Today was boxing day at the 49ers facility. After an 8 a.m. meeting conducted by team President Jed York, the players spilled into the locker room and began throwing their cleats, shirts and other gear into cardboard boxes that had been placed in front of their lockers. In a normal year, most of the players would be back in March or so to begin the team's offseason program. But this year is certainly not normal. The players won't be back until a new collective bargaining agreement is struck between owners and players, and no one knows when that will be.
Here were some of the more significant notes and sound bites from this morning's open locker room:
Vernon Davis had perhaps the most poignant quote when describing what went wrong early in the season. "Guys were ... guys were just a little ... scared, I should say. They were scared. They were more worried about coach Singletary getting on them instead of playing football. But you have to understand him (Singletary). If you don't understand the guy, then you're not going to be able to relate to him. And I think that's what the problem was with most guys. They were scared, worried about dropping passes and missing tackles and stuff instead of just going out and being themselves. But he left, and guys started being a little easy."
That quote obviously fits the theme from last night. Under funny and self-effacing Jim Tomsula, the 49ers were noticeably looser and they avoided the mistakes that felled them throughout the season. Davis' words also underscored a theme that is coming from both the front office and the locker room: the 49ers are as talented as any team; they just need a different coach.
The 49ers signed a number of players to one-year contracts this season who positioned themselves nicely for the offseason free-agent market. Outside linebacker Travis LaBoy is one. Kicker Jeff Reed (9-10 on field goals) is another. Then there's running back Brian Westbrook, who not only avoided injury but showed over the last six weeks that he can handle a significant amount of carries.
"I think I made the most of my opportunities," Westbrook said. "I think a lot of people doubted if I could still play. I think I proved to the people I could still play. I just needed a couple more opportunities."
Westbrook said he wanted to play for a winner as well as a team that would utilize him. Would he consider remaining with the 49ers? "Talking with Trent, it just really depends on the new coach and what his idea and his formula is, his idea of running backs and things like that," Westbrook said.
Trent, of course, is Trent Baalke, the team's vp of player personnel and presumed next general manager. Baalke has been conducting exit interviews with the players throughout the morning.
York said he'd like to see some of his assistant coaches return next season. One who is unlikely to be back is receivers coach Jerry Sullivan, who was one of Mike Nolan's first hires in 2005. Sullivan's contract expires in January and he said he wouldn't be back. He said he might continue to coach receivers if the ideal opportunity sprung up but that he'd probably retire to his home in Austen, Texas. Sullivan began coaching in 1970.
Nose tackle Ricky Jean Francois on what happened when York mentioned the coaching search in a team meeting this morning: "A lot of the linemen were in the back of the room screaming, 'Tomsula!'"
-- Matt Barrows