The San Francisco coach needs to select a quarterback and prepare for a tough division.
By Tom Williams
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
HOWLAND — Since having the interim tag removed from his title at the conclusion of the 2008 season, San Francisco 49ers coach Mike Singletary has been busy grasping what’s ahead.
“For me, it’s just a matter of trying to get my arms around everything and just embrace the responsibility of going forward,” said Singletary on Monday during the Edward J. DeBartolo Memorial Scholarship Foundation dinner.
“I’m very excited for our players, for our coaches and the organization,” said Singletary, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame after playing linebacker for 12 seasons with the Chicago Bears. “It’s a tremendous opportunity being the head coach of the 49ers. We have a lot of great young talent. We’re excited about where we are.”
Last October, the 49ers fired Mike Nolan after the team lost five of its first seven games.
Jed York, 49ers president/owner, said Singletary, then the linebackers and assistant head coach, was considered as Nolan’s replacement along with offensive coordinator Mike Martz and defensive coordinator Greg Manusky.
Martz had head coaching experience (St. Louis Rams) while Manusky and Singletary didn’t. York said the front office saw the bad start as the opportunity to roll the dice.
“At 2-5, it’s one of those things where the season can’t get significantly worse,” York said. “You’re in a good position to take a chance on somebody you might not otherwise.
“He didn’t have a lot of coaching experience but he’s been around the league, he’s run his own businesses. He knows a tremendous amount about football.
The 49ers responded by winning five of their final nine contests, finishing two games behind the NFC West Division champion Arizona Cardinals.
“Coach Singletary, without question, won the job,” said York, who told Singletary three days before the season’s final game against the Washington Redskins that he would continue as coach.
It was agreed that the Niners owners would tell the players after the final game.
“The place erupted and you could see he had won those guys over,” York said of the locker room reaction. “He had turned a group of young talent players into a team that I think is going to be a formidable opponent for a lot of teams.”
Quarterback Alex Smith, the top draft pick in the 2005 draft, said Singletary “brings a unique style to the team and I think that’s a good thing. He’s really hard working, [pushes] integrity and doing it the right way. We all need to raise the bar. I sense something different.”
Tackle Joe Staley, one of the six players to attend the scholarship fund-raiser, said, “Everybody really respects him, everybody was very happy when he was named head coach because of the success we had last year.
“Everybody is excited [because] he’s had a chance to set up his system and everybody has bought in.”
Tight end Delanie Walker said the players are inspired by Singletary’s leadership.
“We just basically feel that Mike Singletary is ready to come in and take us to the playoffs,” Walker said.
It won’t be easy, not with the Cardinals in the division.
“It is going to be a challenging division,” Singletary said. “Some people don’t know how challenging it’s going to be. We are very excited to have the team that was in the Super Bowl in our division.”
Walker said the Cardinals, who lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 27-23, in Super Bowl XLIII, have become the 49ers’ archrivals.
“For some reason, we just don’t like each other,” Walker said, “and I think it comes from them being in our division and going to the Super Bowl, and us trying to compete with them.”
Staley says close games are a factor in the rivalry’s escalation.
“Our last four games have all come down to the wire,” Staley said. “They are the team to beat in the NFC this year.”
One of Singletary’s first tasks will be selecting a starting quarterback.
“Right now, if someone made me come up with a lineup, I’d say that Shaun Hill is going into training camp having an edge. But they will be competing.”
Also attending the fund-raiser were Hill, cornerback Nate Clements and tight end Vernon Davis.