New NFL head coaches fail to impress

Kevin Lucena, assistant sports editor and columnist. Photo credit: Trevor Ryan

Following a pair of disappointing seasons, both the San Francisco 49ers and the Oakland Raiders decided to fire their head coaches. Both teams hired new coaches to lead them in new directions on Jan. 14.

As a lifelong fan of the 49ers and a follower of the Raiders, if I had to sum up the selections in a word it would be lackluster — although dull and uninspiring could work too.

In San Francisco, the 49ers fired Jim Harbaugh after a disappointing season that saw the team finish with an 8-8 record, the worst in Harbaugh’s four seasons at the helm.

The internal power struggle between Harbaugh and General Manager Trent Baalke was well documented as the season got progressively worse for the Niners.

Clearly Baalke got his way, with Harbaugh moving on to be head coach for the University of Michigan, his alma mater. Now Baalke has placed himself in the crosshairs by firing the coach who turned the franchise around and led the team to three straight NFC championship games, a Super Bowl appearance and a record of 44-19-1 in four years.

Ironically the man hired to replace Harbaugh is the same man who preceded him on the job.

New head coach Jim Tomsula, a relative unknown outside of the Bay Area, has been with the 49er franchise since 2007. In week 17 of the 2010 season Tomsula served as interim head coach, following the firing of Mike Singletary, before the organization made the decision to hire Jim Harbaugh that offseason.

Tomsula was supposedly not on the radar for any other potential head-coaching positions, but in-house connections have certainly gotten people jobs before.

It’s a big task, asking Tomsula to go from a position coach to head coach. The decision has already cost the team several top coordinators who chose to leave, including both the offensive and defense coaches. Now the pressure is on to find the right offensive coordinator to get the 49ers back into the playoffs and turn Colin Kaepernick’s career back in the right direction.

On the other side of the bay in Oakland, the search for a new head coach started sooner, with Chico State Alumni and Raiders owner Mark Davis deciding to axe former head coach Dennis Allen, following the teams 0-4 start. Allen’s record while leading the team was 8-28 with zero playoff appearances.

Replacing Allen as the team’s interim head coach was offensive coordinator Tony Sparono, a former head coach himself. Sprano buried a football before his first game as the team’s leader, in a symbolic gesture showing his attempt to restart the season and lead the team in his own way.

Under Sparano, the team finished the 2014 season with a 3-13 record.

The Raiders’ front office decided to relieve Sparano of his duties as the team’s head coach at the end of the season.

Now taking the spot as the head coach for the Raiders is Bay Area native Jack Del Rio. Del Rio has been the Bronco’s defensive coordinator since 2012 and was the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2003 to 2011. In his time in Jacksonville, Florida, he amassed a 68-71 record and made two playoff appearances.

Del Rio is the Raiders’ ninth head coach since the start of the 2003 season. In that time span, the Raiders have failed to make the playoffs or even have a single winning season.

While Del Rio may have more name recognition than Tomsula, he is not an offensive mind. Hiring a coach such as Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, Stanford coach David Shaw or even Harbaugh would have been a much more exciting prospect, especially for a team whose fans celebrated winning the “Battle of the Bay” against the 49ers this season like they had won the Super Bowl.

Following a strong draft last year, with the selection of quarterback Derek Carr and linebacker Khalil Mack paying immediate dividends, General Manager Reggie McKenzie is still looking to get the silver and black back on the path to victory.

With both hiring decisions, there is no doubt pressure on Baalke and McKenzie to impress with how they fill out the rest of the coaching staffs and how they perform in the next NFL draft. Both owners backed the men in their front offices this time. Now we have to wait and see if they made the right decisions. If they turn out to be wrong, we could see a full cleaning of both houses next time.

Kevin Lucena can be reached at [email protected] or @klucena824 on Twitter.