Singletary As Savior Will Have Short Shelf-Life

Michael ErlerCorrespondent ISeptember 20, 2009

GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 13:  Head coach  Mike Singletary of the San Francisco 49ers stands on the sidelines during the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the Universtity of Phoenix Stadium on September 13, 2009 in Glendale, Arizona.  The 49ers defeated the Cardinals 20-16.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The last time your San Francisco 49ers faced the Seattle Seahawks roughly 11 months ago at The Stadium That Time Forgot, so much was made of then rookie head coach Mike Singletary's antics on the sidelines, during half time, and most of all in his postgame presser, that hardly anyone paid much attention to the fact that the 49ers had gotten trounced 34-13—at home—by a team that had come into the game wearing a 1-5 record.

Singletary lost his opening game and the one after that, but managed to rally the troops to capture five of their last seven. That record led to him getting the full time gig as "El Jefe," which, in turn, led to all sorts of mildly amusing billboards and radio ads. 

These things will happen when your coach drops his pants to make a point, your quarterback is a career back up and your best players (running back Frank Gore, linebacker Patrick Willis) are as interesting and quotable as last Wednesday's tuna casserole.

Despite winning their opener last week at Arizona against the defending conference champions, Singletary still managed to get the lion's share of the credit, thanks mostly to a time out he called in the third quarter to rest his tired defense.

To hear some wackos tell it, you'd think Singletary's decision will be immortalized in Niners lore. There was "The Catch" and "The Drive," and now we have "The Time Out."

And this, my friends, is just all kinds of dumb.

Wasn't it just a year ago, that Mike Nolan, the previous head coach, was getting hung in effigy for wasting all of his time outs on defense? He'd call ill-advised replay challenges and would explain to the media afterward that it didn't matter to him if the call was reversed or not because he wanted to give his guys a blow anyway, and we all called for his head.

Now Singletary does practically the same thing, and we hail him as a conquering hero, as though he were the NFL's version of LeBron James, singlehandedly carrying a collection of stiffs to contention, the way "Michael Jordan and the Jordanaries" did a generation before. 

Singletary and his hand-picked offensive coordinator Jimmy "Three Inches and a Cloud of Lame" Raye had to be dragged kicking and screaming into putting the game into the hands of quarterback Shaun Hill.

The Cardinals had everyone but the water boy in the box to stop Gore (completely blameless for his paltry 30 yards on 22 carries), yet the 49ers didn't start throwing it in earnest until they were trailing in the fourth quarter.

The game was an object lesson that pro coaches can't do much to win games—the players do that—but boy can they lose them. The players saved Singletary, not the other way around, and they deserve some credit, especially Hill.

The more conservative the offense is, the more it plays into the "Singletary's trying to make chicken salad out of chicken poop" propaganda. It's the ultimate win-win when the coach is the most popular (and powerful) face in the organization. When he wins, it's because of his genius, inspirational, Walshian coaching. When he loses, it's not his fault, the players stink.

Across the league 31 other coaches are thinking, "How can I get in on this racket?"

We've already seen this movie, about a well-liked no-nonsense defensive coach and his inept offensive coordinator trying to grind their way through an NFL schedule with an offense that gets 200 yards per game, in 2007. It did not end well. The well-liked coach became less well-liked in an awful hurry.

Singletary needs to loosen the reins on the offense. He needs to make sure to deflect all the credit for the good things on his players and the blame for the bad things on himself. Most of all he needs someone else to be the face of the team.

It's really the only way this thing can work out for him long term. 

The be-all-and-end-all coaches work on Saturdays. Head coaching in the NFL means being a delegating executive and a bit part in a complex machine. As ex-Baltimore Ravens coach (and noted egomaniac) Brian Billick put it on Friday during his chit-chat with the 49ers beat writers, "It's a general manager's league now."

Translation: It's the players, stupid.

Singletary would be wise to accept this, embrace it, let his offense play and get out of the way. Hill is 8-3 as a starter and he has worked hard for his chance. Give him the ball and make it clear it's his show.

The 1985 Chicago Bears had Mike Ditka coaching, Singletary linebacking, and William "The Refrigerator" Perry doing whatever it was that he did, but it's not like the casual fan didn't know who Walter Payton or Jim McMahon were.

Singletary has to decide if the world is ready to meet Shaun Hill and vice versa. If the answer is no, on either end, then it's going to be another long season, no matter when he calls his time outs.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.