Analysis  

 

Jack Del Rio and Jim Tomsula? Raiders and 49ers fail to inspire

Print

On Wednesday, the Bay Area's two NFL teams made coaching hires. And I have a really strong take on what happened in Oakland and San Francisco:

Eh.

And to think, I get paid to have a fiery, educated opinion.

Actually, I think "eh" is a completely reasonable way to respond to the Raiders appointing Jack Del Rio as their new head man and the 49ers promoting Jim Tomsula to lead the team. I could also opt for uninspiring or, in some ways, head-scratching. Del Rio and Tomsula don't really move the meter in terms of buzz or track record.

What they do represent is even more pressure on the men at the top of the food chain.

Raiders fans dreamed of Jon Gruden or Jim Harbaugh. Instead, it's Jack Del Rio.

Del Rio grew up in the Bay Area. His family still has Raiders season tickets. His Raider Nation chops are legit.

But would he have gotten a serious look as a head-coaching candidate for any other NFL team?

It's fair to say Del Rio's tenure as head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars was a mixed bag, as evidenced by his 68-71 record over nine seasons. He did guide the Jags to the playoffs twice, once beating the Steelers in Pittsburgh. He's tough, accountable and a fine defensive mind. Del Rio navigated through the choppy waters of the David Garrard-Byron Leftwich quarterback controversy. Some drama was unavoidable, some the coach created. But on balance, Del Rio did a pretty solid job. And then he did an admirable job coaching up Denver's defense over the last three years, with the unit ranking in the top three in total defense twice.

I certainly like Del Rio far more than some of the names that were attached to the Raiders' coaching search, like Eric Mangini (what?), Pat Shurmur (how?) and even Tony Sparano, the interim coach who purportedly was a candidate to be retained. But Del Rio was no great shakes in Jacksonville. On many instances, the Jaguars lost games they should've won. How will he fare in his second opportunity as an NFL head coach? A big key now is putting together a super staff with a great offensive coordinator. My colleague Ian Rapoport says Jack Del Rio has recruited Marc Trestman to be his OC. Kyle Shanahan's name has been mentioned, too. Either would be a great choice.

At the end of the day, Del Rio is a major upgrade over Dennis Allen. But does he take the Raiders to the next level? Mike Shanahan could've been the guy to do that. Taking a flier on a young offensive mind without prior head-coaching experience, someone like Adam Gase, would've intrigued me more. Stanford coach David Shaw would've been beyond ideal.

But Oakland went with Del Rio. What does this mean for the franchise going forward? Well, it puts even more pressure on Reggie McKenzie.

While the Raiders' general manager deserves much credit for nabbing a pair of genuine building blocks in last May's draft -- playmaking linebacker Khalil Mack and bright young quarterback Derek Carr -- the overall roster remains one of the worst in the NFL by any measuring stick. McKenzie's track record in free agency is laughable. And in the three years with McKenzie at the helm, Oakland has gone 11-37. That's unacceptable.

So are the Raiders simply (and wrongly) spinning their wheels? How does Allen get the boot, but McKenzie gets to stay for Year 4? Don't get me wrong, the head coach deserved to go, but how about the man who assembled the roster? And if Del Rio can't pilot the Raiders to a winning season this year, does McKenzie finally lose his gig, forcing Del Rio to work with a GM who didn't hire him? (Never a good situation in the NFL.)

Commitment to excellence or commitment to confusion? I just don't get it. And the Bay Area's other team has some explaining to do, as well.

While Del Rio might not have gotten a head-coaching sniff anywhere else besides Oakland, Tomsula wasn't even on the radar outside of San Francisco. In-house, connection-based hires routinely happen across sports, but in many instances, they just don't work. Last summer, over in the NBA, Byron Scott landed the Lakers gig because he once starred for the "Showtime" Lakers. Meanwhile, Knicks president Phil Jackson plucked Derek Fisher from the Triangle tree. Both are failing miserably in Year 1.

I know how good a defensive line coach Tomsula is, and how much Niners players respect him. But is he ready for such a gigantic leap? Who is going to develop and maximize Colin Kaepernick?

And there's the bigger picture here, too.

Jed York won the power struggle with Jim Harbaugh, but he lost one of the greatest coaches in all of football -- a man who immediately turned around the chaotic franchise after Mike Singletary's clown act. Harbaugh made it to three straight NFC title games (and a Super Bowl). This cannot be minimized in any manner.

Quite clearly, York didn't care for Harbaugh's cantankerous personality. And now Harbaugh's gone. But as a boss -- and this goes for York, in conjunction with general manager Trent Baalke -- you have to put personal differences aside to win games. You don't have to exchange Christmas cards or share meals. But you do have to keep a great thing going.

Harrison: Power Rankings
What does the NFL landscape look like heading into Championship Sunday? Elliot Harrison reveals his pecking order. READ

York and Baalke chased out Harbaugh, and now the pressure is solely on them. I doubt Tomsula will make Niners Faithful forget about the winning ways under Harbaugh. Nobody could. Nobody should.

So here we are, with a pair of Bay Area hires that were just OK. And for very different reasons, that won't cut it.

But it will rightly shift the focus of blame.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

Print

Headlines

The previous element was an advertisement.

NFL Shop