For entertainment value, the simultaneous coaching searches by the 49ers and the Raiders were a bona fide hoot.
They seemed like a group entry, a 1A and 1B from the Bay Area, both chasing their version of the right guy in the zero-sum world of the NFL. It was serious business with a little Will Ferrell and Jim Carrey thrown into the mix.
That it all played out in our Twitter world, where it’s irrelevant if it happened 10 minutes ago, just added to the intrigue. Remember when we didn’t even know, or cared, about the names of the offensive and defensive coordinators? Today, we cheer or jeer over the hiring of the strength coach.
But we digress.
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Both teams have selected their coaches in part on who they aren’t. Clearly, the Raiders like the cut of Del Rio, a physically imposing sort with head coaching experience. He surely can sell that Raiders-as-outcasts image over the milquetoast Dennis Allen.
The 49ers leaned on Tomsula, a friendly football lifer, perhaps because he’s more hail-fellow-well-met over the often difficult and left-of-center Jim Harbaugh. The new coach is more grounded than his predecessor. For starters, his wardrobe will extend beyond black shirt and khaki pants.
Tomsula, the former coach of the Rhein Fire of NFL Europe, is remembered for his let’s-have-fun approach as interim coach at the end of the 2010 season. For what it’s worth, the 49ers fired Mike Singletary and appointed Tomsula to coach the last game, a 38-7 win over the Arizona Cardinals. Everyone smiled while the 49ers finished off a chaotic 6-10 season.
One of Tomsula’s pluses is his familiarity with the organization after eight years as the defensive line coach. CEO Jed Jork and General Manager Trent Baalke, the two-headed monster that showed Harbaugh the door, no doubt see Tomsula as an appeasement toward the locker room. Problem is, the players preferred defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, one of the NFL’s best.
This is where the 49ers figured to fail. They can’t replace Harbaugh and his staff that guided the 49ers to one Super Bowl and three NFC title games. They might be forced to replace Fangio with former Raiders DC Jason Tarver, which is a sheer dropoff.
York and Baalke first must explain how they bypassed Fangio for Tomsula. Job 1 for them was to get rid of Harbaugh and all his eccentricities. In his place is Tomsula, a yes-man who will tow the line. At first blush, he doesn’t appear to be the instant difference-maker like Harbaugh. He feels like a nice and comfortable 8-8.
My first experience with Del Rio was more than 30 years ago in Oakland as sportswriters chose the annual All-Northern California high school football team. Del Rio, out of Hayward High, was voted onto the team by acclimation. His name was golden that afternoon. After hearing the pitch from the Bay Area scribes, I thought he could be elected president.
Del Rio affirmed the hype at USC, followed by an 11-year career as a linebacker in the NFL. His tenure as head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars was not boring. He told his team to “keep chopping wood” while they went 68-71 and 1-2 in the playoffs. They also didn’t win a single divisional title. Del Rio’s teams were tough but not good enough, which fits a lot of NFL teams.
So who in the Bay Area won this little push-and-pull? It’s the Raiders, who often do off-seasons better than most. Their issues always start with the 16 games between September and December.
The Raiders prevailed because they’ve found a guy with local roots and, for a change, someone who truly wants to be there. Del Rio sees this job as his second chance. If he’s not Harbaugh, the Raiders’ fantasy-world pick, he’s certainly hungry.
The NFL often awards success to coaches who’ve paid their dues. Pete Carroll didn’t become Pete Carroll until his third chance (after stops at New England and the Jets). Del Rio also will like the promising second-year quarterback Derek Carr, who most certainly will make him a success or get him fired.
As for the 49ers, they’ve shifted courses, from the neurotic but successful Harbaugh to vanilla and sanity with Tomsula. The front office sought a “teacher” who can re-boot talents such as Colin Kaepernick. Did they have Tomsula in mind all along?
My gut says no. Advantage Raiders. Let the real fun begin.