Why Mike Singletary Failed


After the final game of the 2008 season Mike Singletary had the interim tag removed by team president Jed York and was made the 16th head coach in 49ers team history.  At the time I was ecstatic about the hire especially with Singletary leading the 49ers to a 5-4 record after the team started the season 2-5 under Mike Nolan.  The motivation factor was there and we saw that in Singletary’s first game as interim head coach when he sent Vernon Davis to the locker room for a 15-yard penalty after slapping a Seahawks player after a reception.  Singletary followed up the game with the first of many post-game press conference tirades that at the time was fresh and exciting.  The 49er Faithful after the game knew Singletary had the motivation factor but could he coach X’s and O’s.

The greatest thing Singletary did for the 49ers was motivating Davis to become one of the best tight ends in the NFL.  Before Singletary was in charge Davis had more muscle mass than receiving yards.  Singletary’s downfall however started with him firing offensive coordinator Mike Martz after he took over as official head coach.  Retaining Martz would have been smart because he is considered one the better offensive coordinators in the game although he is known for not protecting his quarterbacks.  Martz’ pass first, run never philosophy did not gel well with Singletary’s smash mouth football that called for the running the football 60% of the time.  Singletary interviewed eight candidates for coordinator and somehow settled on Jimmy Raye as the offensive coordinator and we all know how that turned out.  On top of that when you don’t have a good quarterback on the roster opponents defenses can just focus on stopping the run knowing that is what you will want to do offensively.  Teams seemed like they were daring the 49ers to pass on them knowing the results would be positive for the defense.

That’s were Davis’ emergence in 2009 under Singletary clouded the inabilities and inexperience of Singletary as a head coach.  Singletary is a defense minded coach and had Greg Manusky as his defensive coordinator who was a good coach that didn’t have the talent necessary at all positions, especially in the secondary, to implement his vision and make it successful.  However when the defense did not play well the offense was to blame because the defense was on the field for too long.

This past season after the 49ers began the season 0-5 we started to see not only that Singletary did not have the experience necessary to be a head coach but he started to unravel in his post-game news conferences by not answering questions from reporters and only giving half answers like “I will have to look at the film.”  His motivation factor not only soured with the 49er Faithful but you could clearly see the players were growing tired of how he coached the team.

Singletary’s lack of respect for the quarterback position I think was a big reason why Jim Harbaugh was hired.  Yes, Harbaugh was the big name of the off-season for hiring a coach and was a hot commodity but the 49ers front office knew they not only needed a head coach with previous experience but also someone who could develop a QB into a franchise quarterback.

At the time I looked at Singletary as the new Marty Schottenheimer.  A coach that dictates the game plan but delegates the implementation to the coordinators while deciding the starting lineup and motivating his players during the game.  Problem for Singletary is he did not have the type of coordinators Schottenheimer had which is the biggest reason why Singletary failed.  Schottenheimer’s coaching tree included Bill Cowher, Herm Edwards and Tony Dungy to name a few.  I doubt we will ever see Manusky, Jimmy Raye or Mike Johnson as a head coach anytime in the future.  When you don’t have the previous experience of being a head coach, the right coaches below you who can get the job done and a quarterback that can lead the team you end up fired with one game left in the season

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  • Rick

    Good analysis. I agree 100%. I would add that it speaks volumes that Sing did not get a HC or Coordinator job post niners rather is a position coach for lbs. Kind of says it all.

  • GeoMak

    Mike Singletary failed because he didn’t have a QB. It’s tht simple. Singletary was 18-22 as a HC. During that exact same regular season time frame Ken Whisenhunt was 20-20. Two games better. Big deal.

    Singletary was 3-1 head-to-head against Whisenhunt and came within a botched goal line call by Mike Martz from being 4-0 against him.

    Most importantly this: Ken Whisenhunt had future HOF’er Kurt Warner as his QB. Mike Singletary had guys like Shaun Hill and of course, Alex Smith.

    Get it? Kurt Warner . . . or Hill/Smith.

    Case Closed.

    • Eric Melendez

      Yes, Singletary would have been better with a good quarterback. But Singletary had as much respect for the quarterback position as he does for the media. Remember Kurt Warner came in to visit with the 49ers before he resigned with the Cardinals for his final year in the NFL. If Singletary thought he needed a better quarterback he passed up a great opportunity with Warner. With how many times Singletary went back and forth with who would start at quarterback last season it was as if he was flipping a coin and calling heads for Troy Smith and tails for Alex Smith. If you don’t respect the most important position in the NFL you won’t go after the good quarterbacks and you will stay complacent and fail.

      • GeoMak

        Umm, there was little chance Warner was going to leave his home in AZ. to play in SF. That visit was mainly just for show. Singletary wanted him. Warner didn’t want to leave AZ. Singletary tried. That’s all you can do.

        You write: “With how many times Singletary went back and forth with who would start at quarterback . . .”

        Really? Did you watch the team last season? Apparently not. Here goes:

        1. Alex Smith started the first 7 games before being injured in Carolina.

        2. Troy Smith started the next 5 games.

        3. Thus, Singletary made ONE QB change, because of INJURY through the first 12 games, which is 75% of the season.

        4. Alex Smith started the next two with Troy starting in Singletary’s last game.

        Singletary made only TWO QB changes that were NOT based on injury. Why? At the END of the season he was looking for the ‘hot hand.’ This sometime happens when you really have NO quality starting QB.

        Get it? TWO (not based on injury) after 75% of the season had gone by. That’s your definition of ‘flipping a coin?’

        You know nothing about football.