked bad. Pears was knocked on his ass by Brooks during a one on one drill.

      1. I expect Brandon Thomas to start at Right Tackle very soon.. I think there playing it safe.

      2. Brooks is going to be Beast#2 this year. Pears, I dunno. Lynch, Harold, A.Smith, and maybe Lemonade should be good.

        1. Lemonade is great on a hot summer afternoon. Cool, refreshing, delicious…

      3. How should being knocked on your ass be evaluated in shorts? Some of us haven’t played the game.

        1. Still significant. They’re wearing shells up top. How much are hip pads and thigh pads going to help him from being over-powered?

          1. I thought any contact was much different than any full pads drill. I know in the past there have been guys who blasted someone beyond the scope of a drill in shorts. Grant didn’t elaborate, and I haven’t seen much from other writers.

            I am more worried about the Brooks spin move that left him a free path to the QB. Maybe Brooks is looking to be All Pro this year. That’s speed and power for Brooks and maybe slow feet for Pears. Slow feet for Pears may mean he’s out of shape or shouldn’t be playing tackle.

  15. “Baalke let the dependable Frank Gore sign with the Indianapolis Colts during free agency”

    Love ya Grant but seriously? You’ve been calling for Gore’s replacement for at least 3 if not more seasons now. You called his legs tired and essentially labeled him as done as well as imitated that the team needed to replace him with a faster back. Now I realize that that doesn’t change anything about what I quoted but it does raise the prospect of hypocrisy that you would use that as a charge against Baalke.

    1. Thanks for that CFC.
      Jeez. “Legs are gone.”
      Frank could possibly get his ring, but LT2 didn’t get his with the Jets. Colts D is suspect.

    2. But Gore didn’t miss a game the past four seasons. Hyde hasn’t shown he can be that durable, and the Niners don’t have a backup who isn’t a scatback.

          1. Davis is listed at 217 unless you weighed him or know something the 49ers don’t. Its the exact same weight as Gore. He’s not a scat back and runs between the tackles. Hunter is a scat back as well as Bush. You’re right about Hyde needs to prove his durability. Without him we’ll see how Davis, Hunter and Bush do.

    3. Coffee

      Carlos Hyde suffered his injury during Minicamp. Lets start calling him Carlos “Wimpy” Hyde, since no one touches you during drill season and he still managed to get injured.
      Professionals like Roger Craig, Jerry Rice, John Taylor, and Frank, the beast, Gore N-E-V-E-R injured themselves during this period. Eating too many cheeseburgers (being unprofessional) during the offseason and coming to camp out-of-shape is how this happens…Trust in Baalke’s offensive line this season, and cheesebuger back is going to be your hope this season….Really…Good luck with that.!

  16. Sounds like the field at Levi’s still sucks. How can they not get that right?

    1. They have lined up a lot of grass to do several field replacements through out the season. Maybe we are just learning about a dirty little secret about what goes on behind the scenes with NFL grass. At Kezar they played in mud with green paint. At Candle Stick, for at least one playoff game, they brought in the NFL grass expert to help out.

  17. Tomsula is still a question mark. I would actually hold back judgement until we see his second seasons results irregardless if the first is either positive or negative. There are many different styles of coaching. The style that works for a coach depends a lot on the coaches personality. I remember the successful season Ray Malavasi ( the nice guy ) had for the 78 Rams after taking over for George Allen ( the mean SOB). That began to fall apart the next season. I suspect that after the Kick A*S disciplinarian Allen gave the team structure and got them in shape, Malavasi’s easy manner was the perfect counter to ride out the season. The problems began the next season when Malavasi easy manner was taken advantage of by the team and they slacked off.

    To be fair, because of the massive changes, Tomsula really needs to be given a free pass even if this season turns out badly. And because of situation and results of Malavasi’s 78 Rams we also shouldn’t come to conclusions if this season turns out well for Tomsula to conclude that his method and style will be a long term success. Malavasi turned out to not be the smartest tool in the shed. Of course I seriously doubt that Tomsula could be as dense as Malavasi turned out to be.

  18. Coach Tomsula Is living the American dream. From living in his car to leading one of the most storied sports franchises in America. He has pulled himself up from his bootstraps and will take NOTHING for granted. He has the experience and breadth of knowledge that can translate towards forging a floundering team into a cohesive squad.
    His people skills are what sets him apart from JH, who lacked them. JH lost the locker room, and you could tell by the play on the field. Players will run through a brick wall for Coach Tomsula, but he is smart and will tell them to run around it. JH made them beat their heads against the wall and the results were all the injuries and retirements.
    Coach Tomsula is undefeated as an NFL coach, and I hope he can continue that perfect record so the doubters and naysayers will be put in their place. Coach Tomsula lives and breaths football. I am ecstatic he is the Head Coach of the San Francisco 49ers.

  19. I like how Grant used very carefully selected quotes from Q. Where was the “It’s like a breath of fresh air” part of what Q had to say?

    As is to be expected, Grant left out important info in his didmissal of Hyde. His missed tackles and YAC numbers were elite. Additionally, he’s ten pounds lighter and stronger this year. Where is this positive information in Grant’s hatchet job, I mean, report?

    Waiting for Grant to tell the whole story, is like waiting up to see Santa Claus on Christmas. It’s not going to happen.

  20. Does Grant have any idea how ridiculous he looks when he uses letting a 31 year old Frank Gore leave as a negative, after he wrote, in no uncertain terms, that a 29 year old FG was done?

    I know CFC noted this above, but it so clearly highlights Grant’s lack of ability as a “journalist”, it bears repeating.

    Grant Cohen: often wrong, but always certain. It’s a bad combination.

  21. come on, Grant writes because his dad did. how does he know anything about football compared to us watching 30-40 years of it

  22. Grant is 100% spot on with this article and it sure has riled up the Jed/Baalke cool aide drinkers.

    Facts speak for themselves. Here they are:

    Before Jim Harbaugh, Jed+Baalke = Losers
    With JH, Jed+Baalke = Winners

    Now JH is gone, what do you think will happen? Hmm, let me take a wild guess …

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