The loud “thud” you may have heard from the South Bay on Sunday wasn’t Phil Dawson’s foot on pigskin delivering a 49ers overtime victory.
For 49ers fans, that “thud” meant something far more important than a meaningless Week 17 win. It was the sound of a free fall, a dramatic head-over-heels drop from the sky, finally hitting bottom.
The 49ers finished 5-11, and like former New York Giants coach Bill Parcells once said, you are what your record says you are. And right now, the 49ers are broken parts waiting to be reassembled.
Less than two hours after Dawson’s boot to beat St. Louis 19-16, the 49ers announced the firing of coach Jim Tomsula. Their urgency revealed their intent – they couldn’t even wait for Black Monday. Tomsula would be the ex-49ers coach before sunrise.
“Jimmy has been a valuable member of the 49ers organization for the last nine years,” owner Jed York said in a statement announcing the dismissal. “This entire organization is proud and grateful to have worked so closely alongside Jimmy.”
They weren’t grateful enough, however, to keep him employed one more day. Tomsula, only about an hour before the announcement, told the media, “What I would like to say to everybody is, I’m not going to make this about Jim and Jim’s job status here today.”
And by day’s end, it became exactly about Jim’s job status, or what was left of it. The announcement confirmed it all: York’s hire-wire act, installing a defensive-line coach to replace a proven winner in Jim Harbaugh, failed spectacularly.
Tomsula was not ready for prime time, from his bumbling introductory news conference to his fourth-and-four punt from the St. Louis 37-yard line with 1:39 left in regulation Sunday. Give the man credit. He was consistent and deathly conservative to the end.
Tomsula was the owner’s choice. The man survived three head-coaching regimes. The front office actually preferred Tomsula, the position coach, over Harbaugh, who had returned the 49ers to the NFL’s high-rent district for the first time in more than a decade. The front office simply had grown weary of Harbaugh’s assorted weirdness.
Funny, but I always was told winning is all that matters in the NFL. Apparently not in 49er Land.
Everyone can agree that dismissing Tomsula was the right call. But, as usual, the 49ers bungled it. Remember Harbaugh’s last game last season, a win over Arizona? A smiling Harbaugh wouldn’t take questions about his future but, as everyone filed out of the interview room, the 49ers issued the news release announcing their “mutual parting.”
The timing was not accidental, and neither was the timing about Tomsula. It’s how the 49ers do business.
It is here where the 49er Faithful deserve a bow. York, if left to his own devices, no doubt would have stuck to the status quo. Tomsula would have remained on the sideline, Trent Baalke would call the shots as general manager and the 49ers would welcome the world for Super Bowl 50.
Well, Baalke looks as if he’s staying and the 49ers will throw their mega-party. Tomsula had to go, however, because the Faithful were losing their faith. In fact, they threatened an open revolt if the 49ers did nothing.
York finally got the message. A plane Sunday above Levi’s Stadium trailed a sign that read, “Jed, Here’s Our Banner – Where’s Yours?” It was a reference to one of York’s proclamations about the team hanging only Super Bowl banners.
A sign inside the stadium got more personal: “49ers Last Place Banner: Just Effin’ Dumb.” Check out the first letters of the last three words.
York admitted to his 20-megaton blunder because he had no choice. Unless, of course, he wants to stare at about 50,000 empty seats each game in 2016.
Tomsula was dealt a terrible hand. The 49ers, after their offseason from hell, had one of the NFL’s least-talented rosters. Perhaps eight wins was their ceiling and five wins probably was about right.
No one absorbed a harder punch, however, than season-ticket holders who paid stiff prices before the 49ers dropped like a stone in water. York will address this at some point. At least we trust he will. He doesn’t exactly lead from ahead.
I didn’t hear a single negative word about Tomsula in the locker room. To a man, the players liked him and appreciated his energy.
“He, more than anyone else, has been in our corner and just wants us to go out and have fun,” tight end Vance McDonald said. “Just coming in here, he’s just proud of us that we all stuck together. He was super happy.”
Tomsula actually grinned as he began what became his final postgame presser. He insisted no decisions had been made, but his gut probably told him he was one and done.
Even in victory, the 49ers crashed Sunday. You heard it.