Jim Tomsula leaning on NFL Europe experience in building a team

PHOENIX -- One of the first bits of advice Jim Tomsula received upon becoming head coach of the NFL Europe's Rhein Fire in 2006 came in a letter from a fellow West Pennsylvania-bred football lifer.

Don't be the offensive coach. Don't be the defensive coach. Be the head coach.

The late Ron Lancaster, a four-time Grey Cup champion in the CFL, also offered up this nugget:

Head coaches can be meddlers, or enablers. Try to be the second one.

Tomsula looked off in the distance as he recalled the advice Wednesday morning over breakfast at the NFL owners meetings.

"It kinda stuck with me," he said.

And while Lancaster's advice at the advent of his NFL Europe head-coaching excursion gave Tomsula encouragement, it is Tomsula's real-world experiences as a head coach across the pond that give him something to lean on now in his third full month as a first-time NFL head coach.

Because while perhaps no NFL team has had as turbulent an offseason as the Niners thus far -- courtesy of retirements, free-agent defections and an arrest -- Tomsula insisted he is used to team-building. And yes, it goes back almost a decade.

"Back to my roots [as] an NFL Europe guy," he said. "New team every year. The team-building process? This is a new year, a new team. Every NFL team has changed."

Even if general manager Trent Baalke insisted back in January that the 49ers were reloading, not rebuilding. The Niners, though, have lost nine players thus far, and those nine appeared in a combined 114 games a year ago, with a combined 82 starts.

"Every NFL team has changed," Tomsula reiterated. "Obviously, ours is a little different than most years, and most teams."

The wackiness of the Niners' offseason began with former coach Jim Harbaugh and the team parting ways, and has continued with running back Frank Gore, left guard Mike Iupati, linebacker Dan Skuta and cornerbacks Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox leaving Santa Clara via free agency, receiver Stevie Johnson getting cut and signing elsewhere and linebackers Patrick Willis and Chris Borland and safety Bubba Ventrone all retiring.

Plus, receiver Michael Crabtree is still out there, the Niners have had no conversations with Brandon Lloyd and defensive lineman Justin Smith is still contemplating retirement.

And while Tomsula has reached out to another former NFL Europe confidante in Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett (he was working to become a broadcaster in the developmental league at the time), there has been no correspondence or sage Lancaster-like advice to Tomsula from the man he replaced in Harbaugh.

"We didn't talk," Tomsula said. "He was up in Michigan, I was down here. And we were rolling."