For my money, there’s no better exercise during the NFL season than to look at the bottom of the standings in order to wonder, Would Jim Tomsula, right now, be better than that team’s head coach?
For the uninitiated, Jim Tomsula was the 49ers’ interim head coach for one game in 2010 (1-0 record), as well as the team’s actual head coach for the 2015 season (5-11). He has had an extraordinarily bleak family history, and lived in his car at the start of his coaching career. The all-purpose handyman was never given a real chance to find his stride and fix what was wrong with the Niners, as he was replaced in 2016 by Chip Kelly, who was much worse. At the end of Tomsula’s one full campaign with the Niners, he ended up like presumably all his favorite foodstuffs: canned.
Let’s run down the list of winless teams so far this season and see if a bit of Tomsula charm, as well as his patented elbow grease, could’ve gotten these struggling organizations out of a jam or two. Call it the Tomsula Index, because like the man himself, I’m playing fast and loose with the numbers and there’s no one here to stop me.
Miami Dolphins: It’s quite early, but the Fins, who have scored 16 total points and allowed 133 against in three games, are on track to be one of the worst NFL teams ever. This squad is shameless in its tanking. First-year head coach Brian Flores is insistent that he’s trying to win—devastatingly sad if true—but he doesn’t have the players to accomplish that. Especially after the Dolphins traded Minkah Fitzpatrick, this roster is all gristle, no meat. But there’s one man who thrives in that situation: Jim Tomsula. That guy can make a hearty stew out of anything.
Before Tomsula began his 2015 campaign, four 49ers players unexpectedly retired: offensive tackle Anthony Davis, linebacker Chris Borland, franchise player Patrick Willis, and defensive end Justin Smith. Did Tomsula just give up because a number of his players foresaw that the 49ers at the time had no actual plan and were just trying to settle a score with Jim Harbaugh? Of course not! He coached that defense to allow 24.2 points per game, an average that ranked 18th out of all 32 teams that season. It’s no steak dinner, but it’ll do.
Tomsula 2019 Projection: 0-3, but everyone would be having a lot more fun.
New York Jets: The major plotline of this Jets season went from head coach Adam Gase’s haunting gaze to starting QB Sam Darnold’s case of mono. The season has already turned dire as New York is now forced to rely on Luke Falk, who has the pocket presence of a scarecrow. But if Ol’ Jim were in charge, he’d get his hands on a bottle of shine and a few crick berries, and concoct a remedy that’d help Darnold swiftly beat his case of Vagrant’s Ennui, as it’s known down at the railyard.
Tomsula 2019 Projection: 2-1, with a strict no-smooching policy.
Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals have been hopeless for a while, even in their previous era of success, but they seem to be eschewing mediocrity and embracing the tank. Rookie HC Zac Taylor could be fine, but if team owner Mike Brown wants to get stingier, he should hire Tomsula. The guy doesn’t need money. Just pay him in servings of that sweet, sweet chili you’ve got in that pot right there. He’ll settle for two bowls a day—no less.
Tomsula 2019 Projection: 1-2, and two headsets accidentally stepped on but repaired with duct tape.
Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals are actually the “best” team on this list, as they have a shred of hope with rookie quarterback Kyler Murray, and a Week 1 tie with the Lions puts them at 0-2-1 for the season. If Tomsula were to compare that performance to a food, as he’s wont to do, it’d be a day-old pizza crust. All those Cardinals are taking nibbles of the pizza crust, just getting some energy in their systems so they can keep chugging. The jury’s still out on head coach Kliff Kingsbury, but Chef Jim would whip up some Haysville sliders for the crew, and get them on the path to success. (A Haysville slider is a slice of Spam rolled in some moss, then wrapped in the biggest leaf you can find. Optional: heat it over the fire for three minutes.)
Tomsula 2019 Projection: 1-1-1, the Haysville slider of W-L records.
Denver Broncos: Vic Fangio basically looks like a grizzled version of Jim Tomsula. They’re both defensive-minded coaches who speak their minds and grew up in Pennsylvania, albeit on opposite sides of the state. (Fangio was born in Dunmore; Tomsula’s from the Pittsburgh area.)
Even though Fangio has the benefit of formidable talent on the Broncos’ defense, but he hasn’t utilized it at all: No one on D, not even fearsome linebacker Von Miller, has yet to record a sack this season. That hasn’t happened to a team across three straight games since at least 1982, when sacks first became an official stat. Vic, you’re fucking up! Tomsula wouldn’t take a situation like that for granted. One practice session spent on the Jackrabbit Spin would get Miller filling up the stat sheet once again.
Tomsula 2019 Projection: 3-0, and a collection of charming anecdotes all set in Allegheny County.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is out for the season, and this team has little hope and dwindling morale. What the Steelers need is some pep in their step, and Mike Tomlin is no longer the man for the job. But Jim Tomsula is. Just imagine it: the Steelers coached by not just any Yinzer, but a Western Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Famer. Even if Tomsula can’t turn Mason Rudolph into a starting-caliber QB, he can still take him to the Monongahela River and teach him three ways to catch a fish using only a thumbtack and guile.
Tomsula 2019 Projection: 2-1, with a Yinzer quotient of six.
Washington: Tomsula already works for this pathetic excuse of a team. Toss Jay Gruden out on his ass and promote the man already.
Tomsula 2019 Projection: 1-2, and a round of salty beers for all.