Because I’m a masochist, I still watch every 49ers game. Now I respected Mike Singletary as a player, love him as a person, but I don’t think he’s cut out to be a head coach. Not just for the 49ers. But for any NFL team. Here’s why.
- He’s not a strategist. He’s never been a coordinator at any level. That’s not strictly a job requirement to be a head coach, and there have been successful coaches in the past who weren’t great strategists (e.g. Mike Ditka). But that doesn’t seem to be true in today’s NFL. Football Outsiders pointed this out: if the head coach can’t pitch in with play-calling on either side of the ball when things go bad, as it did with Jimmy Raye, all you have is a really expensive cheerleader. And anyone can do that. Even Raheem Morris could step in with defensive playcalling after he fired his coordinator last year. Singletary can offer no strategic direction. (SN: I actually think the Bucs have a bright future with Morris and Freeman.)
- His mindset is out of date. It’s well documented that he wants to be a power run-first team, that to some extent he eschews strategy; he simply wants to overpower other teams with good execution. That’s not what today’s NFL is about. You pass to gain the lead; you run to maintain it. Since the 49ers have that reversed, they consistently start with an ineffective run game and are forced into a desperate passing game as the game progresses. It’s awful, and not a recipe for success. But worse, that mindset means the only way the 49ers can win is if they’re far and away better than the other team; that kind of system doesn’t emphasize mismatches to give a strategic advantage. It’s strictly a strategic disadvantage.
- He’s strangely erratic. He says he won’t fire Jimmy Raye. 24 hours later, he’s fired. He’s about to pull Alex Smith from the game. Minutes later, Smith goes back in. This is after saying all preseason that there is no way Carr will ever replace Smith. He backtracks on many decisions after expressing really strong feeling for the opposite.
- He’s wrongly stubborn. I think this is his worst fault. As I already mentioned, he stubbornly believes he can win with a run-first offense, even when it’s ineffective because opposing teams know this and stack 8 men in the box. Alex Smith looked his best last night running the hurry-up offense. As with last season, it’s clear he’s a better player working out of the shotgun. Doesn’t matter. That wouldn’t limit the kinds of runs the 49ers could do, and since Singletary is all run first, he’ll never do it.He also stubbornly believes that the quarterback is not an important position; he keeps saying that in interviews, and it’s clearly reflected in his support of Alex Smith. I think he knows – has always known – that Alex Smith is not a great quarterback and never will be. But I think he honestly believes that you don’t need a great quarterback to win in the NFL. That may have been true once upon a time, but not today. Not only is a good quarterback required; a great quarterback can make up for a lot of deficiencies. Peyton Manning makes up for the Colts’ terrible run defense. Drew Brees makes up for the Saints generally poor defense. All this to say the quality of the quarterback makes by far the largest difference in winning. This is so obvious it feels absurd to point out. But I don’t think Singletary believes this.
Alex Smith will ultimately be Singletary’s downfall, and he deserves it. Singletary chose to put the hope of this season behind Smith, not pursuing McNabb, or Campbell, or drafting any reasonable quarterback. Smith is who we thought he was – an inconsistent quarterback who will make dumb decisions every game. It turns out you can’t win with that. And Singletary should have known that.
- He alienates people. This also troubles me a lot. First Kentwan Balmer, then Glen Coffee, then Michael Lewis all left the team. I can only speculate why; maybe Singletary’s my way or the highway approach alienated them. Regardless, three players have straight up left the team now and that’s not a sign of effective leadership.
- He’s not good at what he’s supposed to be good at. So he’s not a strategist. He’s not adaptive. What is he good at? Supposedly, he’s a great motivator. But this hasn’t been reflected in the 49ers record at all. And for all his preaching about not making mistakes, the 49ers continue to make really dumb mistakes every game. At some point, you can’t just blame the players for this – it’s a reflection of the coaching.
In short, you can’t name anything Singletary is good at that is reflected in the 49ers quality of play. And thus no good reason to keep him as head coach.
The season will get better. The 49ers supposedly had the most difficult schedule in the league over the first 5 games and have the easiest schedule in the league over the last 11. But it doesn’t matter. Singletary must go.