Troy Smith, Watch Your Feet: You Don't Want to Step on the Leadership

Michael ErlerCorrespondent INovember 8, 2010

You see the way Troy Smith points before throwing the ball? That's leadership in action.
You see the way Troy Smith points before throwing the ball? That's leadership in action.Warren Little/Getty Images

Because flying to London is just a bit outside of my travel budget, I had to settle for watching the last 49ers "home" game on the tube like the rest of you yabbos.

Aside from the hangover I was nursing (it was Sunday morning after all), the fact that I had to work while I was watching and the sobering realization that one day soon I'm going to witness Frank Gore's legs crumbling to dust before my very eyes, it was just a splendid way to kill four hours.

I'd like to say I was surprised when it was revealed during the CBS telecast what 49ers head coach Mike Singletary talked to announcers Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf about during their production meeting, but truthfully I was not.

If you missed it, Singletary told the television guys that the biggest reason the 49ers were 1-6 going into the game was that the offense was lacking "leadership." Gumbel went on to explain that it was a point Singletary repeated over and over during their twenty minute chat.

In other words, "Coach Sing" spent his merry time in London by running over Alex Smith with a double-decker bus.

Leadership is one of those intangibles people in the sports world love to spout out, no different than chemistry, character, or desire. Coaches in particular enjoy using it because it conveys no real information whatsoever about what they really think and there's no way the media or stat geeks (same thing to them) can rebut them with numbers. 

Singletary said that he was perfectly satisfied by the play of his defense, which only proves further that what he's seeing when he gazes out on the field bears, at best, a third cousin relationship with reality.

The 49ers defense ranks 16th in the league in yards allowed at 331.4 per game, is 20th against the pass (231.1) and 19th in scoring (22.3), which is the only stat that really matters.

They are tied for 17th in sacks with 16 (a whopping two per game, for you math majors), tied for 16th with eight interceptions and tied for 21st with 12 takeaways.

The '85 Bears they aren't, but I suppose they would be if Alex Smith had better leadership.

The defense has allowed game-winning drives against New Orleans, at Atlanta and at Carolina (geez, the Bucs must be licking their chops) and their secondary has been torched by the likes of Matt Moore, Kevin Kolb and Kyle Orton, but it was all because of Alex Smith's leadership.

Gore's two fumbles against the Eagles? Michael Crabtree not being ready to contribute until October? Phillip Adams' muffed punt against the Saints? Nate Clements' awful gaffe at Atlanta? They all happened because that darn Alex Smith didn't lead well enough.

Of course the whole reason Smith separated his shoulder against the Panthers was because he didn't inspire Anthony Davis well enough to know his blocking assignment. And David Carr's miserable effort in relief was due entirely to him being infected by Smith's terrible leadership cooties.

Good lord.

If Singletary had just said that Alex Smith was playing poorly, at least that argument would've been somewhat credible, even if it isn't the sole reason for the team's residence in the NFC West cellar.

But for him to laud Troy Smith's improvisational skills and daring afterward, going so far as to invoke Brett Favre's name, all because of a play where Smith threw a prayer into double coverage and tight end Delanie Walker answered it.

"It's kind of like watching Brett Favre," Singletary said.  "I don't want to put him in the same light (except you just did, bub), but it's kind of like watching a Brett Favre pass. Sometimes he makes a decision. He throws the ball. Am I going to go in there and say, 'Hey, don't do that?' I don't think so. But I will say, be careful. But that's about it. The kid made a play."

No, Walker made a play. Troy Smith got lucky. It was exactly the kind of throw where if Alex Smith did it and got intercepted, Singletary would've demonstrably chewed him out on the sidelines in front of the cameras, letting the whole world know, "We are losing solely because of YOU. Not US. Not ME. It's all YOUR fault."

To celebrate in one quarterback one set of qualities when just three weeks ago he implored Alex Smith to just be safe with the ball above all else smacks of hypocrisy and desperation, a coach who flies by the seat of his pants and changes his message breezily and as often as he has to keep his head above water.

Most coaches don't blame their players publicly at all for losses, and if they do, they blame either all of them or at least big chunks of them. Singletary blames whoever he has to and in vague, irrefutable ways, but never himself.

Good luck to Troy Smith, who actually played quite well once Singletary let him throw the ball with the 49ers trailing 10-3 (could've been 14-3 if not for a controversial chop block call) in the fourth quarter. At one point in the game they had called 29 runs to 13 pass attempts.

The way the 49ers coaches treat leads, as though a 3-0 lead in the NFL is the same as a 3-0 lead in the NHL, no quarterback can have consistent success for them whether his surname is Smith, Smith, or Manning.

Singletary's whole philosophy is that the best the 49ers should ever hope for is to keep games close going into the fourth quarter, because that's when their toughness and leadership and all their other unquantifiable mumbo jumbo will pull them through.

The concept of just going out and getting a big lead so that the fourth quarter can be garbage time is alien to them. Rather they want to turn games into the NBA, where the first three quarters are just filler for the good stuff.

It's a losing strategy and one borne of someone who's both incredibly arrogant and scared, all at once.

Alex Smith will test his shoulder on Wednesday. The doctor should make him shovel some of Singletary's leadership and ask if there's any pain afterward.