49ers' Tomsula builds experienced staff to support his leap
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) Jim Tomsula stands in the middle of the practice field with arms crossed and just watches, content observing his trusted assistants at work until he considers it time to interject.
Making the rare jump from defensive line coach to the head man with the San Francisco 49ers, Tomsula will never say it's solely always his call on a major decision.
He wouldn't want it that way.
Immediately when he took over for the departed Jim Harbaugh in January, Tomsula set about surrounding himself with a wealth of experience in his diverse coaching staff, just as any first-year coach in the NFL typically looks to do.
From former Oakland Raiders interim coach and ex-Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano guiding the tight ends, to Eric Mangini - who made stops with the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns as a head coach - as defensive coordinator, the way Tomsula sees it, everyone in the building might just offer an idea that proves valuable come game day.
''Right, wrong or indifferent, I don't have a confidence problem,'' Tomsula said. ''I'm very comfortable with me, I just am. I take it all in. What do they say? Know your personnel, use your personnel. ... It's not a coaching staff, it's a coaching team.''
And they all are challenged with bringing this franchise back following an 8-8 season and its first time out of the playoffs in four years. The 49ers will get their first chance Monday night against the Minnesota Vikings at Levi's Stadium.
Sparano is eager to provide guidance or share his own experiences the moment Tomsula seeks him out.
''He picks my brain at times on different issues. That's what I'm here for,'' said Sparano, who went 3-9 coaching the Raiders last year in place of the fired Dennis Allen. ''Not all of the experiences are always positive and not all of them are always negative. At the end of the day people handle them differently but you want to gather as many acorns as you can. Jim does a great job of that.''
It has been a tumultuous eight months since Tomsula took over. From the retirements of defensive stars such as Patrick Willis, Justin Smith and Chris Borland and offensive lineman Anthony Davis, to yet further legal run-ins for a team that has seen more than its share of the police blotter of late. San Francisco released troubled pass rusher Aldon Smith on Aug. 7 only to see him sign with the Oakland Raiders on Friday.
''There have been some sad times, there have been some happy times, there have been some great times,'' Tomsula said.
With so many big losses - franchise rushing leader Frank Gore is gone, too - outside expectations are low. Many figure San Francisco could be at the bottom of the NFC West after winning the division in Harbaugh's first two years of 2011 and `12.
Tomsula knows what's at stake for his future and the careers of his coaches, and he sends them home on Friday nights for a rare bit of family time he also considers an important part of the week along with game-planning.
''It's an unforgiving business. It's results-oriented, period,'' Tomsula said. ''Nobody forced me to accept this job, I feel fortunate to have it. The one thing that drives the heck out of me, every morning when I wake up, (someone's) wife and kids are affected by what I do today. It's not the faces I see here every day, it's all the faces they represent, everything I do every day impacts those people. I get that.''
Tomsula's players appreciate his hands-on approach. He and his staff are finding ways to motivate even the veterans with their fresh approach and open-mindedness to a new practice schedule.
''I would characterize them as teachers. It appears he's put a staff together of coaches who like to teach,'' said kicker Phil Dawson, who at age 40 is the team's oldest player. ''From the technique work to the drill work to the fundamental work, it's fun to watch. I think we've got a group of guys who are eager to learn, so that's a great combination.''
It has certainly been an eventful eight months since Tomsula took over in January.
''We've all been through it together,'' he said. ''When I say the village, I really believe in the village. I don't care who has the right answer as long as we find the right answer. I'm so fortunate to have this group of men. Do I lean on them? Yeah.''
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