Scott Tolzien deserves better than to leave on a fade route

Here is my Wednesday column.

Scott Tolzien is no longer a 49er. He deserves a proper goodbye.

The 49ers’ third-string quarterback the past two seasons got cut on Monday. He was a terrific quarterback at the University of Wisconsin, the Johnny Unitas Award winner in 2010, but no team drafted him after his senior season. His arm wasn’t strong enough for the NFL then, it isn’t strong enough now and his playing career probably is over.

He was around since Jim Harbaugh’s first season in San Francisco, and Tolzien watched everything on the field. Sometimes he sat on a stool in front of his locker and observed the rest of the players buzz around the locker room, like a writer.

His first year in the NFL was 2011, and that was my first season on the beat. We were both 23. Tolzien and I were in the same place yet we were in opposite universes.

Tolzien seemed to view things with the removed fascination. And that allowed him to be ambassador for the media and the fans. Any time I had a question about practice or meetings or coaches or teammates or opponents, I had to interview Tolzien. He wasn’t the only player I’d go to, but he had the widest perspective and he was earnest. He wanted you to understand his answer to your question. It meant something to him. I’m sure he was a great A.P. Biology partner in high school.

If it wasn’t for Tolzien, you wouldn’t know what makes 49ers’ quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst good: “He’s got a great vision for it,” Tolzien said. “Sometimes coaches may not have a good feel for what the quarterback is seeing, the progression. But I think he has an awesome feel for it.”

And if it wasn’t for Tolzien, you wouldn’t know how Harbaugh delegates the offensive game-planning: “For the most part, Coach [Greg] Roman does the run game,” said Tolzien, “[Wide receivers] Coach [Johnnie] Morton does the pass game and [quarterbacks] Coach [Geep] Chryst takes the red zone.”

Tolzien says he wants to be a coach when he’s done playing, and he may make an excellent coach. Or, he may become an accountant – he was an intern at Merrill Lynch in 2010 and 2011. Or, he may become an umpire – he was a little league ump in high school: “It was tough for those kids to throw strikes,” said Tolzien. “You had to keep your composure with the coaches always barking.”

I can’t imagine Tolzien losing his composure. When he gets worked up, he says “well, shoot.”

In honor of Tolzien, let’s recap the top-three moments of his NFL career:

1. Sept. 1, 2011. As a member of the Chargers, Tolzien completes16 of 23 passes for 226 yards and a touchdown against the 49ers’ third- and fourth-string defenses in a preseason game. After the game, the Chargers cut Tolzien and the 49ers pick him up. Tolzien makes the 49ers’ final roster as an undrafted free agent.

2. Dec. 16, 2012. The 49ers activate Tolzien for their Week 15 Sunday night game in New England, the third and final time Tolzien is active for an NFL game. He doesn’t play, but he is the only player who warms up in shorts and a T-shirt during the freezing rain. Respect.

3. Aug. 10, 2012. Tolzien completes 10 of 13 passes for 84 yards against the Vikings’ backup defense in a preseason game. After the game, Donte Whitner calls Tolzien “Baby Drew Brees.”

A few days later, we were at Candlestick Park and Fanfest had just ended. Tolzien was holding his helmet in one hand and answering questions on the side of the field. I was wearing a giant Tilley hat to protect my neck and face from the sun. Remember the Tilley hat.

I asked Tolzien how he felt about the comparison with Brees. “I’m happy for it,” he said, “but I’ve got a long ways to go before I’m Drew Brees.”

So, I said: “You said you’re not Drew Brees yet. When will you be Drew Brees?” Teasing him a little bit.

“Man, I’ve got a ways to go,” Tolzien said, shaking his head, completely serious still. “But you try to make the most of each day. I’m not big into setting real specific goals. I think really if you just focus on every day – and I know that’s the oldest cliché in the book — but it really is true. Day 1 of camp means just as much as Day 17 of camp. If you really try to focus on each and every one of those days, long-term … ”

“You’ll be Drew Brees,” I said.

Tolzien shook his head again and laughed. “No, I’m not going to say that. I’m nowhere near Drew Brees.”

He turned to walk away and then he said, “Nice safari hat.”

I deserved that one.

I’ll remember Tolzien as one of the good guys. I’ll remember him as an unsung hero, part of the necessary supporting cast to Colin Kaepernick and the other big stars. I’ll remember him fondly as I remember Ricky Jean-Francois and Blake Costanzo, and when Anthony Dixon leaves, I’ll remember him the same way.

Goodbye, Scott Tolzien.

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

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