In the 1980s, Mike Singletary was a ferocious talent as a linebacker for the Chicago Bears. His illustrious resume includes 10 Pro Bowl selections, 2 Defensive Player of the Year selections, and a Super Bowl win.
After his playing days, like many others, he transitioned to the sideline. In 2008 he became the head coach of the 49ers and tried to instill his playing style into his team, warning opponents that they were going to “hit them in the mouth” and that he “wanted winners.”
During a game against the Seahawks, Vernon Davis had a mental lapse and drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Asserting his authority, Singletary banished Davis to the locker room. At the time, it seemed that the team was at least going to be disciplined under Singletary, and the logic amongst the fan base was this sternness was going to lead to a lot of W’s.
Unfortunately, some things that work as a player don’t work as a coach.
With Singletary, the 49ers never had a winning season, posting an 8-8 record at best. As the games wore on, it became clear that Singletary’s intentions seemed to be the right ones, but ultimately it wasn’t producing results. During a game against the Atlanta Falcons, he called a team meeting in the middle of the game, in the middle of the field, unhappy that Matt Ryan seemed to be playing against a practice squad and not an NFL team.
The very next play after that “meeting,” Ryan tossed it 40 yards for a touchdown.
Under Singletary’s intensity, QB Alex Smith struggled, to say the least. In 2010, he only played in 11 games, was replaced by Troy Smith in November, and finished out the season with the Niners well out of playoff contention.
His rocky relationship with Singletary culminated in a Sunday Night game against Philadelphia. After a Smith fumble that was returned to the house, the crowd of 65,000 mercilessly booed Smith. On the sideline, he and Singletary got into a very public argument in which Singletary threatened to bench Smith for David Carr. As bad as Smith had been, everybody – including the 49ers own players – knew that Carr was not the answer. Davis and RB Frank Gore were among Smith’s supporters, publicly stating that they did not want Carr to come in.
Following a blowout by the Chargers, Singletary was publicly critical of Smith, essentially blaming him for the team’s failures.
“The most important thing for me coming into this season [was] to make sure I gave Alex every opportunity to succeed,” Singletary said. “I did not impede in any way. And it’s worked out the way it’s worked out.”
15 games into 2010, management fired Singletary. And in the offseason brought in Mr. Miracle Worker, er, I mean Jim Harbaugh.
Meanwhile, Singletary landed a job in Minnesota as the linebackers coach, a position seemingly more fitting for him.
(It should be noted here that Singletary was the linebackers coach for the 49ers during the equally unproductive tenure of Mike Nolan, and was instrumental in the development of LB Patrick Willis. So…)
And this Sunday, the 49ers take the best team in football into the Metrodome, where Alex Smith and his offense will go head to head against Singletary’s defense, or at least one he helped build.
Smith doesn’t really look like the revenge type, but he seems harboring some bitter feelings. On Wednesday, asked about what legacy Singletary left behind, Smith responded, “That’s a better question for someone else. I’m not thinking about anyone’s legacy right now.”
“We had expectations for ourselves and didn’t get it done and it was on all of us,” he continued. “Not sure about any legacy or anything like that.”
During Singletary’s time in San Francisco, there were so many billboards with his face on it. One in particular stuck out to me, and it said, “Don’t Tell Me, Show Me.”
Well, isn’t that just… never mind.
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