Driving into the office Tuesday afternoon prior to the Pitt basketball game against St. Francis (Pa.) at The Pete, word came through the car radio that West Homestead native Jim Tomsula was a candidate for the football job vacated by Todd Graham.
Tomsula? Tomsula? How do I know that name?
Turns out, Tomsula is the defensive line coach of the San Francisco 49ers, a highly respected coach, good man and someone who wouldn’t mind having his name tied to the Pitt job. I had written a story last year about Tomsula coaching the 49ers on an interim basis when Mike Singletary was fired with one game left in the season.
Yesterday’s story about Tomsula and Pitt — a blog post, really — was written by the San Francisco Chronicle’s Kevin Lynch, a 19-year veteran of the written word as it pertains to the NFL.
Lynch said Tomsula either had been interviewed or will be interviewed.
The story didn’t sound right because I had been told that Mario Cristobal’s agent had begun preliminary talks with Pitt over the weekend, and had support throughout the university community. But Cristobal, the Florida International coach, had no offer from Pitt as of Tuesday. And what if Cristobal or Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst weren’t interested?
Pitt needed a Plan B, and maybe Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson was impressed with how Tomsula’s D-linemen had stuffed the Steelers on Monday night.
Hey, I don’t explain ‘em; I just report ‘em.
Anyway, I called the one person in town who knows Tomsula better than anyone — Woodland Hills coach George Novak.
When Novak was coach at Steel Valley, Tomsula and Thomas Jefferson coach Bill Cherpak lined up side by side on the offensive line. Novak spoke glowingly of his former player.
“He would be great,” said Novak, who has sent many players to Division I schools, including Pitt. “He’s a Pittsburgh guy, lot of energy, tireless worker. When he first went to (San Francisco), he slept on a mattress in his office and just watched film. His family wasn’t there yet.”
Also, Tomsula, 43, had started the Camp of the Stars in Pittsburgh, teaching football to athletes with Down’s Syndrome.
“He’s got a big heart,” Novak said.
Hmmm … interesting candidate.
Our next call was to Tomsula’s agent, Joe Linta, a straight-shooting Freedom guy who represents several NFL players and coaches. I knew him years ago when he worked for several Steelers, including former quarterback Jim Miller and linebacker Eric Ravotti (now the football coach at Fox Chapel).
Kevin Gorman, my well-connected colleague at the Trib, got Linta on the phone.
“He’s not been contacted,” Linta said of Tomsula. “He’s really focused on the season they’re having (in San Francisco). If a team like Pitt from back home would contact him, he’d be happy to talk to them. Everybody wants to be the head guy. He’s one of those guys that doesn’t only want to be a HC in pros; he’s interested in the NFL or Division I level.
“He’s such a regular, grounded, down-to-earth guy, but he’s brilliant when it comes to football. I’ve known him for a long time. From a professional sense, people gravitate toward him. From a recruiting sense, he would be magnificent. (49ers coach Jim) Harbaugh said, ‘Everybody wants to be on his bus.’ ”
After some more research, Tomsula isn’t even a blip on Pitt’s radar, with Pederson focusing on Cristobal and Chryst.
Meanwhile, FIU athletic director Pete Garcia said last night at his team’s Beef ‘O’ Bradys Bowl game that he will sit down today with Cristobal to discuss the future.
Asked what it might take to keep Cristobal in Miami, Garcia said, “A lot of love.”
That’s spelled C-O-N-T-R-A-C-T R-E-N-E-G-O-T-I-A-T-I-O-N.
Cristobal, by the way, told the Miami Herald after FIU’s 20-10 loss to Marshall that he doesn’t comment on jobs outside the FIU program. He didn’t say he has no interest in Pitt, so his candidacy lives on, but I don’t expect Pitt to get into a bidding war for him.
Pitt’s search starts its second week today, with everyone telling me the committee wants to have this wrapped up before Christmas.
I want it to end as much as anyone in the media chasing this story, but I wonder if a week and some change is long enough. With the ghosts of Wannstedt, Haywood and Graham hanging over the program, Pitt can’t afford to get this one wrong.
But Pederson knows the healing needs to begin as quickly as possible. Graham left behind wounds and scars that the new coach won’t be able to erase easily.
Better the new guy starts now.