When Mike Singletary took over as the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, the very first sign that bad things were happening should have been just how optimistic everybody was. Pardon me for going all Ray Ratto on you, but there was, quite honestly, no reason for the amount of crazy, psychotic optimism that everyone felt. In true U.S.A presidential-election style sheepery, we took the sound byte, ran with it and put the wrong man for the job in charge.
That entire offseason we talked about how much different things seemed. We had a guy in charge of running the team that cared, and he would bring the mentality that was needed to make this team a good one. It wasn't the personnel and it wasn't the entire coaching staff - it was the locker room mentality and the culture of losing, by our reckoning.
Which, of course, was wrong. Singletary can be credited with a couple things - making Patrick Willis the best linebacker in the NFL and telling Vernon Davis that he's a damn fool among them - but he certainly didn't change the mentality around the locker room. The 49ers lost, they just lost with attitude, which counts for exactly nothing.
So what happened a season later? Well, the team decided to retain the services of offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye, which meant continuity! We would have the same offensive coordinator for more than one season! That was exactly what this team needed. Once again, it felt like an entirely different offseason, didn't it?
Nobody was behind and nobody was learning a new playbook. Raye wasn't perfect, but damned if continuity didn't mean anything! Thankfully, we didn't use those exact words, because continuity, as it turns out, didn't mean a damn thing. It was certainly there - Frank Gore didn't have to re-learn how to run into a big pile and pick up two yards. That was the Raye specialty and we got it a second year in a row.
Even before the Singletary mess, we had deluded ourselves with "this offseason feels so different." Mike Nolan brought in Mike Martz and, of course, things finally felt different. He was a real, innovative offensive coordinator making real decisions. Didn't that feel different? Surely we were on the up-and-up. Then we got all O'Sullivan'd and you know what happened next.
So ... when is the next time that it was feeling different just like every other time? Ah yes, the hiring of Jim Harbaugh, or rather, the pursuit of Jim Harbaugh. Of course, plenty of people were rightfully skeptical, but it did seem like the front office was making an honest attempt at trying something new and, daresay, professional. Jed York wasn't settling for mediocrity any longer. That's why Singletary was out so quickly and why he pursued Harbaugh so intensely.
That's how it felt different last offseason. Different than all the others, just like all the others.
And look what happened. The 49ers were a couple special teams blunders away from making it to the Super Bowl and, judging by the way the AFC looked, winning the Super Bowl. It felt different this time because it was different. The 49ers brought in a guy who could get the job done and paid good money to get him. The team was everything we'd hoped it would be during the offseason.
Now, the 49ers are coming off that great season. How should fans feel during the offseason? Well, to be perfectly honest, they should feel different. Yes it feels different than any offseason in the past and you know what? That's a good thing for once. Before, it felt different, but everyone was fooling themselves into thinking that there was no way it could get worse.
Before, 49ers fans yearned for something different because they were hoping "different" meant "not as bad as they were last year." Now, things are different because there's no more of that feeling. There's no feeling of wanting to escape the previous year. Now, the different feeling is confidence, and excitement about building on a ton of improvement.
Instead of hoping that first-round draft pick will come in and be amazing, fans are just excited to see what they can do and if they can contribute. Instead of wondering whether or not the team will be completely helpless out of the game, the question is whether the team can snare a top seed in the playoffs again. The optimism is oozing out of places where things traditionally oozes out of and it's been a long time since the offseason has felt good from optimism as opposed to desperation. Feels pretty good, doesn't it, 49ers fans?