*** Note from Coach O: This is a good article (Yahoo! Sports, 9/25/08) on how Coach Mike “Sing” Singletary prepares his team to stay focused. But it also gives us great insight into the mindset and motivation that makes Mike Singletary the kind of coach that he is! Enjoy! (Great job by Michael Siver, Yahoo! Sports)
Singletary stresses the evil of overconfidence
By Michael Silver, Yahoo! Sports
Sep 25, 2008, 3:12 am EDT
Follow Michael Silver on Twitter: http://twitter.com/RealMikeSilver
Each morning, Mike Singletary sits alone in his office at the San Francisco 49ers’ training facility and prays to start the day.
“I’m excited about the time that I have to meditate on that day,” the first-year coach explains. “These guys are special to me, and I want to make sure the things I say to them are important, that I’m not just talking to them. I pray for direction every day.”
On Thursday, with the Niners preparing for a road game against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday that will feature the NFL’s only clash of 2-0 teams, Singletary prayed for focus and perspective. Specifically, he wants his players to avoid getting caught up in their early success – victories over a pair of NFC West foes, including the defending conference champion Arizona Cardinals – and to understand how much harder they’ll have to work to earn the franchise’s first playoff trip since 2002.
“Absolutely, we have to stay focused on the goal and continue to work to get better,” Singletary says. “I think about this every minute of the day.”
Now here’s the interesting thing: More than many of his peers, Singletary has a chance to lead by example, because he’s the guy generating much of the hype. On a team short on big names – stud halfback Frank Gore is decidedly low-key; Pro Bowl middle linebacker Patrick Willis is still young and overshadowed by Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher; top draft pick Michael Crabtree is … well, never mind – it’s the head coach who’s attracting much of the national attention.
This is for three reasons: First, Singletary was a Hall of Fame middle linebacker for one of the greatest defenses of all time. Secondly, he’s one of the hottest coaches in the NFL, having won six of his last seven games, often with his team as the underdog. Lastly, in his first game as the 49ers’ interim coach last October, he dropped trou at halftime, and gave a memorable postgame news conference, making him an instant Internet sensation.
Naturally, there’s a perception that Singletary’s a little crazy, one that gibes with his signature wild-eyed pre-snap pose from his playing days. Yet Singletary is grounded by faith and conviction, and is well aware of the warning signs that can erode team chemistry, focus and unquestioned commitment.
Singletary, who starred for the Chicago Bears from 1981-92, was part of the 1985 team that went 18-1 and held the New England Patriots to negative yardage throughout the first half of an emphatic Super Bowl XX blowout. Yet for all the great players who suited up for coach Mike Ditka during that era, the Bears couldn’t even manage another conference title.
Looking back, Singletary believes his teams underachieved – and that they did so because they fell prey to the same forces he’s guarding against in his current role.
“There were a lot of missed opportunities,” he says. “When I talk to [former Bears defensive coordinator] Buddy Ryan and Coach Ditka, I’ve told them the same thing. There were so many things that were handled the wrong way.
“We were a young football team – very vulnerable, very naïve. The coaches did what they could, but I’m just talking about players understanding that if we stay together, things are going to work out. People aren’t going to forget that you’re a great football player. Maybe this week somebody else gets the credit, and that next week another guys does. But none of that matters – as long as the team succeeds, we all win.
“When you get guys fighting, backbiting, envious of each other and worrying about who gets what accolade, once that happens, as a team, you’re in trouble. That is a cancer to the team, and I realize now that somebody has to step in and stop it.”
Two things: 1) Uh, whoa – I think Singletary just called out some of the greatest players of their era. And 2) Any guesses as to who in the Niners’ universe is likely to be that person who’ll step in and regulate if necessary?
Let’s ask Niners tight end Vernon Davis, who notoriously was sent off the field by Singletary during the coach’s volatile debut game last Oct. 26. Singletary had just been named interim coach to replace the fired Mike Nolan, a week before the Niners’ bye, and Davis did not handle the team’s 34-13 home defeat to the Seattle Seahawks well.
At one point in the third quarter Davis incurred a personal foul penalty, then talked back as the new coach tried to admonish him. Singletary ordered Davis, the sixth overall pick of the ’06 draft, to the locker room for the rest of the game.
The perception since then has been that Davis represents everything that is wrong with the modern athlete, and that his old-school coach is suitably appalled. But either the two men are very good liars – in this case, given Singletary’s integrity and penchant for blunt honesty, not a good bet – or they’re the NFL’s most surprising set of BFFs in some time.
“Singletary’s like my best buddy,” Davis said when I interviewed him during the preseason. “He’s on my side, man. He’s really raising my game to the next level. He’s just being a coach, man … just talking to us like men. Sometimes it’s hard to hear, but he can’t help it if this is how he feels.”
As Davis spoke on a bench outside the locker room, Singletary walked by, put his hand on the player’s shoulder and looked me in the eye. “One day soon,” he said emphatically. “The best.”
The coach walked away, and Davis smiled. “I told you – I like him,” he continued. “He’ll critique you on every play; he watches everything. He’ll definitely call you out, no matter who you are, and that’s what you need in order for your team to be great. Because of him, I’m catching passes I was never able to catch.”
On Thursday, Singletary said of Davis: “I enjoy his heart. He is a tremendous individual with a great work ethic. He’s willing to do anything you ask him to do. When you see a guy with the heart that he has, and you think about his reputation, it’s one of the most unbelievable things in the NFL.”
In fairness, Singletary’s public tirade is one of the main reasons Davis has that reputation. Then again, the man was just a wee bit amped up for his first game as a head coach. Remember, in an effort to underscore his belief that his players were getting their butts kicked, he pulled down his pants at halftime. “I learned a lot after the first game – a lot,” Singletary says. “Looking back now, it’s kind of like a player’s first game. When he first goes in, it’s really fast, man. For me, that day, it was on. After that, it slowed down quite a bit for me, and it slowed down quite quickly. And I just sit back and take it all in stride.”
As for the unconventional visual aid, Singletary laughs and says, “I didn’t think anything of it. I’m sure a lot of people said, ‘He took his pants down? He’s losing his mind.’ I’m sure people had different visuals in their mind about what that really meant.
“My wife knew I had long underwear on. So, it’s like, what is everybody making a big deal for? She said, ‘You didn’t take those down, did you, Mike? I know this – I wouldn’t do it again.”
In his second game, Singletary’s team went on the road to face the Cardinals in a Monday night clash and was in position to pull off the upset until a case of time-mismanagement derailed a potential game-winning drive. That was San Francisco’s sixth consecutive defeat, but the Niners settled down and won five of their last seven, and San Francisco’s owners removed Singletary’s interim tag.
This year, with a pair of coordinators (Jimmy Raye on offense and Greg Manusky on defense) in place who share his emphasis on simplicity and mental toughness and a holdover quarterback, Shaun Hill(notes), who sacrifices flash for a sound, low-risk approach, Singletary is far more comfortable, and closer to fulfilling his vision.
Not surprisingly, most of his players – and especially the veteran leaders – are down with the program.
“Coach Sing has done a tremendous job of getting this team rallied behind him,” eighth-year center Eric Heitmann says. “I think he understands what we go through as players. He’s by far one of the most inspirational coaches I’ve ever heard speak. When you get to the NFL, you feel like you’ve heard it all. But when Coach Sing speaks, it’s almost like you can hear a pin drop. It’s always very meaningful and very applicable.”
Right now, Singletary’s message is an obvious one: Block out the noise, concentrate only on the Vikings and don’t get full of yourselves.
“Some of the guys have been asking me when I’m going to lose my voice,” the coach said Thursday. “It hasn’t happened – yet.”
Somehow, as Singletary flashes back to his missed opportunities from the ’80s, I get the feeling it’s only a matter of time.