It seems like a number of people like to make a joke out of former San Francisco 49ers HC Jim Tomsula these days, but to label him that way is unfair. Sure, Tomsula was over-matched as a head coach and had no business ever getting the job in the first place, but is that his fault? He should’ve never been put in that position, and all of the blame falls on the shoulders of CEO Jed York and GM Trent Baalke. Tomsula was obviously no head man. What he was however, was an excellent defensive line coach that oversaw a unit that regularly excelled in his presence.
Tomsula took over the Niner’s d-line in 2007. In the eight seasons in which he was in charge of the position group, the 49ers ranked fourth in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game (98.4), second in yards per attempt (3.72) and third in points allowed (19.4). In 2011, the unit set an NFL record by not allowing a rushing touchdown in their first 14 games, and only gave up three the entire season.
— Al Sacco (@AlSacco49) December 7, 2016
Need more proof? Let’s take a look at how his position group fared individually.
DE Justin Smith made five Pro Bowls and was selected to three All-Pro teams in his seven seasons with San Francisco. He never received either accolade in the seven seasons prior to working with Tomsula. Linemen like NT Aubrayo Franklin, NT Isaac Sopoaga, and DE Ricky Jean-Francois made an impact with the 49ers, but were bascially invisible after leaving the team. NT Glenn Dorsey, who was selected fifth overall in the 2008 draft, was seen as a disappointment in his first five years with the Kansas City Chiefs. Under Tomsula, he flourished as a nose tackle with the Niners until injuries took him off the field.
Tomsula’s also worked wonders with undrafted players like NT Ian Williams, who was turning into force in the middle last year before getting injured. Even undrafted role players like DE Demarcus Dobbs and Tony Jerod-Eddie stepped up admirably when called upon. Late round draft picks? He’s helped them too, as DE Ray McDonald (3rd round) was a stalwart opposite Smith from 2011-2014, and DE Quinton Dial (5th round) has turned into a valuable asset (he’s currently the second highest rated d-lineman on the team per Pro Football Focus at 75.8).
Even during his failed head coaching stint, the San Fransciso defense wasn’t as bad as perceived. The Niners were 29th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed (2020) but that stat’s misleading because they had the most attempts against them (504). The unit actually did pretty in well in yards allowed per carry, and finished in the top half of the league (4.0). The defense also allowed 20 points or less in eight times, and minus a few blowouts, generally kept the Niners in the game.
If you didn’t appreciate Tomsula from 2007-2014, you’re probably starting to miss him now. After years of stout defense up front, the 49ers are abysmal this season, and the line is pushed around with regularity. Under DC Jim O’Neil and defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro, San Francisco ranks last in rushing yards allowed (2032), yards per carry (4.9) and have allowed nine 100-yard rushers this season. Currently, they’re giving up just under 31 points per game and teams have scored 30 or more eight times this season. To put that in perspective, the 49ers gave up 30 points or more (during the regular season) eight times from 2011-2015 combined.
Obviously, all of the previous success the defense had wasn’t due to Tomsula alone. The Niners had some great players and DC Vic Fangio deserves more praise than you can put into words. But you can’t argue that Tomsula played an important role for a long time. It’s a shame that he’s gone, because if York and Baalke left well enough alone, he’d still be on the staff in San Francisco helping young players like DE DeForest Buckner and DE Arik Armstead develop.