Mike Singletary, my former linebackers coach and new Head Coach of the San Francisco 49ers has certainly had an entertaining and informative first week. Mike’s passion for the game and the intensity he brings to everything he does was on full display after their 34-13 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
Let’s begin with the fact that a coach, after a mentally and emotionally draining day, has to step in front of 30 to 40 media people and explain what just happened. I would love to meet the guy that came up with this idea, years back. Win or lose you are emotionally charged and it is a priority is to collect your thoughts and be very specific about what it is you want to accomplish. That doesn’t say you have to be some emotionless automaton who dispassionately dissects the game. The fans want to know that you care, that you are as invested emotionally as they are in what just happened. But as we have seen — by Denny Green, Jim Mora, Mike Ditka, Herm Edwards and a cast of thousands, including myself — is you are vulnerable to saying something that is going to live with you for the rest of your life. Not withstanding it becoming a good beer commercial in the future, the wrong words at the wrong time can label you far beyond whatever you might accomplish on the field.
It is a fine balance between showing the energy and passion the fans demand of you, yet still keeping your head and not losing sight of the fact that what you say will likely set a tone for your team and your organization going forward that week and possibly for the entire year.
Mike Singletary is trying to show his players, coaches, general manager and owners that he is the man they need for this job going forward and he has a short time to do it with a very average team and a tough schedule on the horizon. After a short bye week they will face division-leading foe Arizona, a very hot St. Louis team, and then the Dallas Cowboys and Buffalo Bills, both on the road.
It has been interesting to see how Singletary’s comments have been received. Like most things, it is strictly in the eye of the beholder. I have seen it revered as a long needed expose of the problems in San Francisco to the ranting of a man who has now lost his players and does not know what it means to be a head coach. Like most things, the truth lies somewhere in between.
The accountability and professionalism that was such a hallmark of Singletary’s career are clearly the cornerstones of what he is going to try and establish in his brief remaining time with the 49ers this season. The players, the organization and indeed all of the Bay Area 49ers faithful will take their emotional lead from their Head Coach. Therein lies the problem. As a Head Coach you have to make sure that the people you are communicating with have the maturity and the proper filters to understand what it is you are trying to communicate and achieve.
The player will give Mike the benefit of the doubt because of the well-deserved respect they have for him and what he has stood for as a player. It’s not just what he has achieved in his Hall of Fame playing career, but the way I know he has interacted with them on a daily basis, the way he did with his players when he worked for me as my linebackers coach.
Yet, it is vital that Mike now take the next step and follow up with the much needed one-on-one interaction the players will need to understand that the line he is drawing in the sand for them is for their individual, as well as their collective, best interest. Otherwise the players will simply think he was grandstanding for the job and simply blaming them for the loss. The players that most agree with him and understand what he is saying will worry the most that he is talking about them. The ones that need it the most are probably the ones who aren’t listening and think he isn’t referring to them.
It is not a matter of whether Mike Singletary can be a good Head Coach or not. He has all the tools to be a great one. And, it is not a matter of how what he said after the game is perceived by the fans and ownership. It is about how he can translate his message and vision for that team to his players. He has made it abundantly clear how he is going to conduct himself as a Head Coach. The final verdict, fair or not, will be if it can translate into wins; or at the least a winning attitude.