Lowell Cohn: A coaching hit and a miss for Raiders, 49ers (w/video)

The Raiders got rid of the untalented guy, the ordinary guy and hired someone special. The 49ers got rid of someone special and hired the untalented guy, the ordinary guy.

It almost reads like an equation, and the equation means the Raiders are on the way up and the Niners are going down.

To complete the equation for you: The Raiders got rid of ordinary but nice Tony Sparano and hired dynamic Jack Del Rio as head coach. Great hire.

The Niners managed to get rid of dynamic Jim Harbaugh and hired ordinary but nice Jim Tomsula as their head coach. Bad hire.

In a news release heralding the ascent of Tomsula, Jed York said, “Jim is a great teacher and a tremendous mentor who conducts himself with great class and integrity.”

That might imply Harbaugh was not a great teacher or mentor and did not conduct himself with integrity. Maybe the Niners should have hired Tomsula as the team chaplain instead of the coach. As a coach this is what we know.

He was not even a main assistant on the 49ers’ staff. Oh, he was head coach for something like a day after the Niners fired Mike Singletary. On Harbaugh’s staff he was third banana. He never rose to the level of coordinator, was a face-in-the-ground guy instructing three or four defensive linemen.

He has shown no overall vision of football. He has shown no philosophy of football. He sure hasn’t shown an offensive philosophy. Just because a man can teach one position doesn’t mean he can lead an entire team. What does Jim Tomsula bring to the job that exceeds the capabilities of Harbaugh?


His primary quality is that he’s nice. Seriously. Players like him, although not as much as they like defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who didn’t get the job. After Tomsula loses a few games, after he shows how limited he is, the players won’t like him so much.

Another good Tomsula quality is Jed feels comfortable with him. Jed didn’t feel comfortable with Harbaugh. Is comfort a requirement for a head coach? If niceness and the ability to create comfort were essential, the Niners could have hired a psychiatrist or a dietitian as head coach.

The word “Tomsula” is a synonym for “puppet,” Jed’s puppet and Trent Baalke’s puppet. He will feel indebted to them for promoting him beyond his abilities and will fetch when they say “fetch.” He may come cheap.

It has been reported he is looking at Jason Tarver for his defensive coordinator. Tarver flopped in Oakland and now he can flop in Santa Clara.

Fangio, who should have been named head coach, has one year left on his contract. Do you think he wants to coach under Tomsula? Unlikely. He would be coaching under his underling. It’s a bad management setup. Fangio, a better coach than Tomsula, will try to get out of his contract now or he will leave after one more season. Tomsula’s hiring doesn’t solve problems. It creates problems.

And one other thing. This uninspired hiring confirms Jed and Baalke never had a plan the way grownups generally have plans. They forced out Harbaugh without a sane alternative and then they settled - yes, settled - for a coaching nonentity. This hiring reveals their own mediocrity.

On the other hand, score one for the Raiders. They made a serious hire. Jack Del Rio is an impact coach and he certainly is no puppet of management.

Del Rio is the corrective to all the Raiders’ coaching futility that preceded him – Tom Cable, Hue Jackson, Dennis Allen, Tony Sparano. He is a formidable coach and a formidable person. He grew up in Castro Valley and went to Hayward High down the road from the Coliseum. He knows what the Raiders are and are not.

He was head coach in Jacksonville for eight-plus seasons. His regular-season record was 68-71, excellent considering what a crummy franchise Jacksonville is. He went to the playoffs twice.

He has been defensive coordinator at Denver the past three seasons. When recently-deposed Broncos head coach John Fox needed heart surgery, the Broncos appointed Del Rio interim coach. In the NFL he enjoys tremendous respect, and this hire brings respect to the Raiders.

Under Del Rio the Broncos ranked third in total defense in the regular season. And he is coming to Oakland from another AFC West team. That means he knows the Broncos inside and out, and also the Chiefs, Chargers and, yes, the Raiders.

It has been reported he is interested in bringing in former head coaches Marc Trestman as offensive coordinator and Mike Smith as defensive coordinator. Rumors abound this time of year. But if Del Rio is considering them or people like them, it shows he is putting together a grownup coaching staff with cutting-edge coordinators. It shows Del Rio is not afraid of quality. Seeks it out.

There’s one problem facing Del Rio. You didn’t think anything regarding the Raiders would be problem-free. The roster is the problem.

The Raiders have one of the worst in the NFL. The Raiders need to accumulate players by the boatload. And not just bodies. They’ve already done that, and they just finished with a 3-13 record. The Raiders need real players.

They probably have their quarterback of the future in Derek Carr. They may have a running back in Latavius Murray, and they probably have a pass rusher in Khalil Mack. And they have kickers. After that, they kind of run dry.

They don’t have a No. 1 wide receiver. They need more pass rushers. They need a better secondary. No one needs like the Raiders.

That’s where general manager Reggie McKenzie comes in. Can he bring in talent? Del Rio only will be as good as the players McKenzie gives him. There is no way around bad players. Even Bill Walsh couldn’t get around bad players. His first year in San Francisco, 1979, his record was 2-14. Substandard roster. In 1979, he constantly wondered why he left Stanford for the 49ers. He used to stare out the window and moan.

Del Rio doesn’t want to become a window starer and a life moaner. If his players are the worst, it won’t matter how he coaches them. He needs McKenzie to be a good general manager.

But today, McKenzie is off the point. The new coaches take center stage. The Raiders just hired the thrilling man, and the 49ers, well, they hired the nice man.

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at

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