Mike Singletary Likely to Ride Out Storm in San Francisco
Could another in-season change be coming in San Francisco?
You might think so, given that 49ers' 3-7 record is the inverse of the kind of season San Francisco fans had reason to expect coming into 2010.
This was supposed to be a return to the top for the 49ers, but the offense was brutal under now-fired coordinator Jimmy Raye, and it hasn't been significantly better under his replacement, Mike Johnson.
But team president Jed York isn't like the Cowboys' Jimmy Jones -- he has expressed bombastic confidence in coach Mike Singletary. Whether York is to be believed or not depends upon the listener.
The fact is that the NFC West is terrible, and even a 3-7 record doesn't put a team out of a potential playoff berth. The division-leading Seattle Seahawks are just 5-5 after every team in the division lost last Sunday, meaning the 49ers, terrible season and all, are just two games out of first place.
San Francisco has six games left, including four inside the division. Those are home and road games with the Arizona Cardinals -- the first of which is Monday night -- a home game against Seattle and a road game against St. Louis. As bad as the division is, all four of those games are winnable for the 49ers.
The other two 49ers games are on the road at Green Bay, a tough place to play even if the Packers weren't tied for the NFC North lead; and at San Diego, where the 5-5 Chargers are, like the Packers, currently 4-1 at home.
A sweep in the division seems to be the best San Francisco can hope for, and that would leave the 49ers at 7-9. That record seems unlikely to be enough to catch the Seahawks, who have four of their final six at home, but even the possibility of being in the race has to temper York's enthusiasm for making a switch now.
Those close to York seem to believe he'd rather not make an in-season change if he can avoid doing so. It seems very unlikely, but not impossible, for Singletary to be able to keep his job once 2010 is in the books.
"Am I doing a good job?' Obviously, at 3-7, no," Singletary sad Monday. "I wouldn't even dare to say I'm doing a good job. But it's not over, yet.''
He came into the job in 2008 -- in-season, it should be pointed out -- after Mike Nolan was fired. The 49ers finished that season 5-4 under him, then went 8-8 (after a strong 3-1 start) in 2009. But things have unwound in 2010. The team ranks 31st in the 32-team NFL in points scored, and last Sunday saw the 49ers suffer their first home shutout in more than three decades when Tampa Bay walked out with a 21-0 win.
York apparently would like his next hire, whenever it comes, to be a permanent one. History suggests it's often best for an organization to ride out the storm, then make a studied decision once the season is over. And anyway, neither of Singletary's offensive and defensive coordinators, Johnson and Greg Manusky, has ever coached before, and if they were promoted, they'd likely have to come on in an interim role; neither is seen as quite ready for a head coaching job.
For that reason, San Francisco's next head coach is almost certainly going to have to come from outside the organization.
Even so, that doesn't mean Singletary's replacement will have to come from afar. Indeed, if you listen to Bay Area sports talk radio or read 49er-intensive blogs, where Jim Harbaugh's success at Stanford (10-1 entering Saturday's regular season finale against Oregon State) has some anointing him the next San Francisco head man, you'd think that move was set in stone.
(The last time the 49ers grabbed a Stanford coach, it was Bill Walsh, and that hire set in motion almost two decades of 49ers dominance at the top of the NFL charts in the 1980s and '90s.)
There have been others mentioned as Singletary replacements -- Mike Holmgren, Jon Gruden and Brian Billick -- and that list is likely to grow longer as the season wins down.
But even a post-2010 coaching switch won't come easily. The NFL appears headed to a nasty and lengthy labor negotiation, and there's no guarantee that there will even be a 2011 season.
So it might make the most sense for York to sit back and wait to see which way the labor winds blow before committing to replace Singletary.
The potential of a labor stoppage might, in fact, be the one thing that could possibly keep Singletary in San Francisco past this season.
If there is no 2011 season because of the labor situation, then there would be no need to replace Singletary, whose contract runs through 2012 and would have to be paid anyway. Hiring somebody else would mean paying twice for a job that couldn't be done.
And if extended labor negotiations wind up stripping games from the 2011 schedule, next season under a new coach might be a wash, anyway, because the new guy wouldn't have ample time to install a new system. He might only have a few weeks, and that would put San Francisco way, way behind the other teams in the NFC West and the NFL as a whole. It might be deemed better to keep the coaching staff more or less intact and see if the 2010 season can be written off as just one of those things.
What it all comes down to is that, regardless of what two other teams currently at 3-7 (the Vikings and the Cowboys) did, San Francisco seems unlikely to make a move to get rid of Singletary any time soon.