Mike Singletary's first offseason as an NFL head coach began with firing one of the most well-known and respected offensive minds the game had ever seen: Mike Martz. The offense of the San Francisco 49ers the previous year wasn't one to reflect the genius of Mike Martz, to be sure - it finished 23rd in the league in total offense and this occurred for an awful lot of reasons. San Francisco didn't have a quarterback, they didn't have an offensive line, and they most definitely didn't have any receiving targets. Mike Martz and his high-powered, seven-step drop offense was just not suited for the personnel and with Singletary inserting himself into the gameplan - it was more than doomed for failure.
Mike was clashing with anyone and anything that got in his way, his attitude was no-nonsense, 1980s Chicago Bears-style and as hard-nosed as the best of 'em. It's an attitude that sparked a huge ad campaign that may never be equaled in San Francisco, and it earned him $10 million, whether he actually coached for the four years on his contract or not (he didn't). He was loved by the fans, even in the face of decisions that they didn't agree with and a public demeanor that left much to be desired. This man was passionate, and if the 49ers needed anything, it was passion! So when Mike Martz was gone, it was as simple as saying "Well, you can't fight with the head coach."
The first falter for the fan base came when Mike Shanahan was relieved of his duties coaching the Denver Broncos. Shanahan holds one of the most known and well-respected names when it comes to head coaches even today, this man has a Super Bowl. Suddenly, the 49ers own Super Bowl winner didn't seem that great of an option. Why had Jed York been so hasty in the hiring of this man, without waiting to see what would happen around the league? The unshakable confidence took a blow, but it would not wilt - not yet.
Singletary held his end-of-season press conference, and there were a lot of gems. In it, he explained his reasoning for firing Mike Martz, here's an excerpt (LINK):
I'm in the mode of more of a traditional style of offense, very much like the style that used to be here when Coach Walsh was here, but in a different mindset. I want to know that I have the ability to run the ball. I want to have the ability to know that I can impose my will on the defense. I want to know that in the fourth quarter, I can run the football. I want to know that when they put eight people in the box, I can still run the football if I want to.
I don't want to make it seem like I am a 3-yards and a cloud of dust kind of a guy because I am not. I am very much into innovation, motioning people around, I'm very much into that. But when everything settles, and we need to control the football, I need to know that I can run the football and I'm not trying to do anything fancy at that time.
Look around the league today, those teams that are successful year in and year out are those teams that when it really gets right down to it, they're saying, ‘you know what, it's been nice playing you, but right now we are going to take the game over and we are going to run the football. To me those are the teams that will be successful year in and year out and not go out of style.
What Mike is saying here is that he wants to be a running team who imposes their will - he wants to play strong defense and he wants to turn the 49ers into the Bears of yore. He essentially says that he wants to be a three yards and a cloud of dust kind of guy, while simultaneously denying it. He goes on about innovation and motioning people around - a rarity throughout his tenure as a head coach. That type of football just doesn't really work if you're not willing to acknowledge when it's not working. He was definitely not willing to acknowledge it. Too many times the team ran it three times in a row en route to a punt while behind.
The quarterback controversy began immediately, as well. Singletary refused to anoint Shaun Hill the starter, despite the fact that he finished the season with nine games played and an 87.5 quarterback rating. It would be the first move in a long line of quarterback mismanagement. From not immediately naming Hill the starter to the signing of David Carr, whether that be on him personally or the organization in general - the quarterback position was an absolute disaster for the San Francisco 49ers. Still is, but that's another conversation for another time.
It only took 72 hours to, in my mind, make the first mistake of his head coaching career. Not declaring Shaun Hill the starter was a big mistake, especially after Hill showed (and would go on to show, and is still showing) that he can do what it takes to be a starter. Hill would have to compete, according to Singletary. Hill, after being the sole reason the 49ers won any games in the latter half of 2008, was demoted from starter to hopeful. Kevin Lynch of the Chronicle spoke about the situation in his blog (LINK):
Singletary has already set the pre-conditions for an abysmal offense next season with his overarching philosophy to adopt a ball-control run-oriented scheme and now he's introduced instability at quarterback. Add an inexperienced offensive coordinator and the 49ers will push the replay button on the 2005 and 2007 seasons when they floundered with the worst offense in football.
The new year began with ... absolutely nothing at all. The offensive coordinator search was underway, if it can be called that. If you need me to illustrate just how slow things moved in that regard (and when I say slow, I don't mean anybody was being thorough - I mean nobody was doing anything), look no further than the titles of my Golden Nuggets for the beginning of the month:
Jan. 4 "Golden Nuggets: So uh.. is it like.. draft time, yet?"
Jan. 5 "Golden Nugget: Still no OC news.."
Jan. 6 "Golden Nuggets: Come on, just one name, please?"
Jan. 7 "Golden Nuggets: Take you time, Singletary. I'll be asleep."
Then ... a breakthrough
Jan. 8 "Golden Nuggets: Alright, the sleep thing worked.. kind of."
Tom Rathman was brought in as the running backs coach, and it might be the best decision that Singletary made staff-wise. Still, the offensive coordinator search didn't have much movement. Eventually, some names made their way out, the most prominent of which was Scott Linehan, a fine candidate who would probably have done great things for the 49ers. Among his name were names like Rick Dennison, Pat McPherson and Jeff Jagodzinski ... certainly not sexy candidates. Then the 49ers brought Linehan back in for a second interview. Candidates rarely come in for second interviews and end up going elsewhere. Linehan definitely wasn't interviewing anywhere else at the time.
Then he turned down the offer, declined and moved on. Most everyone was shocked, but of course Linehan was gracious and had many, many nice things to say about Coach Singletary and the 49ers organization in general. He calmly noted that he had a family and was opposed to uprooting them, but neglected to mention how it made any sense for him to interview not only once, but twice, if he knew the Bay Area was not an option. He also didn't shed any light on the fact that he had already been on record several times saying he wanted to coach in the NFL in the upcoming season. Something smelled bad, really.
There were already rumors of the 49ers front office reeking of amateur, and talks of Mike Singletary rubbing virtually everybody the wrong way (personality-wise, not the Ben Roethlisberger wrong way), so it was easy to assume that Linehan was just not impressed with the 49ers and thought he was better suited for somewhere else. He'd go on to sign with the Detroit Lions, and had to uproot his family. These are the Lions who were, you know, worst in the league and all of that great stuff. Linehan thought he had a better future in Detroit than he did with San Francisco. Fantastic.
So the search continued, and Niners Nation ran a poll on the fans' confidence in Mike Singletary to conduct his offensive coordinator search effectively. 48% were still mesmerized by his "I want winners!" speech and voted for "yes." 14% said no, 2% said other and 33% weren't too sure what was going on, much like the 49ers front office at the time. One commenter said "I don't not have confidence," which is probably the best way to put it. Another said "I don't have confidence in anything the 49ers do nowadays." Truer words ...
Hue Jackson was a candidate for the offensive coordinator position, and he was eventually brought in for a second interview. Jackson was a bright mind, a good offensive guy who could run the type of offense San Francisco needed. I personally wanted him as the offensive coordinator, and several people on Niners Nation advocated his hiring as well. He was brought in for that second interview, and the speculation began that the end was in sight.
Then Jimmy Raye came in for an interview (an interview that wasn't even touched up on over at Niners Nation due to the overwhelming evidence and speculation pointing towards Hue Jackson getting the job) and was immediately hired. Wait, what? This guy, mastermind of some of the worst offenses in any given year, was the new offensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers. Old school - very old school, and thus very obedient. He would not be going anywhere so long as the 49ers wanted to keep him, and he wasn't about to argue with Mike Singletary over philosophy.
If Mike had a change to the playbook or gameplan, he need only gently stir Raye from his afternoon nap and pass along the information that his playbook wasn't good enough and was being altered by a man with no offensive experience. Ever.
The feeling was unanimous around the internet: "Who?" Defeated sighs populated Niners Nation, and I personally had no idea what was going on. When Niners Nation conducted another poll, the results were almost comical. The approval rating poll showed 16% voted yes, it was a good hire and 41% voted that no, he was not a good hire. Also at 41%, with one less vote than the aforementioned "no," was "I have no idea." As I've said many times throughout this feature - it would end up being a trend for the San Francisco 49ers under Mike Singletary.
When asked how he knew that Jimmy Raye was the guy after interviewing seven guys prior, Mike Singletary gave this as his response:
First and foremost, the philosophy. When I sat down and listened to what he had to say in terms of what his philosophy was and the conviction behind it, he talked about the physicality that the offense has to have. He talked about the toughness, both mentally and physically, that the offense has to have. The discipline in which it takes to do those things. That to me, that was something that we were really excited about.
In other words - exactly what was mentioned above, earlier in the feature. Singletary was looking for three yards and a cloud of dust, but more importantly, he was looking for discipline, which roughly translates to "stubborn." He was looking for stubbornness, a kindred spirit who knew when to back off when someone else was stubborn, but could be a sheep and exude a mirrored stubbornness when it was called for.
Niners Nation's own Florida Danny did use some of his stat wizardry to shed some light on Jimmy Raye's NFL career, which would probably help out the 41% who voted "I have no idea," in the previous poll. Part one is here and part two is here. There are some good things there, and some bad things as well - but at least some light was shed one way or the other.
The 49ers hosted their first annual State of the Franchise conference, just another cog in the machine that was the Mike Singletary PR campaign. Despite the complete mismanagement up to this point, everybody loved him. Everybody ate it up and forgave him immediately for the offensive coordinator search. Singletary claimed not to be a politician, he said he was not composed enough for this - something every single politician will do. Ask a politician about something sensitive and he'll begin by telling you he's not about to politicize said issue - right before he goes on to do so.
"Physical With An F!" Singletary shouted and the crowd of season ticket holders roared with approval. He had them eating out of his hand, and he had them totally hooked. The worst part? I was right there with them - probably the worst of 'em.
Feb 18th "Golden Nuggets: In Singletary I Trust"