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49ers' Tomsula travels long road

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SAN FRANCISCO, CA - CIRCA 2011: In this handout image provided by the NFL, Jim Tomsula of the San Francisco 49ers poses for his NFL headshot circa 2011 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by NFL via Getty Images)

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By Alan Robinson
Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

NEW ORLEANS — He once lived out of his car while working as a carpet salesman. Pursuing a coaching career that needed years to truly get going, Jimmy Tomsula delivered newspapers and was a night janitor at a Pittsburgh department store.

By late Sunday night, Tomsula might need to be fitted for a Super Bowl ring.

A man whose initial goal was merely to find a coaching job but who now is considered to be one of the best at what he does, Tomsula will be finishing his sixth season as the San Francisco 49ers defensive line coach during the Super Bowl against Baltimore on Sunday night.

A coach who has the respect and trust of his players — and of his fellow coaches — it's been a long ride for the 44-year-old Tomsula since he was an unpaid assistant at alma mater Catawba College in 1989 and an assistant coach at Woodland Hills High in 1990. He was out of football for two years before taking an assistant's job at Charleston Southern, and he was forced to work part-time jobs to keep his family financially afloat.

But he is so respected in San Francisco, he has stayed on through three head coaches: Jim Harbaugh, Mike Singletary and Mike Nolan.

“He was one of the coaches we kept from the previous staff,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “You never quite know how you're going to mesh when you haven't worked with a guy before, but it was pretty evident that Jim and I see football the same way. We have the same philosophy of doing things, so it's been a really clean, natural fit for what he believes with the defensive line and what I believe. That part of it is great.”

And the man who once couldn't find a football job is seen as a possible NFL head coach or defensive coordinator. Pitt reportedly talked to him before hiring Paul Chryst.

“I'm actually kind of shocked that he isn't right now, honestly,” defensive tackle Justin Smith said. “The success this team has had, I think it's pretty well known around the league how much he knows. He was the interim head coach here (in 2010), but sometimes those things just take a little bit of time.”

In Tomsula's case, that time stretches through several decades of coaching at every possible level, including NFL Europe.

“He was living in his car? Wow, that's a surprise. Tomsula is a great guy, great brother, great coach — a blessing to me,” 49ers nose tackle Isaac Sopogoa said. “Not just to myself but to the rest of our d-line. I have learned a lot from him. I have learned different schemes, different ways of running the defense and techniques. I also learned respect and how to take care of your own family. He's quiet but not on the field during practice and during game day.”

Or on the sideline. During one game, he appeared to be bare-chested; he explained later that the shirts given to coaches had snaps that easily came undone.

Despite his temperament, Tomsula isn't a guy who comes undone.

“He's a fiery guy. He's not just a rah-rah guy. There's a lot more to him than that,” Smith said. “He knows his stuff, so you don't have to yell and just jump around all the time. You can actually talk. He'll give us some information, some input, how we're going to shut it down, and that's what I appreciate about him.”

Tomsula also hasn't forgotten where he came from. The Homestead native and Steel Valley High School graduate returns to Pittsburgh each summer to run a summer football camp, with Bill Cherpak, for youngsters with Down syndrome.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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