Jim Tomsula's initial response to Chris Borland's retirement: 'Whoa'

PHOENIX -- Jim Tomsula grew up in Western Pennsylvania a huge fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers. So the new San Francisco 49ers coach had a reference point, of sorts, to lean on when Patrick Willis retired two weeks ago with chronically sore feet.

“Jack Lambert, you know?” Tomsula said Wednesday of the Steelers Hall of Fame linebacker at the NFL owners meetings. “Toughest guy in the room and he left football with his big toe.”

Indeed, turf toe toppled the middle of the Steel Curtain, so with Willis’ feet bothering him so much in an eight-year career, Tomsula was not overly shocked at his guy calling it quits.

Chris Borland, retiring after one season for fear of future head injuries?

“Now Chris was a surprise,” Tomsula said. “But it’s the NFL offseason. Unexpected things. We’re moving along and we wish Chris well.

“I was surprised when I heard. I was like, 'Is he OK?' My initial thing was, 'What’s going on?' Chris is a real thoughtful guy, too. The initial [reaction was], ‘Whoa.’ After it happened ... he made a decision and I respect it. It’s his decision.”

A day earlier, Niners general manager Trent Baalke admitted that the timing of Borland’s decision -- after the start of the “legal tampering period” -- altered the team’s offseason dynamic.

“I think the plan is, you look at all options available,” Baalke said. “You look at guys that are currently on the street, UFAss, you look at the draft, where you think you can address it within the draft, and you look at potential trade options.

“Everything’s in play.”