Link to my Tuesday column. Text below:
Rarely have I seen a head coach as embarrassed as Jim Tomsula. Happened at his Monday news conference. He deserved better than what he got.
Here’s the background. During the TV broadcast of Sunday’s loss to the Bengals, sideline reporter Jay Feely said on air: “I had a chance to talk with Al Guido, the COO for the 49ers, beforehand. They knew what they were getting into when they had all the defections. (Guido) said they underestimated a little bit the impact that it had on the locker room, specifically the lack of leadership. … But I think they’re confident with Jim Tomsula going forward.”
Nothing incendiary in those remarks. They were supportive of Tomsula. I’ll get back to Guido shortly. First this. Immediately after Tomsula’s Sunday postgame news conference, Bob Lange, Vice President of Communications for the Niners, took reporters aside and said Feely’s remarks were not direct quotes from Guido. They were Feely’s interpretation of Guido’s remarks. Making this distinction to reporters was important to Lange.
He apparently explained none of this to Tomsula, whom he should have told before telling anyone else. Here’s why I don’t think Lange informed his coach. Cut to Monday morning near the end of a standard Tomsula news conference. Eric Branch of the Chronicle, formerly of The Press Democrat, asked:
“Are you aware of what CBS sideline reporter Jay Feely said based on a conversation with COO Al Guido? Were you made aware of those comments?”
Tomsula furrowed his brows, concentrated hard, was confused. “Jay Feely?” Tomsula said in total incomprehension. Tomsula sure seemed genuine. Otherwise, he’s either a liar or the best actor since Laurence Olivier and should win an Oscar.
“Yeah, the former kicker,” Branch said.
“The kicker, the guy that I had to talk to on the … ” Tomsula said, trying to get a grip on reality.
“Yeah,” Branch said.
“He was talking to Al Guido?” Tomsula said, amazed. He was shrugging. His tongue came out of his mouth.
Branch said, “Jay Feely said on the broadcast that one thing that maybe this organization didn’t account for was just the lack of, with all the veterans that left in the offseason, that there was kind of a leadership void. Obviously, there are some leaders still here, but that was tough to account for. How would you assess, with guys like Frank Gore and Justin Smith and Patrick Willis and others that have gone, has that been a challenge for you just as a head coach, getting guys to step into those positions?”
Tomsula finally got the picture. Said lots of leaders are gone and the team is trying to develop new ones. OK, we understand that.
Then I spoke up. I was interested in the Al Guido angle, not that I would know Guido if I knocked into him on Market Street. The media guide says Guido “oversees a number of key business initiatives for the team: sales, fan experience/service, marketing, stadium operations, corporate communications, business operations and 49ers Studios.”
“Is Al Guido in a position to make a statement about players who are leaders or lack of leadership on the team?” I asked Tomsula. “Is he in the locker room with you, in coaches meetings with you? Is he the one who would make that statement?”
“I don’t know who made that … ” said Tomsula, shrugging again. “I don’t know that that was who made the statement.”
“It was Jay Feely’s interpretation of a conversation he had with him,” Branch said.
“OK. Yeah, I don’t know anything about that,” Tomsula said, “But, no, I’m not in any staff meetings or coaches meetings or anything with Al Guido. I’ve got a lot of respect for Al Guido. He’s a great guy, he really is. But in terms of that, I meet with (general manager) Trent (Baalke) and I meet with the owners.”
Tomsula had dismissed Al Guido, a business guy who had no business talking to Feely on football subjects, whatever he said. The 49ers are a corporate mess.
More important, Lange had not prepared Tomsula for an inevitable question. Tomsula certainly acted unprepared. It was the big news that came out of the game, Guido’s conversation with Feely. Lange allowed his coach to meet the media — and to appear on TV — looking foolish and uninformed. Twisting in the wind. Tomsula is locked away from news of the Feely-Guido kind. He’s trying to win a ballgame. He needs help. Maybe Lange went over all this Feely-Guido stuff with Tomsula, and Tomsula forgot. But I doubt it.
Lange’s job it to prep the head coach for news conferences. He is assigned to the head coach. It was his job with Jim Harbaugh, but I never felt Harbaugh listened much to him. Lange never went onto the stage with Harbaugh. No one could share a Harbaugh stage.
But Lange climbs onto the stage along with Tomsula. When Tomsula talks, he continually looks at Lange. I take it to mean Tomsula needs confirmation he is saying the things he and Lange rehearsed before the news conference. Sometimes, I think Lange is a ventriloquist.
Why would the vice president of communications leave a coach so naked? I have no idea. Could have been a momentary public-relations lapse. Or could mean something about Tomsula’s fate as head coach. Because, get this, what Feely said Guido said was nice. Complimentary. The team is confident with Tomsula going forward. I would think that’s a message the Niners want to get across unless they were so disgusted with loss No. 10 they are distancing themselves from Tomsula.
The 49ers hung Tomsula out to dry. Made him look out of touch, helpless. The media knew more about his team on this subject than he did. The Niners are supposed to be on his side, at least publicly. Are they? Or have things changed in a hurry?
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.