Singletary out: Reflections and projections

ST. LOUIS -- This was supposed to be the year when a little continuity would help push the San Francisco 49ers back into the playoffs.

Not so much.

Mike Singletary's firing as head coach Sunday night capped one of the more tumultuous seasons an NFL franchise could have.

General manager Scot McCloughan resigned abruptly before the draft. Recent high draft choices forced their way out (Kentwan Balmer) and retired (Glen Coffee). Singletary fired Jimmy Raye as offensive coordinator three games into the season and 19 games into Raye's tenure. The team bounced from one quarterback to another and back after gushing over the progress Alex Smith had made in his second season with the same system.

There was no way Singletary could return for another season after the 49ers fell to 5-10 and out of the playoff picture with their 25-17 defeat at St. Louis in Week 16. There was no point in keeping him around for Week 17, either. Might as well start moving forward.

The next head coach of the 49ers presumably will possess some of the qualities Singletary did not. The next head coach will differ in style and substance. The next head coach will also fail if the 49ers do not land the right quarterback, but that is a story for another day.

Singletary's replacement should have:

  • Experience as a coordinator. Singletary had never called plays or installed game plans. That made it tougher for him to fix problems that arose. It hurt his credibility as a head coach. Good intentions are not enough in the NFL. Coaches must have answers.

  • A track record with quarterbacks. Singletary was ill-equipped to handle quarterbacks and it was obvious when he would feud with them during games. Offense is about execution and precision, particularly at that position.

  • The ability to hire a quality staff. The 49ers have some good assistants, but when it came time to hire an offensive coordinator, Singletary had trouble landing preferred candidates. Scott Linehan turned him down, for example. Singletary's relative inexperience as an assistant coach meant he had fewer relationships with assistants around the league.

  • A background on offense. Singletary and predecessor Mike Nolan were defensive head coaches. This organization needs to get the quarterback thing right. I think that's easier with an offense-minded head coach. Five of the NFL's six highest-rated passers have offense-minded head coaches.

  • Passion tempered by the self-control of a CEO. Singletary has the instincts of a middle linebacker. That could be good -- think Vernon Davis getting his career on track with some tough love from Singletary -- but too often it was bad. Having more of an even keel can help a head coach last.

  • Charisma. Singletary had plenty of it. The next coach should, too. After all, the 49ers are trying to get public support for a new stadium.

Team president Jed York told reporters Sunday that he planned to hire a general manager, and that the GM would play a leading role in hiring a head coach. That structure makes sense. The team handed over too much power to Nolan back in 2005, only to take some of it away as coach and team struggled to produce desired results.

Candidates possessing the qualities outlined above will come at a price. They might command more power than the 49ers initially want to hand over.

Two big names come to mind: Jon Gruden and Mike Holmgren. Both have ties to the Bay Area. Both have coached MVP quarterbacks. Both have charisma and credibility. Both have backgrounds on offense. Holmgren has ties to the 49ers' glory years, a bonus.

Gruden has said he has no plans to leave ESPN. Holmgren is under contract to the Cleveland Browns and it is unclear whether he could surface elsewhere even if he wanted a change. We do know Holmgren wants back on the sideline.

The 49ers should aim high. They've put together a roster with front-line talent in several positions, but as Singletary proved, that isn't enough.