Here is a link to my Tuesday column about the Gabbert-Tomsula saga. The full text runs below:
Even when Jim Tomsula tries to act decisive and strong, he comes off indecisive and weak. Even when Tomsula appears to do a nice thing, he comes off indecisive and weak.
Late Monday afternoon, the 49ers announced Blaine Gabbert is starting against Seattle on Nov. 22. No surprise there. If Tomsula had chosen Colin Kaepernick over Gabbert, he’d face a players’ revolt.
But Tomsula didn’t rush to announce Gabbert as his starter. He refused to do that immediately after Sunday’s game and he still refused at his Monday morning news conference. “Where I’ll go with that,” Tomsula said, circling around the big issue in the room, “is obviously Blaine did a nice job, did some really good things with his feet and his arm and his brain. So congratulations to him.”
But is Gabbert starting, coach?
“Just to clarify,” Tomsula said in a non-clarifying way, “I’m not going to talk to anybody here before I talk to everybody there.”
Then there was this beauty of a Q&A with a reporter — not me.
“I think there’s a lot of questions out there as to why it’s a question who’s going to start this next game?” the reporter said.
“It’s a question to you,” Tomsula shot back, Tomsula who’s beginning to lose his cool.
“I think it’s a question to a lot of people.”
“Let me just clarify this,” Tomsula said. “I will have conversations with my players and, after I have those conversations, I will have conversations with you all. That’s all I’m simply saying.”
Translation: Tomsula would tell the team who’s the quarterback before he told the media — as if the whole thing was a big secret. There was a certain virtue in Tomsula’s reticence. It probably meant he wanted to be kind, to break it to Kaepernick privately before going public about Gabbert.
You imagine Tomsula, who prides himself on being a players’ coach, asking Kaepernick, “You OK with that, Colin?” And then you picture Tomsula giving No. 7 a hearty bear hug and handing him a box of Kleenex.
Player’s coach is a phony concept and helps nothing — Tomsula walking around the locker room after games thanking players for their work, Tomsula adjusting training-camp schedules to accommodate players. Seriously? Football is a war game. It is cruel. Coaches use a certain amount of harshness in their coaching. Have to.
Bill Walsh once told me he didn’t care if players liked him. Beside the point. He said it sometimes was good for players to dislike the head coach. Then they could bond together and play well just to spit in the coach’s eye. Walsh liked that. He was not a players’ coach. Wouldn’t understand the concept.
What was Tomsula being so touchy-feely delicate about at his Monday news conference? Gabbert already was the starting quarterback. That decision Tomsula made a week ago. What was the mystery? Why all this dancing around a fait accompli? With Tomsula you get the feeling he needs permission for so many things. “Can I take a lunch break?” “Can I have the bathroom pass?”
On Sunday, he couldn’t even praise Gabbert. But on Monday, his voice cheerful, his manner unencumbered, he said Gabbert put “the ball where it needed to go.” And he said Gabbert’s “distribution of the ball was good.” And he said, “I know Blaine Gabbert from when he came to the 49ers to now. Since Blaine has gotten here, he’s done a wonderful job. He has been a true professional. He has worked extremely hard. He’s taken coaching to heart. High marks in all those areas.”
Before Tomsula praised Gabbert, who sure deserved praise a day earlier, did he need to check with Jed York and the other Niners luminaries? Did he need their go-ahead?
Compare Tomsula to Jim Harbaugh. You remember a guy named Harbaugh — like Walsh another legendary 49ers coach. When Harbaugh chose Kaepernick as his starter over Alex Smith, he announced the change immediately after Kaepernick’s brilliant game against the Bears. Harbaugh didn’t need to watch the tape, or privately inform the team, or soothe Smith, or have a confab with Trent Baalke, or play it safe or be politically correct. He told the media right then and there in the postgame interview room he was going with the “hot hand.” He was dying to tell the media. And he decided all on his own. He was his own man.
When Harbaugh didn’t like the grass in Levi’s Stadium, he yanked his team off the field. York’s feelings were utterly irrelevant to him. In a million years, Tomsula couldn’t yank his team off a bad playing surface York owns. Tomsula wouldn’t want to offend.
During Harbaugh’s regime, Baalke mostly watched training-camp practice from the sideline. Off the field. The field was Harbaugh’s domain, and Baalke respected that.
In the first training camp of the Tomsula regime, Baalke routinely crossed the white line that marked the boundary between off the field and on the field. He walked onto the field. Violated Tomsula’s domain. Went where he did not belong. Looking at Baalke on the field, you could have mistaken him for a coach.
Everything Harbaugh did screamed, “I am in charge.” Everything Tomsula does whispers, “I am not in charge. Don’t expect too much from me. Please be kind to me.”
Makes you wonder whose team this is. What decisions does Tomsula actually make? What decisions does ownership allow him to make? Exactly how much of a puppet is he?
If we the media wonder who makes the decisions — we do — the players wonder, too. Players are smart. Players are observant. Players see what’s going on. Players know the deal. And they must be asking each other these questions: How much authority does the coach have? Do I really have to listen to this guy?
Tomsula grotesquely mishandled announcing Gabbert as the starter for Seattle. This is not a quarterback story. This is a coach story. Disturbing story.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.