By Sam McPherson
After concluding their 2015 regular season on Sunday with an overtime win at home over the St. Louis Rams, the San Francisco 49ers announced on Monday the firing of Head Coach Jim Tomsula. Hired just one year ago to replace the controversial Jim Harbaugh, the new coach didn’t have much to work with this season as injuries and retirement took their toll on the roster’s talent levels. The 49ers’ 5-11 record was the team’s worst showing since 2007, and the offense’s ineptitude was historically bad for the franchise.READ MORE: UC Davis Mascot Change Vote Gets Endorsement From Congressman: 'It Must Moove On From The Old'
San Francisco posted a solid 4-4 record at home, but the team’s 1-7 road record buried the 49ers in the NFC West standings. The team won just one of six division contests, and it was the last game of the season in overtime. After ruling the NFC West from 1981-2002, the 49ers have now won their division just twice in the last 13 seasons. The organization’s bar was set high a long time ago, and the 2015 49ers just weren’t good enough in almost every facet of the game. That’s why Tomsula got a pink slip.
The Offense Goes South
The 49ers finished dead last in scoring this season, putting up just 14.9 points per game. The team scored 20-plus points just four times in 16 games—including just once in the final 10 games of the season. You can’t win in the NFL if you don’t score, and the San Francisco offense struggled all season for two reasons: running back Carlos Hyde’s foot injury and quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s struggles. Without a running game, the 49ers struggled to throw the ball, and Kaepernick’s inability to harness his massive talent meant the offense couldn’t go anywhere.
Backup QB Blaine Gabbert started the last eight games, winning one more game than Kaep did in the first eight. He played slightly better with less around him to work with in the backfield. However, neither QB was stellar, and the NFL is a league that revolves around stellar QBs. The Super Bowl favorites this postseason include Heisman Trophy winners (Cam Newton, Carson Palmer) and former NFL champions at quarterback (Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Russell Wilson); the 49ers had neither type in 2015, and in the end, they couldn’t do much on offense.
Bowman’s Return From Injury Was Amazing
In the 2013 playoffs, linebacker NaVorro Bowman suffered a horrible knee injury that cost him the whole 2014 season. He returned in 2015 with a vengeance, notching a whopping 154 tackles on the season. That was the best number in the NFL this year. Bowman also registered 2.5 sacks and had a forced fumble. When 2014 starters Patrick Willis, Justin Smith and Chris Borland retired, Bowman was on his own for much of the year on the 49ers defense, especially after Aldon Smith was released after more legal issues in the preseason.READ MORE: Key Lawmaker Warns At UFO Hearing: 'Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Are A Potential National Security Threat'
The 49ers finished in the middle of the pack in terms of points allowed, but the defense would have been much worse if Bowman hadn’t been able to recover from his injury. At home, San Francisco gave up less than 20 points per game this season, and Bowman was the primary reason the 49ers were able to hold playoff-bound offenses to just 16.6 points at Levi’s Stadium.
Organizational Changes For 2016
The big question is Kaepernick, who is due a big roster bonus in the spring. Depending on who the 49ers hire as coach could determine Kaep’s fate with the team. Rumors are swirling about New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton coming to San Francisco, and Kaepernick may not be his ideal QB. Then again, if San Francisco makes a move on former Oregon Ducks and Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly, maybe Kaep is a piece the 49ers will keep. In the organizational scheme, these are the two biggest questions: The head coach and the QB.
Either way, look for the San Francisco organization to use its first-round pick—which will be No. 7—on a quarterback for the future. Gabbert is a solid backup, but he’s probably not the answer. The team could also use some insurance at running back, since the 49ers struggled to replace Hyde when he went down with an injury. The defense also needs attention in all three positional groups. Bowman can’t carry the load again by himself in 2016.
2016 Success Is Not Guaranteed
This may be more than just a one-year rebuilding job for the 49ers to become playoff-worthy again any time soon. Since personnel man Scot McCloughan left the team, the drafting process and free-agent strategy hasn’t been the best. In fact, it’s one of the reasons the S.F. performance on the field began declining even before Harbaugh left the team after the 2014 season. The 49ers need a top personnel guru again, and they also still need the coach and his QB. These three key components don’t grow on trees.
For the fourth season in a row, the NFC West is sending two teams to the playoffs. The Arizona Cardinals and the Seattle Seahawks have good coaches in place, and both teams will be favored to reach the postseason again in 2016. The St. Louis Rams haven’t been to the playoffs since 2003 and haven’t finished at .500 since 2006, but they swept the 49ers this year. San Francisco is at the bottom looking up, and there’s a long way to go to reach the top again.MORE NEWS: Large Police Presence In Stockton Neighborhood Leads To Blocked Street
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering baseball, football, basketball, golf, hockey and fantasy sports for CBS, AXS and Examiner. He also is an Ironman triathlete and certified triathlon coach.