Mike Singletary mania is sweeping across the Bay Area.
This guy's got a higher public approval rating than Santa Claus, and everybody loves a fat guy in a red suit.
So, is Coach Singletary for real? Or is he another false prophet, stirring the hopes and dreams of 49er fans who fantasize about a return to glory?
I admit, I've been impressed by Singletary's performance so far. He took a team that was underachieving and unmotivated under Coach Nolan, and guided them to a winning record for the second half of last season. He seems to connect with his players. They appear to be inspired by his fire-and-brimstone approach.
But before I buy my ticket to board the Coach Singletary bandwagon, I need a little perspective. Sure, all the news coming out of the 49er camp is positive. Everybody loves Coach Sing. But didn’t everybody love Coach Nolan? Didn’t they love Coach Erickson too?
To believe or not to believe; that is the question.
To help me on this pilgrimage, I decided to seek the wisdom of those who’ve witnessed it all. The ones who saw the glory years. The people who witnessed the slow decline. Those who saw each new coach parade into town with all the hope in the world, and then limp away as failures.
The people close enough to see the truth, yet far enough away to tell it.
I decided to ask the writers who cover the 49ers.
I interviewed three prominent sports writers who cover the 49ers at the local level; Ray Ratto of the San Francisco Chronicle, Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, and Dan Brown of the San Jose Mercury News.
I was curious to see what their impressions of the new coach were.
All three writers cautioned against making premature judgments about Singletary’s coaching ability.
Dan Brown offered the most positive assessment, crediting Singletary for his ability to reach his players: “Singletary certainly has some building blocks for being a terrific head coach; he’s charismatic, he’s respected, and he’s diligent. Players would run through a wall for him.”
When asked about Singletary’s choices for assistant coaches, the response was less than enthusiastic. Ray Ratto called them “uninspiring.” Dan Brown’s criticism was more direct: “I think the Jimmy Raye hire was a stretch and it could undermine Singletary’s entire season.”
I asked if Coach Singletary struck them as someone who could lead the 49ers to the prominence they enjoyed under Bill Walsh. Could Coach Sing restore the dynasty the 49ers enjoyed during the 80s and 90s?
The answer was unanimous; No.
Ray Ratto summed it up best: ”The 80s and 90s 49ers operated with a salary cap, and with Bill Walsh running the football operations; Singletary is not Bill Walsh.”
Finally, I asked about the aura surrounding Coach Singletary. I wanted to know how the current atmosphere at 49ers headquarters compares to previous years, under previous coaches. I asked if Coach Singletary will retain his players’ respect long enough to turn this franchise around.
All three agreed that winning has the greatest influence on any coach’s aura. Ratto said the aura around the team has been poor for several years, as they’ve struggled to win games.
Maiocco said that the aura has been good for every new coach who’s taken the reins in San Francisco.
Dan Brown said he “bought in” to the excitement surrounding Erickson and Nolan, only to be disappointed.
The most interesting responses addressed Coach Singletary’s prospects for retaining his team’s attention as time goes on. Matt Maiocco thinks Singletary shows a lot of promise, but expressed his concern about whether the team will eventually tune-out from their passionate head coach.
“I wonder about Singletary’s affinity for giving long talks after practice and games and whether he needs to be more judicious about picking his spots through the course of the season.”
Dan Brown had similar concerns: “The thing I wonder about with Singletary is whether his fire-and-brimstone approach might get old over a 16 game season.”
After consulting with these insightful scribes, the truth about Singletary remains unknown. In the NFL, a cozy feeling around the locker room doesn’t mean much if the team’s not winning. Popular coaches don’t keep their jobs; winning coaches do.
Overall, it seems that Singletary’s direct and sincere nature has got him off to a good start in San Francisco. His back-to-basics approach seems popular with players, while his unrehearsed demeanor is pleasantly refreshing to all.
But, as his honeymoon phase with the team draws to an end, will Coach Sing’s charms wear off? Will his passionate pleas to the team begin to fall upon deaf ears?
The answer to these questions will depend on how the 49ers fare in the win-loss column. If the team is winning games, players will continue to listen, and Singletary’s sermons will inspire his trusting congregation.
However, if San Francisco sputters, coach Singletary’s disciples will stray, and he will take his place in the growing line of former head coaches who left their hearts in San Francisco.