Here is a link to my Monday column about the 49ers-Steelers. The full text runs below:
After the Steelers brought down the 49ers 43-18 and humiliated and exposed them, Jim Tomsula took over.
He left the postgame interview room where he had told reporters the Steelers are good and their quarterback Ben Roethlisberger “creates” plays — you don’t say, Jim — and he made his way into the losing locker room. He walked over to linebacker Michael Wilhoite and shook his hand. It was a sincere handshake. Tomsula does sincere well. He smacked Wilhoite on his bare back and moved on.
Tomsula moved around the perimeter of the locker room, from cubicle to cubicle shaking hands with utmost sincerity and smacking backs. Making eye contact. He made eye contact and held it like they teach you in sensitivity training.
Among the players he personally greeted were Bruce Miller, Jarryd Hayne, Anquan Boldin and DeAndrew White. “How’s your body?” Tomsula asked White. White said his body felt good.
Tomsula asked Vernon Davis the body question and he asked Joe Staley, Alex Boone and Jordan Devey. To some players he said, “Thanks for your work.” When he thanked the losing players his voice reached the height of sincerity.
If you looked at Tomsula working the room and didn’t know he’s the head coach, you would have thought he’s the head trainer. All those how-are-your-body questions. Knowing he’s the head coach, you still might have wondered what he was doing.
The message was obvious. He was bonding with his players. Showing he still believes in them. Tomsula the players’ coach par excellence. And maybe he was right to do the handshake and the back slap and the sincere voice. Maybe he was exactly right. His players got their feelings hurt and he wanted to make them feel better.
But, I object to what he did. I really do.
First of all, he did it in public. Made a show of his concern. It was like, “Look at me be a players’ coach.” He would be on the bus with his players in a few minutes and, after that, they’d ride a jet back to California. Tomsula could work the plane aisle by aisle grabbing hands and slapping backs and asking after bodies and thanking players. Why he did his deal publicly is open to interpretation.
That’s not the half of it. Other coaches would have reacted differently. Harder. Meaner. Think about Vince Lombardi, Mike Ditka, Bill Walsh. After that monstrosity against the Steelers, I don’t think they would have worked the losing locker room like a wedding planner.
I never saw Walsh do that. He would have been angry at his players and he would have shown it. After one bad loss in Arizona, he kept the locker room shut a long time and let his players have it. When the media finally walked in, the locker room felt like a funeral.
Not that Walsh was an angry man. But he had standards, a standard of play and a standard of coaching. And after the loss to the Steelers, he would have shown his players and his coaches they had not met the standard. Did not measure up. He was in love with the standard and did not accept substandard.
Although he meant well, Tomsula didn’t act like Lombardi or Ditka or Walsh. Players consider him a players’ coach right now. If the Niners get murdered a few more times, look as dreadful as they looked Sunday, the players will tell each other Tomsula never instilled discipline, did not require enough from them, didn’t know about the standard.
We ask this. Does Tomsula have a winner’s standards? If he does, can he convey them to his team? This loss makes him look bad. He may sugarcoat it for his players. No need to sugarcoat it for him.
Even with a loss in Game 2, Tomsula could have come off better. If the Niners had kept the game close, played some defense, not allowed lightning-fast scores by the Steelers, you could insist the 49ers are a good team. They had a short week. They had to fly across the country. But they played tough and well, and they are a team to admire.
Do you admire them now? The opening-game win against Minnesota feels like an illusion. The league learned about the 49ers from Game 1. Stop Carlos Hyde and you stop the offense. Rough up the 49ers. They don’t like it. The Steelers drove out of the game Hyde, Vance McDonald and Blake Bell. Sunday’s game wasn’t just a game. It was a gang fight. The Niners lost that, too.
And the Steelers weren’t that good. Keep that in mind. Before the game, a local radio guy said the Steelers defense is “a work in progress.” Against the 49ers, it made big progress.
The Steelers offense also is a work in progress. Running back DeAngelo Williams rushed for three touchdowns, tying a Steelers record. But he’s only the backup running back. Roethlisberger is throwing to Darius Heyward-Bey, a washout in Oakland.
Against the 49ers, Pittsburgh made progress on both sides of the ball.
And don’t forget the 49ers have trouble scoring. This is part of their overall picture. The 49ers got to the Steelers’ 1-yard line and their 3-yard line and neither time did the 49ers score. Not good. No knock on Colin Kaepernick. He played well even after Hyde got hurt. But any team that scores at least 20 will give the 49ers problems.
Afterward, Kaepernick tried to be as positive as his coach. He said the Niners are more the Game 1 team than the Game 2 team. How does he know? He also said, “We didn’t play our best football today.” That’s obvious. But did the Niners play their worst football? That’s what we want to know. Or can things get worse from here?
Sorry to be a downer. You want to feel good, ask Tomsula. He’ll cheer you up.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at email@example.com.