Front Office View  

 

Singletary failed to replicate success as a player on sidelines

The Mike Singletary era is over in San Francisco and it was not pretty to watch from the start to the painful finish Sunday in St. Louis. The 49ers have finally decided to move on and now the burden falls upon their front office to hire the right coach and leader to help them restore the glory to this once-great franchise. And Bill Walsh is no longer -- oh, how I wish he were -- around to assist them.

First, let me say this criticism of Singletary is strictly professional, not personal. He is a good man, dedicated to the cause and wants to achieve, but he was never equipped to be a head coach. Just because someone played in the league and achieved Hall of Fame status does not make it automatic that he will be a good coach. In fact, accomplishments as a player are not enough to make a good coach, the player has to prepare and commit the hours necessary to learning what it takes to achieve success in a coaching role.

Even for retired stars, football is a hard game to learn and completely understand. And learning to coach is also figuring out how to lead, which does not come easy for most people, regardless of whether they ever played the game professionally or not. Leaders are made, not born. Therefore, when a player retires, he has to discover how to become adept at leading men along with learning the entire game.

Paul Abell / Associated Press
Mike Singletary is the latest coach to fail to get the 49ers headed in the right direction. Steve Mariucci is the last coach to take San Francisco to the playoffs.
Singletary's mark in San Francisco
Coach Tenure Record Playoff trips
Mike Singletary 2008-10 18-22 0
Mike Nolan 2005-08 18-37 0
Dennis Erickson 2003-04 9-23 0
Steve Mariucci 1997-2002 57-39 4

The science of football is difficult for many former players, in part, because they only play one way -- either offense or defense, but never both. In baseball or basketball, players play both sides and have a chance to learn the entire game. In football, however, even a Hall of Fame linebacker will never understand the new-age passing game or the teaching method for wide receivers or, most importantly, how to relate to a quarterback.

Watching Singletary and starting quarterback Troy Smith have their sideline confrontation confirmed that Singletary views everything that happens on the field like a linebacker and, in spite of all the hoopla of him being a leader because of the way he played the game, in reality, he does not have any ability to lead.

To be an effective leader, there are four areas that must be handled, and Singletary failed in every one. Leading is not yelling, leading is not screaming and, most of all, leading is not treating everyone the same.

Now, this column is not about how to become a leader, but the science of leadership can be broken down into four areas and each impacts the other.

» The first is called management of attention, which means the leader has a comprehensive plan for achieving success. Not just a plan for the offense or defense, but a plan for the entire team.

» The second area is called management of meaning, which means the leader can explain his plan in detail and be able to motivate people to follow his plan.

» The third area is called management of trust, which means the leader will be trusted to do the right thing all the time and always place what is essential first.

» The fourth area is called management of self, which means the leader will be critical of himself when he makes a mistake.

Understanding and practicing these four areas of leadership does not guarantee success, because along with being a well-schooled leader, the leader must have the intellectual capacity to handle the job. When I was out of football, I was commissioned (never paid) by an NFL team to determine what characteristics made a successful coach. My conclusion was all related to the four areas of leadership and how successful coaches were proficient in at least three of the four. Meanwhile, coaches who failed only could achieve success in just two areas.

Examine Singletary before he was hired as a head coach and most knew he was never going to be the scientist when it came to the game, but many thought, with his leadership skills displayed as a player, he could motivate the team and, if surrounded by the right support staff, he could win. Yet, as we have all come to learn, Singletary was not only ill-equipped to be a scientist, he was not the natural leader everyone thought.

He did not have a comprehensive plan, unless changing quarterbacks is a plan. Also, he was not good at explaining his plan or communicating -- failing to give consistent analysis of why he was making the move. He failed to accept blame for his poor understanding of the details of the game and, the more the players were around him, their trust level diminished. Singletary was doomed to fail before he coached his first game, but, because he was a Hall of Fame player, he was given the job.

Now, not all former players are doomed to fail. Like any business, there are people who prepare for their jobs, work hard for their promotions and achieve success. If former players want to get involved in coaching, being an ex-player is not going to guarantee success, but what will is hard work, dedication and the willingness to learn and keep learning.

For example, when working for the Raiders, we hired former Pro Bowl quarterback Jim Harbaugh to be a film breakdown coach and to work with our quarterbacks. Harbaugh, the son of a coach, understood paying his dues, hard work and what it would take to be a great leader and coach. Harbaugh was so dedicated to the cause that one night, after working for several days without sleep, his head crashed into the computer keypad with his nose landing on the M key. Waking up a few hours later, Harbaugh found 8,000 pages of Ms and the energy to keep learning. Now, after paying his dues, Harbaugh has become a successful coach at Stanford and is NFL ready if he chooses to return to the league.

The 8,000 pages of Ms is not the path Singletary took as he felt his playing days would be enough to carry him as a head coach. But the players today only respect knowledge, not your playing résumé. They only respect the coach who knows the game -- inside and out -- and could care less about age or career stats.

Singletary was never going to be successful, because preparation and knowledge of the full game is critical. The game Singletary knew might have allowed him to be a success then, but not now in the new game.

Top Bear
Jay Cutler established an impressive statistical benchmark that not a single QB in Chicago franchise history had reached. Find out what it was in our Milestone Tracker.

» More: NFL.com blogs

Three-step drops

» The Bears, on a sloppy field, are actually a bigger problem to handle offensively than defensively. Chicago's offense is actually now the strength of the team and Jay Cutler has proven to be the right player for the right system. The offense is the Bears' strength, the defense is their liability.

» The Giants better change their secondary this offseason and find more speed and athletic talent. They can beat bad offensive teams with their front, but they will continually struggle to handle speed if they don't change their style in the draft.

» The Packers are the team no one wants to play if they make the postseason, especially with Aaron Rodgers under center. Rodgers is amazing and he along with a defense that makes the opponent fight for every yard is a great combination come playoff time.

» Congratulations to the Chiefs for winning the AFC West. They made all the right moves this offseason, starting with two new coordinators (Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel) and then having an outstanding draft. General manager Scott Pioli has proven that the Patriot way can work outside of New England.

» Matt Cassel has also proven Pioli right in his decision to trade for the quarterback and bring him in to lead the team. Cassel is a great leader. He is improving each year and, right now, he has the confidence of his teammates.

» Tim Tebow's style of play is not for every offense, but if the right coach is hired in Denver, one who will feature Tebow's strengths, the Broncos will begin their rebuilding process. They have to rebuild, and it will start with selecting the right coach for Tebow.

» I sincerely hope Texans owner Bob McNair needs to understand it takes a tough-minded team to win in the league. Houston is not as close as it might think.

» The Jets cannot get a play from any front seven defender, and since their blitzes no longer get to the quarterback, their playoff success will be tied to how well Mark Sanchez plays. He played well enough to win Sunday but the defense proved, once again, it is not the same unit as in 2009.

» Miami being 1-7 at home tells me there will be many changes this offseason, starting with a new coach. Jon Gruden might not have been interested in the University of Miami job, but he might have to consider the Dolphins.

» You think team chemistry and youth make a difference? Examine the Bengals' effort Sunday and all of the sudden quarterback Carson Palmer does not seem like the problem. Jerome Simpson, who the Bengals took in the second round of the 2008 draft from Coastal Carolina, finally showed the skills that made him a high choice. What we learned from this game is more is less and chemistry does matter.

Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi.

Headlines

The previous element was an advertisement.

NFL Shop

NFL News
CONTENT
15