Mike Singletary and the San Francisco 49ers: A Look At His First Coaching Staff

Scott AlbertsCorrespondent IMay 29, 2009

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”



Roman dramatist, philosopher and politician (5BC – 65AD)



You don’t have to tell 49ers Head Coach Mike Singletary about this quote. He is a real life example of this quote in every aspect.


So when Singletary decided to make coaching a career, it's no surprise he set about preparing to jump in with both feet. One of the first things he did was find Bill Walsh and pick his brain about coaching.


An interesting combination of football minds when you think about it. Walsh, dubbed by so many the offensive “genius” and Singletary, the intense middle linebacker from those same Chicago Bears teams the Walsh led 49ers had so many great battles with...the majority of them wins by Walsh’s troops.


So it shouldn’t be surprising that it is Walsh he turned to. They talked about philosophies of football and coaching and building a staff. It’s this last part that has me wondering about how successful this team will be.


Singletary, being Singletary, has been preparing to be a head coach since the day he decided to enter the profession. In his mind, he has already been a head coach—its just taken this amount of time for a team to make it official and let everyone else catch up to where Singletary already saw himself.


Part of that preparation, he has stated, has been keeping updated lists of position coaches ready so that when he received his head coaching opportunity, he would be prepared to fill out his staff.


So I was looking forward to seeing what changes he would be making to his coaching staff as he enters his first complete year in charge. The answer has been surprisingly few.


And now my question is why?


What were the names on that list?


Are we to believe the majority of them were already on the 49ers staff? We already know the eventual choice for offensive coordinator, Jimmy Raye, did not appear to be his first choice for the position.


Unless he was, but others overruled him in search of a bigger name that they could not lure (Scott Linehan and a few others).


Yet Singletary says he has his guys. He swears by them.


When you look at the coaching staff, the most remarkable thing that jumps out at you is their lack of noteworthy results. Can anyone make the claim that this has been a well coached team, in any aspect, since the majority of them arrived in 2005?


Say what you will about Mike Martz but at least he came with a track record of produced results.


So let’s take a look at the additions he made to a staff that collectively has not been successful since Mike Nolan assembled the nucleus.



Jimmy Raye, Offensive Coordinator 


Easily the most important addition to the staff. There is no need to get into the specifics of what he has done because in 30+ years of coaching in the NFL, his teams have had remarkably little success (take a look at his bio http://www.sf49ers.com/team/coaches_detail.php?PRKey=94).


There is nothing on his resume that says ahhh, this is THE guy. But you don’t stick around this long as a coach for no reason. His most valuable contribution to this staff will be as a stabilizer and a teacher. That could be just what this staff needs to blend together and produce a winner.


He will be a quiet extension of Singletary’s fiery leadership.  


He is someone that the defensive minded Singletary feels comfortable communicating with about what he wants the offense to accomplish and how. This should not be discounted because it might be the single biggest reason he was hired.


Don’t expect a flashy offense. Expect one that is productive in a steady way and wins the time of possession battle consistently. Despite all of the talk of a run heavy offense, don’t be surprised when you see a very balanced attack.


Raye has a much better and deeper group of receivers to work with than the team has had since their Super Bowl years.  



Mike Johnson, Quarterbacks Coach


Another guy with a fair amount of experience at this coaching position without much success to point to. He coached Michael Vick for three years, but Vick has always been a more extraordinary athlete than successful QB.


Johnson also coached Doug Flutie with San Diego from 2000-01. Nobody on this roster reminds anybody of those two. He stands to get a lot of credit if Alex Smith comes out and challenges Shaun Hill for the starting spot.


He will get a lot of credit from me if he can help Smith deliver the ball more accurately because no one has been able to do so far. There is talk of him being an up and comer as a potential offensive coordinator and if this offense is successful, that chatter will only get louder.


For some reason he was out of football the last two years. I only mention this because if somebody felt they had to have him, don’t you think they would have?



Chris Foerster, Offensive Line Coach


Singletary’s first move after becoming head coach seven games into last season was to get rid of offensive line coach George Warhop and replace him with Foerster who was already on the staff.


Singletary has been very vocal about having an offensive line that imposes its will on their opponents—something this offensive line has had trouble doing. So fair enough Foerster has a great mix of youth and experience to work with.


He has Chilo Rachal and Marvel Smith making a new right side of the line. He has 16 years of experience as a coach in the NFL and getting more production out of this unit is squarely on his shoulders.


The 49ers have an adequate QB and better talent and depth at the skill positions than they've had for many years. The success of this offense will be determined by Foerster’s ability to mold this unit into a dominant physical force.



Tom Rathman, Running Backs Coach 


A no brainer re-addition to this coaching staff. Not only a 49er great, but he has been a productive coach here as well. He left the staff when Steve Mariucci was fired and joined his staff in Detroit. Before that, he tutored Garrison Hearst and Charlie Garner to Pro Bowl seasons with the 49ers.


Rathman has lots of experience at this position, with a great track record of building good productive running games. This unit is one of the team's strongest and Rathman is a great choice to teach 3rd round pick Glen Coffee how to succeed in the NFL.


The only question is whether or not Rathman is also being groomed to one day succeed Raye as many have speculated. If he wants it, he deserves that shot.



Vantz Singletary, Inside Linebackers Coach


Mike’s nephew and a long time collegiate position coach. A pick I am confident WAS actually on Singletary’s list (maybe Rathman as well). He has the best resource in the world for guidance as his boss AND the extra motivation of succeeding on his own to prove he deserved the job. He also has two-time Pro Bowler Patrick Willis leading his unit, not much worry here.


These are the most significant coaching changes.


Is this enough change for a coaching staff that has failed to deliver a winner in four years?


Of course the biggest difference is the head man. The 49ers are banking that Singletary is the right man to get more out of this coaching staff as well as the team. It’s hard to imagine Singletary failing at either task really, since his track record has led to success at whatever he does.


Seneca would say he has been very lucky.


The bottom line is this 49er coaching staff has a lot to prove and not a lot of results achieved saying they can do it. Singletary has staked his success as a head coach on them being able to teach a young talented roster how to translate that talent into wins in the NFL.


Has he picked the right guys?


Its one of Singletary’s first real tests as a head coach and it will be interesting to see how they do.


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