No-nonsense Singletary ready to win with 49ers
SAN FRANCISCO – Mike Singletary took over the San Francisco 49ers last season and took charge in no time.
He pulled his pants down at halftime of his debut as interim coach to make a point to his players, and sent volatile tight end Vernon Davis to the showers early that same game for behavior he didn’t like. He benched struggling quarterback J.T. O’Sullivan that day, too.
Singletary’s no-nonsense ways and sharp focus on turning this franchise back into a winner has his players believing again – yet realistic, too.
After the team’s first training camp workout back on Aug. 1, Singletary was pretty blunt when assessing his club.
“I just want to make sure there’s not a false sense of security about where we are,” he said. “Right now we’re not very good, but by the end of it we’ll be where we need to be.”
The 50-year-old coach will do whatever it takes to motivate a team that’s endured a franchise-worst six straight losing seasons since going 10-6 in 2002 and reaching the second round of the playoffs in coach Steve Mariucci’s final season.
With a strong finish last season, Singletary showed owner John York and his team president son, Jed, that he could bring this organization back to respectability with a strict, focus-on-the-fundamentals approach.
“With Singletary taking over, I haven’t been around a coach – and I’ve had a lot of coaches – that when he speaks it means so much,” said cornerback Dre’ Bly, who came from Denver. “He played the game well, he’s a Hall of Famer, but when he talks everybody listens. What you say is what you get. There’s a lot of politics in coaching, a lot of sugarcoating things. You can respect (Singletary). Guys will follow a guy like that.”
Bly joined the 49ers in May after former Pro Bowler Walt Harris tore a ligament in his knee during minicamp workouts, then underwent surgery. Harris will miss the entire season, a big blow to the secondary and a defense determined to force more turnovers and generate sacks. The 49ers managed only 12 interceptions and tied for 16th in the NFL with 30 sacks.
Singletary had his players in pads from Day 1 of training camp and didn’t really lighten their workload until last week.
A billboard featuring a stern-faced Singletary with arms crossed just up the freeway from team headquarters screams, “I want winners.”
“The identity that we wanted to achieve this offseason was to be a physical football team, to be a tough football team, to be relentless, to be disciplined and to be smart,” Singletary said. “Those five things we want to strive for every time we step on the field.”
Singletary took over for the fired Mike Nolan on Oct. 20, 2008, then led San Francisco to a 5-4 finish, with the 49ers winning four of their final five games.
Part of that success came from a quarterback switch, with Singletary benching O’Sullivan in favor of Shaun Hill.
Hill earned the starting job this season by beating out Alex Smith, who missed all of 2008 after reinjuring his surgically repaired throwing shoulder. Singletary largely chose Hill based on his play down the stretch last year – he went 5-3 over the final eight games and he also owns a 5-0 record at Candlestick Park.
Hill, the 29-year-old former undrafted free agent out of Maryland entering his eighth NFL season, has never started a season opener and has only 10 career starts.
The offense will run at every opportunity, with Frank Gore and Glen Coffee leading the way. San Francisco went 7-9 last season and scored only 339 points. Jimmy Raye was hired as the team’s seventh offensive coordinator in as many years to replace Mike Martz.
“I don’t think that was really any secret, but I think with the offense as a whole, you need balance, you need to run and pass,” Hill said. “I think that is all starting to come together. Hopefully, it culminates before this first game and we are hitting on all cylinders going into the season.”
Gore arrived in camp fresh off a rigorous offseason at the University of Miami and declared he’s ready to duplicate his career-best 2006 Pro Bowl season, when he set franchise records with 1,695 yards on 312 carries, 2,180 total yards and nine 100-yard rushing games. He also set a single-game 49ers rushing record with 212 yards that year against Seattle.
“He throws different looks,” Gore said of Singletary’s offense. “Last year we didn’t do that. We went with more of a passing game. That’s one of the good things I like about the offense.”
San Francisco has a deep receiving corps despite top draft pick Michael Crabtree still being unsigned and Brandon Jones out until early October with a shoulder injury.
The 49ers’ 339 points last season topped their 219 from 2007, and San Francisco also racked up nearly 74 more offensive yards per game. The Niners had 35 turnovers, almost the same number as the previous season, and the quarterbacks were sacked 55 times.
Yet it seems all the flaws from last season have been forgotten and the players bought into Singletary’s system, ready for a new start come Sunday in their opener at Arizona.
“I feel like coach Singletary has done a great job all across the board,” star linebacker Patrick Willis said. “There’s not one way I can look at it and say, ‘Man, I wish he could have done this better.’ He’s taken the right approach. One thing he’s talked about is our identity. We see it among ourselves. It’s unbelievable. It builds confidence. It gives us something to look forward to. It gives us a sense of pride.”
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