Black History Month: Mike Singletary, 49ers first Black head coach

Head coach Mike Singletary of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Head coach Mike Singletary of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) /

Mike Singletary was the first Black head coach in 49ers’ franchise history. His journey from Hall of Fame player to coach is examined.

At this current juncture in time, diversity in the head coaching position is being scrutinized more than ever.

At the end of the 2021 season, there was only one Black head coach remaining in the NFL. In addition to that, it took until 1989 to even have a Black head coach in the modern era of the NFL, 70 years after the formation of the league.

There is still a lot of work to be done, however, we should always take time to remember those that broke ceilings in the NFL and became pioneers of the game.

As Niner Noise continues our Black History Month profiles, this week we look at a pioneer in San Francisco 49ers’ coaching history. Linebacker Mike Singletary pivoted from his Hall of Fame playing career and became the first Black head coach in the Niners’ franchise history.

Singletary was born on Oct. 9, 1958, in Houston, Texas. He grew up in Texas and would go on to play football at Baylor University. After a four-year career at Baylor, he was drafted in the second round (38th overall) in the 1981 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears.

Singletary would earn his first Pro Bowl selection in 1983 and first All-Pro selection in 1984. In 1985, he would make both Pro Bowl and All-Pro selections and earn his first Defensive Player of the Year Award.

That same 1985 season he would help the Bears win Super Bowl XX, with a 46-10 victory against the New England Patriots, recovering two fumbles in that game.

That would be his only Super Bowl appearance, he would however appear in three NFC Championship games throughout his career. Coincidentally he would lose his future team, the 49ers, in two of those three appearances.

Singletary would finish his playing career in 1992 after 12 seasons, all with the Bears. He finished his career with 10 Pro Bowl selections, seven First-Team All-Pro selections and two DPOY awards.

After his playing career, Singletary would be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1998.

His time with football would not be over, though.

Mike Singletary’s road to the 49ers

Singletary joined the Baltimore Ravens coaching staff in 2003 as the linebackers coach. After the completion of the 2004 season, Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan would be hired as head coach for the 49ers, and Singletary would join him as the linebackers coach and assistant head coach.

Nolan would coach the 49ers for 3.5 years before being fired in the middle of the 2008 season. Singletary would take over as interim head coach and finish the season 5-4. His head coaching career would start with a bang.

In his first game as interim head coach, he sent star tight end Vernon Davis to the locker room following a costly unnecessary roughness penalty. He would set the tone as well with an infamous locker room speech as well during halftime of that game:

His players would see him as a no-nonsense coach who wanted them to show him results.

At the beginning of the 2009 season, Singletary would get hired as the head coach of the 49ers, making him the first Black head coach in franchise history.

In Singletary’s first season as head coach, running back Frank Gore would rush for 1,120 yards and 10 touchdowns. Davis would have 965 yards receiving and 13 touchdowns. Linebacker Patrick Willis would lead the league with 114 solo tackles.

All of those players would earn Pro Bowl selections, with Willis earning an All-Pro selection as well.

The 49ers, unfortunately, would finish that season 8-8 and miss the playoffs.

The following season the Niners would take a step back and at 5-10, Singletary was fired before the last game of the season.

Read More: Ranking 49ers’ 5 worst head coaches since 2000

Singletary would end up spending the next few seasons as a linebackers coach for the Minnesota Vikings and a defensive assistant for the Los Angeles Rams before getting a head coaching opportunity in 2019 with the Memphis Express franchise of the upstart Alliance of American Football.

He would coach the Express for eight games until the league folded due to bankruptcy.

Singletary still hasn’t made a return to the coaching ranks of the NFL. And although his time with the 49ers was probably not what he or others envisioned, he should still be remembered as a pioneer, being the first Black head coach of the franchise.

Next. Black History Month: Joe ‘The Jet’ Perry, 49ers first Black player. dark