Mailbag: Questioning Singletary as head coach

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Jeff from Blackwood, N.J., writes: Hey Mike. I absolutely love your blog. I just have a few questions. I like Mike Singletary as a motivator and a position coach, but I just am not sold on him as a Head Coach. I think he did well the second half of the season, but the 49ers need more than just a great motivator. We need a coach that has experience and a GM that knows how to run and build a team. My question is if Sing struggles this season and we are under .500, what do you think the team will do? How short of a leash is Singletary on, and will the team make a move for Mike Shanahan in the off season?

Mike Sando: Thanks, Jeff. I consider your fears reasonable. Perhaps team president Jed York can alleviate them when he meets with select season-ticket holders Monday night.

Many successful head coaches were previously successful coordinators. People who succeed well enough as coordinators to become head coaches have already demonstrated tactical and administrative acumen in most cases. Andy Reid and a few others have succeeded as head coaches without proving themselves as coordinators, but they are the exceptions.

I thought the 49ers elevated Singletary in part because they felt the offense or defense would have suffered for naming Mike Martz or Greg Manusky to the interim role. That thinking made sense heading into final nine games. I did not necessarily think the reasoning would apply to the longer term.

York was very explicit in explaining why he made the change from Mike Nolan to Singletary during the season. He talked about needing to bring out the "passion and intensity" of the players. He said the talent was fine; the 49ers had Pro Bowl players in all three phases of the game. He said the team wasn't getting blown out. He said opponents were not outplaying the 49ers. He said the team was getting "out-intensitied" and he thought Singletary would change that overnight.

"I'm very excited to see what Mike can do, and bring out the passion and the intensity in our football players," York said of Singletary after dismissing Nolan.

York said he didn't want to elaborate at the time because the focus was on beating Seattle that week. The 49ers promptly went out and lost by three touchdowns to the Seahawks, their most lopsided defeat in nearly a year.

The 49ers did win five of their final eight games, but I don't think intensity was the difference. I think Singletary made the 49ers a smarter team offensively. They suffered fewer turnovers. That approach helped them avoid defeats similar to the ones they suffered earlier in the season. It should help them avoid some of those defeats in 2009. Singletary is certainly committed to making the schemes match the personnel, and that is a good place to start.

I do not know what to expect if the 49ers struggle under Singletary in 2009. Shanahan and several other big-name coaches will presumably be available, but those coaches might demand total control. They would also demand huge paychecks. The 49ers are trimming expenses while playing in an outdated stadium. Would they really want to pay Singletary and another head coach past 2009?

The 49ers have become a difficult team to predict off the field.

Hiring Mike Martz as coordinator last offseason went against conventional wisdom. The 49ers later agreed with conventional wisdom, firing Martz.

The decisions they made at quarterback last season went against conventional wisdom. The 49ers later agreed with conventional wisdom, benching J.T. O'Sullivan.

Hiring Singletary went against conventional wisdom. Perhaps the 49ers will be right on that one. Singletary is, by all accounts, an impressive person. I respect what he represents. Will he be an excellent head coach? That question is tougher to answer.

John from Tucson writes: I know this has been brought up in the past, but with Arizona moving in the direction of a 3-4 defense and Julius Peppers wanting to leave Carolina to be a key component in 3-4 schemes, what do you think about the possibility of Peppers wearing red and white next season?

I know a lot of people think that a straight up Peppers/Boldin trade should be considered, but I don't know how I feel about setting up the Smith/Boldin duo. Would that be a good move? Would there be a way to acquire Peppers without coughing up Boldin? Is this even a realistic scenario? Let us know your thoughts.

Mike Sando: The Cardinals appear focused primarily on retaining their own players. Nothing the Cardinals have said leads me to believe they'll make a Peppers-type move in free agency. I wouldn't fault a Boldin-for-Peppers move as long as the Cardinals could be sure Peppers would flourish in their defense. But I've seen nothing to suggest Arizona has considered making that type of move. It would surprise me at this point.

Max from Enumclaw, Wash., writes: Hey Mike, with the Seahawks having quarterback problems lately, do you think Jim Mora will want the Seahawks to sign Michael Vick once he is released from jail and possibly cut by the Falcons?

Mike Sando: I do not think the Seahawks will pursue Vick if and when Vick becomes available.

Nick from parts unknown writes: Do you think the 49ers are a playoff team in 2009?

Mike Sando: It's a little early to think along those lines. The 49ers haven't named a quarterback yet. The other teams in the division are making significant changes. I certainly wouldn't rule out the 49ers from contending, despite the obvious question marks.

Brandon from Seattle writes: Sando I love the blogs so keep it up! My question is this, I feel that the 49ers are almost there on defense to compete with having one of the better squads in the league. However, I feel they need an upgrade at FS and DE. I think they should do after Atogwe at FS and Maybin with the 10 pick at DE so that they solidify their D. Your thoughts?

Mike Sando: I do think those moves would help the 49ers' defense. Aaron Maybin does project as a 3-4 pass rusher, which the 49ers need, and the Rams' Oshiomogho Atogwe has proven to be a ball-hawking safety, something the 49ers have not had for some time. The Rams might not let Atogwe get away and it's unclear how late Maybin will be available, but those moves would make sense in theory.

Tanner from California writes: So will Jamar Adams be in the mix for the starting job next year?

Mike Sando: The 49ers have a new defensive staff and I'm not sure what Tim Lewis, the new secondary coach, might have in store for Adams or the other players. The Seahawks are still formulating their defensive playbook.

Francisco from Tucson writes: Hey Sando, I'm a huge cards fan and I just want some clarity on something. Boldin's excuse for not participating in the NFC championship ceremony was because he didn't want to be asked questions about his incident with Haley, but how could Boldin have known that that incident was captured on national television while the game was going on? I figured he wouldn't have known about it until way after the game.

Mike Sando: I raised that question at the time and never did track down a clear answer. It's a f
air question.