For­mer 49ers coach Tom­sula re­turns to his roots

The Mercury News Weekend - - SPORTS - By CamIn­man cin­man@ ba­yare­anews­group.com

SANTA CLARA » Jim Tom­sula went off the NFL grid last year once the 49ers were done with him.

Col­leagues and prospec­tive em­ploy­ers strug­gled to reach him. Word was, he and his fam­ily headed to Flor­ida. Ba­si­cally, he van­ished the way count­less play­ers have af­ter NFL dreams get ex­tin­guished.

The 49ers fired Tom­sula as head coach af­ter a 2015 sea­son in which the team went5-11— fired him amere 354 days af­ter his pro­mo­tion to re­place Jim Har­baugh.

But now he’s back do­ing what he does best: coach­ing de­fen­sive line­men.

When Wash­ing­ton coach Jay G ru den looked to fill that spot on his staff in Jan­uary, he sought out Tom­sula. And sought. And sought.

“It was not easy. It was not easy, Iwill tell you that,” Gru­den re­called on a con­fer­ence call with Bay Area me­dia Wed­nes­day, ahead of Sun­day’s game in Wash­ing­ton against the 49ers.

“He’s not a guy that’s go­ing to call you right back af­ter a call, ei­ther.

“I had to wait a lit­tle while, be a lit­tle pa­tient,” Gru­den con­tin­ued. “But fi­nally he called, had a great con­ver­sa­tion with him, flew him up here, had a good con­ver­sa­tion with him. We did what we could to get him and we got him.”

What Wash­ing­ton got was a de­fen­sive-line guru who flopped in a one-year, un­com­fort­able whirl­wind as 49ers head coach.

Tran­si­tion­ing out of the Har­baugh era re­mains a daunt­ing chore. Af­ter Tom­sula came Chip Kelly for a 2-14 sea­son, and now Kyle Shana­han is off to an 0- 5 start, but with a six-year con­tract as job se­cu­rity.

“I thought (Tom­sula) was a good head coach,” said Aaron Lynch, a fourth-year de­fen­sive end. “Be­ing a head coach has noth­ing to dowith how the sea­son goes. It’s about the play­ers you have.”

The 49ers have only 16 play­ers on their 53-man ros­ter still around from Tom­sula’s lone sea­son.

Tom­sula had spent eight sea­sons as the 49ers’ de­fen­sive-line coach. He had gusto, per­son­al­ity, pas­sion and a hu­man­i­tar­ian side few could match.

Then came his pro­mo­tion and a new­role.

Tom­sula “has re­spect­fully de­clined in­ter­view re­quests” such as one for this story, ac­cord­ing to Wash­ing­ton’s pub­lic-re­la­tions depart­ment.

Tom­sula re­turned to the NFL’s the­ater with a new look. Af­ter his wife told him he looked “old and scrag­gly,” the 49-year- old shaved his mus­tache and shed weight. He landed right at home coach­ing de­fen­sive line, how­ever.

“He’s a great de­fen­sive­line coach,” Lynch said. “He knew ev­ery­body, he knew how to coach guys and he knew the schemes.”

Gru­den knew all that about Tom­sula, too.

“I called him be­fore I hired a de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor and wanted to see if he was in­ter­ested in coach­ing again, be­cause you just never know,” Gru­den said. “He was (in­ter­ested), and he was re­ally ex­cited to work with Coach (Greg) Manusky, so it was kind of a pack­age deal there.”

Manusky was the 49ers de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor from 2007-10, a role he’s as­sumed with Wash­ing­ton. Gru­den cred­ited Tom­sula for hav­ing “our de­fen­sive line­men play­ing at a much higher level than be­fore.”

Wash­ing­ton is al­low­ing 88.8 rush­ing yards per game and just 3.9 yards per carry. Op­po­nents av­er­aged 4.7 yards per carry the pre­vi­ous two sea­sons com­bined, the league’ s worst mark; the 49ers al­lowed 4.4 ypc.

Bol­ster­ing Wash­ing­ton’ s de­fense is the ad­di­tion of first-round draft pick Jonathan Allen, free agent Ter­rell McClain and line­backer Zach Brown, who com­ple­ment line­men Ziggy Hood and Matt Ioannidis and lineback­ers Pre­ston Smith and Ryan Ker­ri­gan.

Notes

Line­backer Reuben Foster re­ally wants to play for the first time since the sea­son opener. How badly? He’s as des­per­ate as a kid at your door on Hal­loween.

“I hope the doc­tors of­fi­cially clear me, but I don’t know,” Foster said. “Hope­fully they see, you know, a child in me, like, ‘ Want a candy?’

“I want some candy. Let me have some candy.”

Foster, a first- round draft pick, sus­tained a high-an­kle sprain 11 snaps into his NFL de­but. He re­sumed prac­tic­ing on Wed­nes­day, im­press­ing de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Robert Saleh with how flaw­less he was in terms of com­mu­ni­ca­tions and as­sign­ments.

Foster’s re­turn won’t push NaVorro Bow­man from the start­ing lineup, Saleh added. Rather, Foster likely will stay at weak­side line­backer with RayRay Arm­strong, who has im­proved in re­cent games in place of Foster.

• Full­back­Kyle Juscz­cyk ( back) missed his sec­ond straight day of prac­tice.

• FourWash­ing­ton starters haven’t prac­ticed this week: left tackle Trent Wil­liams ( knee), cor­ner­back Josh Nor­man (rib), run­ning back Rob Kelley (an­kle) and safety De­s­ha­zor Everett (ham­string).

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