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A man with a plan, Singletary finally gets his shot

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Paul Sakuma / Associated Press
Mike Singletary was introduced as Mike Nolan's replacement at a press conference Tuesday afternoon.


Mike Singletary doesn't plan on gauging his success as San Francisco's new head coach over the remaining nine games by a victory total or even some measure of competitiveness.

"I plan to bring this organization together and work as one," he said in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon, moments after being announced by the 49ers as Mike Nolan's replacement. "I used to think I was a good motivator, but I've learned to understand that I might be motivated but that doesn't mean everyone else will be. I have the ability to bring people together. I can bring people of different personalities and people with different ways together.

"I will bring people together."

Singletary doesn't sound like a man setting himself up for heartbreak, although that could happen should the tempting apple of victory prompt him to veer off his mission to restore some type of order to a model franchise gone wayward. His focus on organizational unification speaks volumes to how splintered the 49ers have become.

Blame could be cast throughout the franchise, but for now, Nolan, the ineffective coach over the past 3½ seasons, is the fall guy after his team's 2-5 start, bringing Nolan's final record in San Francisco to 18-37. Nolan, who brought Singletary with him from Baltimore when he accepted the job, is a man Singletary has immeasurable admiration for. He even consulted with Nolan before accepting an opportunity he badly wanted.

But to that end, "We will not stay status quo," Singletary said.

Singletary's plan doesn't have much to do with Xs and Os. The staff at hand, which won't be radically changed -- offensive line coach George Warhop was fired along with Nolan -- can handle that. Like Jim Haslett, who has won two straight games since taking over as interim coach of the Rams, Singletary wants to establish that playing and coaching football is living football.

That doesn't mean spending 18 hours a day breaking down film or trying to invent some new way to complete a pass -- an approach some suitors in need of a head coach in 2007 felt was a flaw in Singletary's resume. It means, to Singletary, maximizing time and opportunity, enforcing accountability, and trusting in those who've earned it.

Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images
In his playing career, Mike Singletary was an intense presence on the field for a Bears team that reached the playoffs seven times -- winning one Super Bowl -- in his 12-year playing career.
Singletary's NFL resumé
Coaching career:
» Ravens' linebackers coach from 2003-04
» 49ers' assistant head coach/linebackers in 2005
» 49ers' assistant head coach/defense from 2006-2007

Playing career:
» Played linebacker for the Chicago Bears from 1981-92
» Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1998
» Member of Bears' Super Bowl XX-winning team
» Member of NFL's 1980s all-decade team (Photos)
» Played in a Bears record 10 consecutive Pro Bowls
» Named All-Pro eight times (1983-89, 1991)

"On game day I will make sure that we have a plan and that we've talked through that plan and that that plan is executed," Singletary said. "I know there will be times I have to interject when the plan that we've talked about is not being executed."

That means players. That means coaches. That means agendas aren't hidden. Singletary has already sniffed out those who aren't on board and knows who is with him. He's always been highly regarded by players, and his Hall of Fame career with the Chicago Bears brings instant credibility. Still, there might be those who doubt him because he hasn't been a coordinator or a head coach at any level and has only been an assistant for six years.

It doesn't matter. He's the boss now.

It's something he's strived for, much the same way he refused to settle for just tackling someone when he dominated offenses from his middle linebacker spot for the Bears in the 1980s. He mauled ball carriers and made them check their bravado before venturing into his territory again. He was said to be too small to play in Dick Butkus' shadow, but he ended up being too good not to share Butkus' spotlight.

Getting to this point has taken hard work and some hard swallows of humility. Singletary admits now that he might not have been ready for the head-coaching jobs he interviewed for in the spring of 2007 with Atlanta, Dallas and San Diego.

"A lot of times you don't know what you think you know, and I learned that," Singletary said. "I thought they made out coaching to be a lot more than it was. I was wrong."

Singletary was impressive in his interviews. He was polite, inspiring, the type of guy who could lead, but he didn't have the contacts to build a great staff or the knowledge of player personnel to parlay his one-time position as Baltimore's linebacker coach and his second job as San Francisco's linebacker coach into a head-coaching job. Still, he was a guy worth tracking. Or so he and so many others not in the position to hire coaches thought.

Singletary didn't get a single interview this past offseason. Not from Atlanta, where he was held in high regard. Or Baltimore, where he cut his teeth as a coach and helped develop players like Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Ed Hartwell.

He'd never been stiff-armed with such effectiveness.

Then again, he was part of a staff that only won five games in 2007 -- not necessarily a selling point to teams trying to find the next great leader.

"The biggest thing I learned was that there are things that are not in my control," Singletary said. "I took a step back. I knew God had a plan. I didn't know what it was but there was a plan."

While Singletary's lack of credentials could have been held against him, he quietly went about using his assistant head coach's title in San Francisco to his advantage. Singletary said Nolan included him in conversations about staff and player development, practice and off-day scheduling, and organizational matters -- everything about being a head coach that didn't include coaching.

"I was able to be close to all the moving parts as they were moving -- up close," Singletary said. "I've learned this is like fixing a car but while it's moving down the assembly line."

"I feel very prepared now," he added.

Singletary said his abbreviated timetable is long enough to prove himself head-coach worthy. As badly as he's wanted to be a head coach, he said he doesn't consider this an audition. There are no triggers in his contract that will guarantee him the job either.

"You will see," he said. "It's just right. The amount of time is enough. I just hate the circumstance and the situation because I came here with Mike Nolan to help him succeed. But I've told myself that, 'You have enough time to do what you need to do.' "

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