Don’t expect to see 49ers’ coach on slopes during vacation at Squaw Valley | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Don’t expect to see 49ers’ coach on slopes during vacation at Squaw Valley

Sylas Wright, Tribune News Service

OLYMPIC VALLEY ” Hall-of-Fame linebacker and San Francisco 49ers head coach Mike Singletary wore his mellow, offseason eyes for this press conference ” only occasionally stretching his sockets slightly to emphasize a point.

He was in vacation mode Saturday morning. As were a number of 49er players, cheerleaders and brass who took part in the ninth annual 49ers Celebrity Winter & Wine Fest.

Flanked by two reporters, a few 49er staffers and photographers, and a whole lot of empty space in a downstairs room at the Resort at Squaw Creek, Singletary established one fact from the get-go: He was not there to ski.

“That won’t be happening,” he said when asked, drawing laughs. “I skied once and I ended up on the ground most of the time.”

That established, the topic of conversation gradually swung to his sport of expertise, and eventually those intense, “pancake”-big (as one reporter put it) eyes for which he is known.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about that,” said Singletary, a career-long Chicago Bear from 1981 to 1992. “I remember some guys asking me, ‘What are you taking? What drug are you taking?’ I’m not taking drugs. I’m really trying to see the entire field. Every time I lined up I wanted my eyes to be as wide as they could because I wasn’t really focusing on any particular point.”

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Behind those eyes, Singletary explained, his brain quickly sifted through all potential offensive plays based on the opposing formation and the players’ motion before the snap. He called it process of elimination.

“There are only so many plays an offense can run out of a particular set … and the more they moved, the more they gave me a better idea of what was coming. …

“There was a lot of body language that went into it that gave me my keys, and by the time the snap came around, there were only one or two plays that they could do.”

Singletary went on to address a question about the upcoming NFL draft, admitting the 49ers could use help in several areas.

“Obviously there are a number of things we need. We’re drafting pretty early for a reason,” he said, adding that the team could use an offensive tackle and “someone who can get to the quarterback,” as well as a safety and perhaps another running back to complement Frank Gore.

“So there a number of things that are immediate needs, but I think the most important thing is that we find impact players and guys who can make a difference,” he said.

Asked to compare the NFL in his heyday to the game today, Singletary opened up with an expanded answer.

“Probably the agents,” he began. “I think the agents have a tremendous amount say in what the athlete is doing and how the athlete is going about his business … I think that’s probably the No. 1 thing. The agents really have a lot more say in what’s happening in our game ” much more than a lot of people think.

“The other thing is free agency itself. I think it really kind of waters down the idea of commitment. If I’m playing today and I don’t like the team, or don’t like the coach, I can find a way out. … whereas when I played, if you didn’t like the team, you really needed to figure out how you were going to like it, because there was no way out. You needed to deal with it.”

The coach passed on comparing any current NFL players to himself, but he settled on Ray Lewis of the Ravens when asked who he thought was the best linebacker in the game.

“I think it depends on how you look at it, how you break it down. But I think Ray Lewis one of those guys that is the epitome of the throwback linebacker,” Singletary said. “I think Ray is a guy that plays the game at a very high level. He can be very physical at times. I think the other thing that stands out and really makes him valuable to the Baltimore Ravens is his ability to lead that team.

“I think as great a player as he is, the greatest attribute he has is his ability to bring that team together. So any coach that comes in there, he’s going to have an opportunity to have a great football team because of what’s happening in that locker room. Ray is not going to let it go bad. So that’s probably the No. 1 guy that jumps to my mind.”

Perhaps realizing the conversation had veered from the topic of his own team, Singletary boasted about the potential of San Francisco’s young linebacker.

“The guy we have here, Patrick Willis, as time goes on ” he’s still trying to figure out what day it is; he’s still as young as I don’t know what ” but he’s going to be a really, really, really special football player,” the coach said.

When his 30 minutes ran out, Singletary quipped about the relative ease of the press conference and wrapped himself in a winter jacket as he headed out the door.

One of the Niner staffers joked about the heavy coat.

“I don’t know if it’s going to be that cold,” he said, “but I’m not going to be unprepared.”