Every morning, Jim Tomsula wakes up feeling blessed.
Why wouldn’t he?
He is lying next to the love of his life, he has three children that mean the world to him and over the last 20 years, he has gone from an unpaid, volunteer coach at Catawba College who lived in his car, to the defensive line coach of the San Francisco 49ers.
In his two decades of coaching, Tomsula has seen and done a lot. He knows what it is like living paycheck-to-paycheck as a small-time college assistant. He spent nine years coaching in NFL Europe. And now, he is “living a dream” in the NFL.
But none of it would have been possible without the help of countless people along the way. Tomsula knows that, and he hasn’t forgotten it.
Without the recommendations of his players and fellow coaches, he wouldn’t have been able move from one great job to another. Without the help of his parents he wouldn’t have his blue-collar work ethic. But without a wife and kids that have supported him every step of the way, he would probably still be selling medical supplies, like he was fresh out of college.
“This lifestyle is so untraditional, and I know a lot of wives and kids wouldn’t be able to do this,” Tomsula said. “That is why I’m so lucky to have the family I do. If it didn’t work for them, I wouldn’t do any of this.”
But lucky for Tomsula, the lifestyle does work for his family.
Tomsula never refers to himself as “I.” It’s always “we,” meaning himself, his wife Julie and his children. Over the years, the Tomsulas have walked through the Roman Coliseum. They have picked grapes from vineyards in northern Italy. They have been to the Louve. The children have been blessed by the Pope in the Vatican. And now, they reside in a beautiful home in San Jose.
However, life hasn’t always been that way for the Tomsulas.
When Tomsula graduated from Catawba College in Salisbury, NC, he didn’t want to be a coach. He “wanted to be a business man and earn the big bucks.” So that is what he did, and he did it well. Not long after college, Tomsula lived in two-story home on two acres of land overlooking Lake Norman in North Carolina. But it didn’t take Tomsula long to realize the business world wasn’t for him. He missed the team environment, and he didn’t like the fact that people ended their days at 5 p.m., even when there was still work to be done.
Julie knew her husband wasn’t satisfied, and she persuaded him to get into coaching. So, with the blessing of his wife, Tomsula took a job as an assistant coach at his alma mater earning $731 a month.
While at Catawba, the Tomsulas had their first two kids, Britney and Brooke. But it didn’t take long for Tomsula to choose his family over his job. He felt he wasn’t providing for them the way he wanted to. So they packed up and moved back to Pittsburgh, near Tomsula’s hometown, and he got back into business.
Several years later, Julie once again persuaded her husband to get back into coaching.
But this time, all he could find was an unpaid position at Catawba.
While his family lived with relatives, Tomsula slept in his car in Salisbury, attended coaches’ meeting in the morning, sold carpet in the afternoon and went back to campus at night for practice.
Then he got a call that changed his life.
One day in 1998, Lionel Taylor, a man Tomsula had never met and the head coach of NFL Europe’s London Monarchs, called him and offered him a job coaching the defensive line.
It was an opportunity Tomsula couldn’t pass up. However, like with every decision in his life, he first consulted his family. “If it’s not good for one of us, it’s not good for any of us,” he said.
Tomsula took the job and ended up working for four different NFL Europe teams and was the head coach of the Rhein Fire in 2006. However, he returned to coach Catawba every off-season. Over those nine years, his family split their time between hotels in big cities and rural houses in North Carolina; his children started school in the United States and finished the year in Europe.
When the NFL closed its European league, the Tomsulas came back to the United States, this time for good and Tomsula has been the 49ers defensive line coach ever since.
Finally, his two girls were able to attend the same school all year. Also, Jim and Julie wanted another child, and in 2007, their son Bear was born.
Tomsula doesn’t think about his future very much. All he cares about is the present. And right now, things are going pretty well.
“We’re happy where we are right now,” he said. “And that’s all that matters to me.”