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SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers’ search to replace coach Jim Harbaugh is going to take them to a lot of places to meet with a lot of different outside candidates.
But two of the front-runners remain in their own building. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio interviewed for the opening on Tuesday, and defensive line coach Jim Tomsula does not figure to be far behind.
The big question for any candidate with a defensive background, though, is what ideas they would bring for getting more out of the team's offense. There figures to be dramatic changes on the offensive staff with offensive coordinator Greg Roman, quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst and wide receivers coach John Morton among those not expected to return.
Linebacker NaVorro Bowman expressed support for Fangio’s candidacy on Monday. Fangio called the shots on a defense that ranked fifth in the NFL despite a rash of injuries and a nine-week suspension to Aldon Smith that depleted the depth chart. Bowman said he would like to see Fangio named as head coach or return for his fifth season as defensive coordinator.
“I would like to see him here," Bowman said. "We’ve built so much chemistry with him. He’s a great human being and I would definitely listen to him on a head-coaching level. What you see is what you get with Vic.”
Fangio, 56, wants to be a head coach, but he also knows it’s useless to campaign for the job.
“First off, wherever there are openings, it’s their opening. And if they’re interested, they’ll come to talk to you,” Fangio said last week. “It’s not one of those types of jobs where you put in an application and go through a weeding out process. They know what they want to do most of the time. They have a picture of what they want to do and if it fits, it fits. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”
The 49ers have reported interest in ex-New York Jets coach Rex Ryan, Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. Defense has certainly not been the issue with the 49ers, so it seems logical the 49ers would make a promotion from their own staff if they decide to hire a head coach with a defensive background.
Tomsula is also a strong candidate – and many believe him to be the front-runner for the job. He originally joined Mike Nolan’s staff in 2007 as defensive line coach and took over for one game as the interim coach when Mike Singletary was fired. He was head coach of the Rhein Fire of NFL Europe in 2006.
“(He’s an) energetic guy. He brings a lot of energy. We feed off that,” 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith said. “He communicates well with us. If there’s something that’s going good we let him know. If there’s something we need to work on, we let him know. He does a good job of getting those things fixed so we can be efficient as a defense.”
Defensive lineman Tony Jerod-Eddie said Tomsula is an effective coach because he tailors his coaching to each player’s strengths.
“He doesn’t try to make each individual like another individual,” Jerod-Eddie said. “He knows that I play different from Ray (McDonald) and Ray plays different than Justin (Smith), and Tank (Carradine) is different than (Quinton Dial). We all try to do the same thing, but we do it in different ways and can still be successful. That’s one thing about Jimmy that sticks out to me.”
Jerod-Eddie, who originally signed with the 49ers as an undrafted rookie in 2012, said Tomsula’s coaching enabled him to make the 53-man roster in 2013 and develop to the point he earned a spot in the rotation this season.
“My first year was pretty rough, but as I’ve gotten older and gotten more mature and football wise, he’s still can get my attention at times,” Jerod-Eddie said. “Jimmy’s on you about every little thing, and now I appreciate him for it because I’ve come a long way. It was hard at the time.”