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Jim Tomsula's Road To The Redskins Went Through Plenty Of Adversity


The Redskins announced on Monday that they signed Jim Tomsula, who was a head coach for the 49ers in 2015, to be their defensive line coach.

The Washington Redskins started filling out the remaining pieces of their coaching staff Monday when they hired Jim Tomsula to be their new defensive line coach.

The move is a welcoming back of sorts for Tomsula, who was out of football in 2016 following his departure as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers during the 2015 season.

Now, he returns to the same position he held with the 49ers for the previous seven years (2007-2014) before his one-year promotion, leading a defensive line that will likely see many changes this offseason via free agency and the draft under new leadership from defensive coordinator in Greg Manusky.

Throughout his seven years of tenure as defensive line coach in San Francisco, Tomsula worked under three head coaches – Mike Nolan, Mike Singletary and Jim Harbaugh – and went to the Super Bowl following the 2012 season. That year, the defense ranked second in points allowed and third in yards allowed, part of a three consecutive seasons the team made it to at least the NFC Championship game.

Tomsula led a defensive line during the 2012 season highlighted by Ray McDonald and Justin Smith, the latter of whom was named a first-team All-Pro. That line also featured Ricky Jean Francois, who is entering the final year of his contract with the Redskins.

As head coach in 2015, Tomsula led the 49ers, who lost several key pieces to the defense prior to the season (Patrick Willis and Chris Borland both retired), to a 5-11 record before he was dismissed folliwng the final game of the regular season.

While the 49ers defensive line job was Tomsula's first big break into the NFL, he amassed a wealth of experience beginning in the high school and lower tier college ranks as well as in Europe, a journey that has seen its highs and lows.

Documented in an in-depth feature in the MMQB, written after Tomsula took the 49ers head coaching gig, the Homestead, Pa., native explained some of his family history and the series of unfortunate events that shaped his childhood and life moving forward.

Tomsula's great-grandfather worked in the coal mills in Pennsylvania but was killed on the job when he was hit by a coal pulverizer. Years later, Tomsula's grandfather opened a restaurant near Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, but when the stadium closed, so did his business and the entire family was forced to find new jobs.

The history of hardship would eventually impact Tomsula, who began his football career playing defensive end for Middle Tennessee State before he transferred to Catawba College for the remaining three years of eligibility.

He worked odd jobs in between low-level coaching positions at Woodland Hills High School and Charleston Southern, where he was an assistant coach for three years. He had considered leaving football for good the next year but his wife convinced him to take a job with his alma mater back at Catawba in 1997.

She took their two kids to stay with relatives in Florida and put everything they had in storage, while he drove to Catawba to become an unpaid volunteer assistant in their strength and conditioning department. There, he lived out of his car for a year.

As Emily Kaplan writes:

He slept in parking lots and cleaned himself up in the locker room. To combat loneliness, he kept a black lab and a cat as roommates. Tomsula hung his suits in the back seat, right above the litter box.

"Ah, the homeless period," he says. "Everyone makes it out to be a bad thing, but it really wasn't."

The next year he earned a salary and moved his family back up with him. A couple years later, he received a call about coaching for NFL Europe, thus beginning a stretch of nine years that Tomsula would work overseas for half of the year.

He coached the defensive line for the English Monarchs for one season and the Scottish Claymores for five seasons. He became the defensive coordinator with the Berlin Thunder for the next two seasons before landing the head coaching position with the Rhein Fire.

Now, after a year away from the game, Tomsula will return to the position he has played and coached for many years, trying to rebuild a group that has struggled in production over the last couple of seasons. But if there's anyone that knows about adversity, it's Tomsula.

"He's a great teacher of the defensive line," head coach Jay Gruden said of his recent hire. "That's what he wants to do, he wants to coach defensive line. He had an opportunity to be a head coach, but he wants to be in the defensive line room. Everything that we've heard and learned from him is he can motivate defensive linemen and get them to play hard and that's half the battle."

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