Coach Singletary and Michael Vick's Return to the NFL

Michael Shackelford Correspondent IApril 5, 2009

RICHMOND, VA - AUGUST 27:  Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick (L) arrives at federal court August 27, 2007 in Richmond, Virginia. The football star was expected to plead guilty to a federal dogfighting conspiracy charge. The NFL has suspended Vick indefinitely.   (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Mike Singletary is one of the few head coaches that can bring Michael Vick back into the NFL. If Coach Singletary decides to make Vick a 49er, this is how it can occur.

Vick's attempt at an NFL comeback is compounded by the nature of his crime. Conventional wisdom is that it would be hard to play in San Francisco because the area is so liberal, and the Bay Area would rise up in revolt at the prospect of Vick in a 49er uniform.

America may be divided between Red States and Blue States, but every state is a dog state. Regardless of whether someone is liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, rich or poor, everyone loves their dog. Dog lovers are of every race, religion, economic background, and religion.

Almost everyone in America hates Michael Vick. Therefore a comeback would be just as hard in Atlanta, Houston, or Dallas as it would be in San Francisco, Seattle, or Chicago.

In order to attempt a comeback, Vick needs to express genuine sorrow over the crimes he has committed. Not simply a trite “I'm sorry because I was caught.” Rather he needs to acknowledge what he did and repudiate his actions. There can be no qualification for what he did.

Vick has already made some strides in this. The most obvious is his admission of guilt and serving time in a federal prison. When Vick gets out he needs to be interviewed by a respected journalist on a national news show that will ask him tough questions about his crimes and time in prison.

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

Barbara Walters would be a good choice. Vick isn't running for office, so he doesn't have to be articulate. Quite frankly he's a jock and a felon, so the public expectations would not be very high for the interview.

Walters is notorious for making guests cry, so if Vick could break down and show real emotion when asked about killing dogs, that would be a real plus. The tears cannot appear to be fake, so Vick should practice crying a few times before the interview. Cynical? Of course. Smart and effective? Absolutely.

Which brings us to Mike Singletary. Singletary is beginning his first season as head coach. Coach Singletary enjoys an enormous amount of popularity and respect not only in San Francisco, but in the NFL in general.

In political terms, he has a lot of “political capital” right now. If he chooses to do so, Coach Singletary can use some of this capital on Michael Vick. Its a huge gamble that could backfire. But like any sizable gamble, the potential payoff is considerable.

Tough and no-nonsense, Singletary is Old School incarnate. He can lay down the hammer—see Vernon Davis' ignominious exit against the Seahawks—when necessary. Yet Singletary is also a father figure to his players.

He gave Davis the opportunity to redeem himself, and showed restraint when Davis earned an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after scoring a touchdown against the Cardinals on Monday Night Football. Singletary even gave Davis a hug on the sideline after the touchdown and penalty.

This hug on the sidelines underscores the redemptive nature to Singletary's coaching. If there is one thing that Vick needs, it is redemption.

In today's NFL, the players command a much higher salary than coaches. That being the case, why is Singletary able to call out Vernon Davis and still retain the support of his players?

Because the players respect Singletary for who he is. Singletary didn't talk the talk, he walked the walk when he was a linebacker in the NFL. Singletary earned a Super Bowl ring and a Hall of Fame jacket as a Chicago Bear.

Singletary also looks like he is willing and able to put a player through the locker if he has to. Players respect him for that. Those that don't will no longer be 49ers. And I believe there are players in the league that want to play for a real Old School coach, and will sign with San Francisco in order to do so.

But in order for that to happen, the 49ers need to start winning.

If Vick wants to become a 49er, he should agree to play for the league minimum salary of $595,000 for players with five to seven years in the NFL. The salary could include bonuses based on performance.

Vick should agree to give a significant amount of both his base salary and the bonus money to charity. The SPCA and youth programs would be a good start. Accepting a such a contract from the 49ers would demonstrate humility on Vick's part, and go a long way towards repairing his reputation.

Clearly Singletary has the temperament to deal with Vick. The question is, do the potential rewards outweigh the risks? If Vick gets into any more trouble, it would be a reflection on Singletary.

Conceivably such an incident could be a parole violation and put Vick back into federal prison. If that were to occur, Singletary's “capital” would be gone, and he could be doomed as 49er head coach.

The rewards of a successful Vick comeback are enormous. After years of terrible personnel decisions and the revolving door of head coaches and offensive coordinators, the 49ers appear to be headed in the right direction.

The 49ers played well under Singletary last year. I believe one reason for the 49ers' inspired play was a desire for Singletary to be hired as the permanent head coach.

Michael Vick is the perfect player for the Wildcat Offense that emerged last year. Vick could provide the needed spark to a 49ers team that is right on the playoff bubble. The payoff from the Michael Vick gamble could be a Super Bowl championship. Will Singletary and the 49ers place that bet?


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.