Purdy: San Francisco 49ers' game with New Orleans Saints much bigger for Mike Singletary than team
Do not believe the hype. Tonight is not a make-or-break game for the 49ers. They do not have to beat the New Orleans Saints to reach the playoffs. Starting the season 0-2 is not fatal. Dallas and Minnesota both have 0-2 records. Anyone think they're toast?
Tonight, however, could be a make-or-break game for Mike Singletary. football jerseys
His team, win or lose, must play viciously and play smart. The 49ers cannot lay a stink bomb and make Candlestick Park's concourses smell worse than they already do.
And if that stink happens, after all of the emotional capital spent by their head coach this past week? Well, then something is definitely wrong at the Bank of Singletary. And he will have a nearly impossible time convincing anyone that he can ever get the balance sheet back in order.
Dull, this man is not. But it's still an open question whether that helps or hurts a game plan, against New Orleans or anyone else.
Singletary began last week by downplaying the issue of whether offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye was having trouble communicating plays to quarterback Alex Smith. But at midweek, after an online news report about the miscommunication, Singletary reversed his previous downplaying policy. He ranted about a possible "rat" in the 49ers building, then during a live TV interview barked at KPIX sports voice Dennis O'Donnell's legitimate questions -- before dramatically proclaiming that the 49ers "will not try and stop" the Saints offense but flatly "will stop" quarterback Drew Brees.
Except, it turns out that isn't what Singletary really meant. Over the weekend when a reporter -- OK, this reporter -- asked him to define "stopping" the Saints, the coach did a backpedal.
Singletary said he was merely sticking up for his own players. He explained that no coach in the NFL believes his team can't stop another team.
"I want you to understand this," Singletary said. "As much as I respect the Saints offense and what they've been able to do, I'm very excited about our ability to do some things on defense, as well."
So why didn't he just say that in the first place? Because it wouldn't be the Singletarian way. Watching him at work is easily the Bay Area's most compelling spectator activity. But it gives you pause in these two respects:
1. Look, we understand. Singletary is a passionate guy. He wants his players' best effort, 16 times a season. But he can't possibly have his team at the highest emotional peak for all 16 games, can he? Because that's what seems to be his goal. And you wonder if it will just wear out the players psychologically.
2. Until he otherwise disperses the notion, Singletary remains under the theoretical cloud that Hall of Fame players will always have a difficult time becoming great head coaches.
The theory goes this way: To reach the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a Cowboys jersey
player, a man must have immense physical talents and combine them with the utmost intensity and focus. But when those Hall of Fame players become coaches, they grow frustrated because not all the men they coach are as talented or as intense. And it is difficult for those Hall of Famers to handle that dynamic.
More than a dozen Hall of Fame players have become head coaches in the NFL. Only one has coached Super Bowl winner. That would be Mike Ditka -- who, of course, was Singletary's head coach in Chicago.
Two other Hall of Fame players -- Forrest Gregg and Raymond Berry -- coached teams to the Super Bowl and lost the game. But the others, from Otto Graham to Tom Fears to Mike McCormack, have mostly compiled losing records.
It's probably no surprise, then, that Singletary appears to be following the Ditka model as a head coach. Although he was full of demanding bluster and smoke, Ditka was actually a very caring guy underneath who not only understood each player's quirks but also totally grasped the theatrical aspects of being an NFL head coach.
Thus, the Singletary variety show. One day, you think his head might explode. The next day, he calmly elucidates his philosophy. If you ask the players in the locker room, most of them get it. At least so far.
"He knows there are different ways to motivate every person," said wide receiver Josh Morgan, who believes that every player has spent one-on-one time in Singletary's upstairs office at 49ers headquarters.
But what about the screaming?
"He brings it out at the right time," Morgan said. "He knows when."
From here, there is only one danger sign: If Singletary is attempting to assemble an entire 53-man roster of players as zealously obsessive about football as he is, that could backfire. There's never been a team like that in NFL history.
But if Singletary can indeed learn each man's strengths and maximize them as often as possible -- while ironing out those coordinator-quarterback communication issues -- then he may indeed still succeed.
Singletary has a 13-13 record after his first 26 games as a head coach. Ditka was 12-14 after his first 26 games. But after that, Ditka won 28 of his next 36 games on the way to a Super Bowl championship. Right now, it seems ridiculous to believe the 49ers could do the same thing.
"This team is a team in the making," Singletary said the other day. Pittsburgh Steelers jersey
"It takes time."
Right. But it's time not to stink. Tonight.
Bay Area News Group columnist Mark Purdy and cohorts will provide reports and commentary from tonight's Saints- 49ers game at Candlestick Park.