Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

27 Dec 2010

49ers Fire Mike Singletary

The 49ers have fired head coach Mike Singletary, according to David White of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Jason LaCanfora says that Singletary was fired after refusing to resign.

Posted by: Bill Barnwell on 27 Dec 2010

43 comments, Last at 29 Dec 2010, 9:12pm by greybeard


by BigCheese :: Mon, 12/27/2010 - 1:20am

And the Curse of the Mooch continues...

- Alvaro

by The Ninjalectual :: Mon, 12/27/2010 - 6:59pm

Please explain.

by Alexander :: Mon, 12/27/2010 - 1:28am

Not resigning means he gets paid more correct?

by Boots Day :: Mon, 12/27/2010 - 1:48am

Why now? You can't wait a week and have an orderly transition? What's the benefit of switching coaches for a single game?

by MC2 :: Mon, 12/27/2010 - 2:30am

The 49ers brass is from the old school. They believe this: They would rather play with no head coach and let the players call their own plays. Rather than play with a lame duck head coach when they know that right now that coach is not going to be a part of next year's team. It is more about them than it is about next year's team. Cannot play with them. Cannot win with them. Cannot coach with them. Can’t do it.

by proteins (not verified) :: Mon, 12/27/2010 - 5:14am


by Thok :: Mon, 12/27/2010 - 7:28am

The Niners do have a large incentive to lose next week, and little to no incentive to win. Singletary might have the opposite point of view.

by RickD :: Mon, 12/27/2010 - 3:50pm

They're not going to get the #1 pick regardless. They're going to end up in the part of the draft where the picks are expensive, but the difference between a spot or two isn't necessarily noteworthy.
The incentive to win would be that whoever they sign will be cheaper.

by t.d. :: Mon, 12/27/2010 - 4:36pm

That's just wrong. The Thaler-Massey article has been debunked

by chemical burn :: Mon, 12/27/2010 - 5:35pm

Is debunked the right word? That seems to imply that there was falsified material in their work. Hasn't it just been disproven? (or more, likely, convincingly disputed) Or are there more shenanigans going on with it than that?

by tuluse :: Mon, 12/27/2010 - 7:18pm

Well it's more that they proved something that doesn't exist.

If you don't take roster sizes into a account, your work isn't very helpful.

6 Rex Grossmans does not equal one Peyton Manning.

by Thok :: Mon, 12/27/2010 - 6:33pm

Except that a win could reasonably cost the Niners five or six spots in the draft. There are a lot of teams with 5 wins, and a loss keeps the Niners ahead of all of them (and they'd "win" tiebreaks if any of the 4-11 teams pulled off a last week upset.)

If say, the 49ers desperately want to draft a QB, a loss gives them more flexibility to choose the one they like.

by MJK :: Mon, 12/27/2010 - 1:51am

It lets the Yorks feel more macho?

by Jerry :: Mon, 12/27/2010 - 1:57am

"Your local news starts now!"

by Zilla (not verified) :: Mon, 12/27/2010 - 2:23am

What do you think the chances are that Troy Smith went to the organization after the game and said "Him or me". They might have just been acting accordingly.

by Southern Philly :: Mon, 12/27/2010 - 2:32am

Zero. Jed York said before the game that they would hire a GM, who would then hire a new coach. So Singletary was gone win or lose, but the blow up with Smith seems to have moved the axe to fall today and not after week 17.

by Trey Smoth (not verified) :: Mon, 12/27/2010 - 3:03am

Borderline QBs with vague to little upside don't really have that kind of clout.

by DavidL :: Mon, 12/27/2010 - 8:13am

On the post-2005 Niners, "Borderline QBs with vague to little upside" might as well be Joe Montana.

by dryheat :: Mon, 12/27/2010 - 10:23am

I stand by my contention that with Shaun Hill at QB, this team wins the division....fairly handily.

by CoachDave :: Mon, 12/27/2010 - 11:50am

100% agree with you.

by navin :: Mon, 12/27/2010 - 4:36pm

SF would have won the division if they hadn't benched Alex Smith. Troy was terrible in the losses to Tampa and Saint Louis. Alex was serviceable against against bad teams like the Raiders and Seahawks. He even played well enough to win against New Orleans, Atlanta, and Philadelphia. Troy's wins were against: Denver (27th DVOA), Arizona (32nd DVOA), and Saint Louis (28th DVOA) and he still played poorly in all three.

by greybeard :: Mon, 12/27/2010 - 7:57pm

I very much doubt it.

I think QB play was probably #5 or 6 on the list of things that went wrong.

It is not easy to win whoever your quarterback is, when the coaching staff is outcoached every week, when your offense is very predictive with a run first motto but cannot run, a right tackle that so far looks like Kwame Harris vers 2.0, a right guard that is cover your eyes awful, with a secondary not only poor but stupid (Nate Clements in Atlanta and STL), and a head coach that is a head case.

It was so easy to blame Alex Smith for all the things that were wrong for 49ers. He was an excellent scapegoat because his previous lack of success.

On the other hand, I would say keep Alex Smith as the QB and have any of the other coaches in the NFS West as the head coach of 49ers, they would have won 10 games this year.

by MC2 :: Mon, 12/27/2010 - 11:55pm

I've never been a big fan of Singletary (as a coach). In fact, if you said he was the worst coach in the league, I wouldn't really argue with you.

Having said that, I think you greatly overestimate the effect of coaching. If Belichick (or whoever) was the coach of this team, assuming they had the same personnel, I doubt they'd be any better than 7-8 right now. In college, a great coach can work miracles. In the NFL, no matter how good the coach is, you have to have a minimum amount of talent (especially at key positions, like QB) to have a realistic chance to win.

by greybeard :: Tue, 12/28/2010 - 1:08am

Maybe I am overestimating the talent 49ers have. IMO they are very talented in defensive front, running back, TE would have been mediocre OL if they had played Snyder as RG and Sims as RT, and have mediocre WR and QB talent. The secondary is awful.
I said 10 wins because they play in NFC West and they have more talent than all other teams in that division and they played against teams like Carolina, Denver, and Oakland.
Either way, regardless of how many games they could have won with a better coach, they had much bigger issues on secondary, OL and specially in their offensive schemes than QB play.

by MC2 :: Tue, 12/28/2010 - 1:56am

I agree with most of your analysis, particularly the problems with the secondary and the O-line, but I would place more of the blame for the passing game's struggles on the QB(s), rather than the receivers. While they don't really have a true #1 WR, they do have a great TE who is capable of functioning like a #1 WR (much like Gates does for the Chargers). They also have a good young WR in Crabtree, who has managed to put up decent numbers despite being hampered by subpar QB play. Even Morgan is far from the worst #2 WR in the league. So, the receiving corps is not that bad.

Where I think you're wrong is in your defense of Alex Smith, who has had many opportunities to prove himself, but has never been able to consistently deliver even an average level of performance. In fact, according to FO's stats (which are certainly not perfect, but probably better than the conventional stats like QB rating), Alex was actually worse than Troy this year. However, to be clear, I'm not saying Troy is the answer, either. The fact is that this team desperately needs to find a real live NFL starting QB, and they can't do that as long as they keep clinging to this delusion that either Smith is anything more than a decent backup.

by greybeard :: Tue, 12/28/2010 - 3:02am

Just a clarification, I did not put the blame on the passing game to WRs. Though I think Crabtree was quite bad the first few weeks, overall the WRs were very serviceable. I put the blame in this order: coaching (for both play calling and not using the best OL personnel, and trading Hill to Detroit and signing Carr and not going back to Alex Smith after Tampa game), the OL, and then QB/WR.

I don't really care what FO stats says about Alex and Troy Smith. FO stats for teams are somewhat valuable. For players I do not care much about them. But even you should not really care about when it comes to comparing Smiths. The sample set for Troy is much smaller (and I bet if you change the extremely lucky Walker catch in Denver game to interception or wait for the stats to come out this week, Troy will be behind in DVOA and he is already behing in passer rating).

I watched all 49ers games, and there is day and night difference between Troy and Alex Smith. Troy is a true 40% completed passes QB. After years of bad QB play, 49 fans are fed up with Alex Smith so all his errors are exaggerated and his good plays are undervalued. For example after hearing for years how Alex cannot lead his receives to YAC because he throws behind them, after the Seattle game people were all over the place because most yards came after the catch. I think Alex Smith played very good this year under the circumstances he was put. He has been a good QB the last 1.5 years. A smarter coach would have played more no-huddle, more shotgun (actually pistol with him and Gore), designated roll outs (which he did very successfully under Norv), option play a la Garrard once in while.

I think even Singletary would have more success had he called a pass on first down once in a while or not go chew-the-clock-down plays after a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. The best offensive play calling 49ers had this year was Saint game and Smith played very well.

I do agree with you that it is best for 49ers and Alex Smith to part their ways. I think they should do whatever necessary and draft Luck if he is in the draft this year. They should also try to bring Clements back at a lower salary as a strong safety. And then get a good free safety and CB and demote Spencer to #2CB. They should also sign one of the serviceable free agent LT as an RT. But before all of that, they should hire a coach who is good. That would bring the biggest bang for the buck.

by MC2 :: Tue, 12/28/2010 - 4:01am

Again, I agree with a lot of what you have to say, especially about how stupid it was to replace Hill with Carr. However, when it comes to Alex Smith, I guess we'll have to agree to disagree. I live in Georgia (and I can't afford Sunday Ticket), so I only get to see the 49ers play a couple of times a year, but I haven't seen anything this year that makes me think there's any hope of him ever turning into a legitimate NFL starting QB, let alone that he is one now.

I'm not really interested in debating whether Alex or Troy is better, because my main point is that neither of them is anywhere near good enough. You say that people are too quick to criticize Alex, but I think the truth is just the opposite. He (along with the other 49ers QBs in the post-Garcia era) have set the bar so low that anything better than terrible is considered to be reason for optimism. As long as Alex avoids single-handedly losing the game, people say "Oh, see, he's turning into a good game manager."

But, while there are a few historical examples of "game manager" types winning Super Bowls, those are the exception, not the rule, and they should not be used as templates for building a contending team. Particularly in today's pass-happy league, you need more than a "game manager" who avoids mistakes. You need a guy who is capable of actually making big plays on a consistent basis. In other words, you need to be able to win games because of your QB's play, rather than in spite of it. Until the 49ers find a guy like that, they'll always struggle to keep their head above water, no matter who the coach is.

by zenbitz :: Tue, 12/28/2010 - 4:36pm

Alex makes pretty good decisions. He is not immobile in the pocket (gets sacked less than other 49ers backups). His arm strength seems average. I don't think his release is particularly noteworthy... but I am no QB scout.

His accuracy stinks. He consistently puts the ball high (leading to tipped INTs) or away from the best place for it to be caught for a good YAC. He occasionally hits a receiver in stride. The combination of his lack of accuracy, porous pass blocking and mediocre run game is why the 49ers offense is terrible.

Troy Smith has better skills - but no pass rush sense and makes poor decisions, often forcing passes into converage. He is allegedly a good runner, but never seems to integrate it with the passing game. He has a good arm.

by greybeard :: Tue, 12/28/2010 - 6:27pm

I think Alex has good accuracy in medium range, and average in long passes, but he cannot throw a good behind the LOS pass or screen. I am not sure why he cannot be coached to fix that.

I think he does put the ball high at times but I don't think he consistently does that. The tipped interceptions was specific to this year and only early on and it was mostly Gore and Crabtree tipping them high, both of which do that with other QBs as well. I agree he does not lead his receivers well.

I don't think Troy Smith has better skills. He is certainly not accurate at all, not just relative to Alex Smith. But he has faster release than Alex Smith and has much stronger arm than him. He pass rush sense may improve with experience (especially when he gets the experience about the limits of his own skills that will help him a lot), his decision making also may improve as he gains experience and stays in a system long enough. I am not sure if he ever will be a good QB, but for now he is not even close.

by MJK :: Tue, 12/28/2010 - 1:38am

Disagree. I think you're overestimating the effect of (raw) talent, and underestimating the effect of coaching. If Belichick was the coach of the 49ers, assuming he had a year to whip the same personnell into shape, I think they're a 10 win team.

Remember, coaches do a lot more than screw up clock management at the end of the game and decide not to go for it on 4th and 1. They, you know, coach. 95% of their job occurs between Monday lunchtime and Sunday morning.

Since you brought up Belichick, look at the Patriots. What elite talent do they have? Brady, sure. Who else on offense? Logan Mankins, maybe. Wes Welker, yes. Beyond that? Two rookie TE's, an undrafted player and a castoff at RB, an underwhelming receiver traded from Seattle, and an offensive line made from spare parts other than LG. On defense? Wilfork and maybe Mayo are stars, and McCourty is becoming one. The safeties are probably above average, but not elite. And everyone else is spare parts.

By raw talent, the 49ers have more (except, obvioulsy, at QB). And they play in a way weaker division that faced a much easier schedule this year.

But here's the thing...the talent level is so good across the board in the NFL (literally the best of the best of the best), that bad discipline, bad technique, and bad preparation can make all but the most talented players in the league play more poorly that a well coached, well-prepared street free agent. On the other hand, if your entire team is only average, but is extremely well disciplined, well prepared, and does their job, you're going to be in every game and go 8-8 at least, and then all you need is to put your talented guys (Smith, Willis, Gore, Davis, Staley, maybe Crabtree) in a position to shine and get you those other couple of wins to get up to 10-6.

Yes, to go far in the playoffs you need talent AND good coaching (or a lot of luck), but I think the main difference between a team like the Patriots (or the Eagles, or Steelers, or Chiefs, etc.) and the 49ers is that their coaching has been downright horrible for the last 10 years.

by MC2 :: Tue, 12/28/2010 - 2:07am

A HOF QB goes a long way. There's a reason why the Colts didn't skip a beat even after they lost a great coach and replaced him with a guy with no head coaching experience whatsoever. Put Brady or Manning on the 49ers (with Singletary or whoever as coach) and with their schedule, they go at least 10-6 (maybe 12-4).

If coaching is so important, how do you explain all the coaches who have been great with one team, then gone to another team and fallen flat on their face? That's something that rarely happens with good players, but it happens with good coaches all the time.

by Andrew Potter :: Tue, 12/28/2010 - 4:04am

How do you think a HOF QB becomes a HOF QB if not in very large part due to coaching?

Tom Brady sure didn't exit Michigan with everybody talking about him as a future Hall of Fame entry.

by MC2 :: Tue, 12/28/2010 - 5:07am

Brady was pretty clearly a case of inaccurate scouting. In particular, he had certain intangibles (such as his now legendary work ethic) that enabled him to be a lot better than anyone had projected. Surely you're not asserting that Charlie Weis has the ability to take any old 6th round pick and "coach him up" to a HOF level.

Besides, even if a QB's development is "in very large part due to coaching", that in no way refutes my claim that simply replacing Singletary with a better coach wouldn't have significantly improved the 49ers' record this year.

Put simply, Alex Smith is too old a dog to learn new tricks. Has there ever been a QB who has been as bad as he has for as long as he has who has then been "coached up" to being a legitimate NFL starting QB?

by MJK :: Tue, 12/28/2010 - 1:06pm

To be absolutely clear, when I listed "Smith" as a talented 49er, I meant Justin Smith. (Too many Smiths on this team).

I disagree that Brady was merely a case of inaccurate scouting. I have followed the Patriots closely since 1995, and have seen about 90% of the games Brady has played. In 2001 he was a decent QB about as good as Kyle Orton--above replacement level, but not a star by any measure in spite of the SB win. In 2002 and 2003 he was better...but not elite. In these years he succeeded mainly because the Patriots (especially Weis) designed an offense that played to his strengths and minimized his weaknesses (and because the Patriots had an elite defense). In 2004 (the year Josh McDaniels became QB coach), Brady took steps and became elite. But he was trained to that state by Weis, McDaniels, and Belichick. I am absolutely certain that if Brady had wound up in a place with an unstable or inept OC or HC, like Oakland or SF (interestingly, he very nearly did go to SF), he would not have developed into the QB he is today.

Manning, I will agree, was pretty close to elite from Day 1, and it would have taken some pretty horrible coaching to spoil him. He probably would have succeeded anywhere other than Oakland.

I guess I agree that if you took Brady or Manning NOW and dropped them onto the 49ers, then the Niners suddenly become at least a 10 win team, regardless of coach. Similary, Barry Switzer managed to take the talent-laden Cowboys to the SB despite his less than amazing coaching abilities. Pete Carroll took the 1997 Patriots well into the playoffs when he inherited a talent-laden, well coached team from Bill Parcells (and then promptly allowed the late 90's Patriots to fall apart into the worst team in the league over the next three years). However, this isn't really a fair comparison. In all these cases, the team that is doing well under a poor coach is benefitting from past good coaching. Just as fans don't see 90% of what a coach does, they (and owners, for that matter) also don't usually realize that the effects of a good (or bad) coach take about half a year to a year to manifest. That's why all this talk about interim coach's success this year is kind of silly.

However, I'd bet if Belichick or Cowher or someone like that had taken over the Niners last year instead of Singletary, they'd be a 10+ win team this year even with the exact same personnel.

by greybeard :: Tue, 12/28/2010 - 6:14pm

Maybe I am delusional, but I think for 49ers to win 10 games this year neither Bellichick nor Cowher was needed. All they needed was to keep Mike Martz as OC, and have Singletary continue keeping him in check with regards to keeping running game going just like he did in 08. I believe had they done that they would have gone to play-offs the last two years.

I find it very hard to believe Brady was merely a case of inaccurate scouting. 32 GMs, head coaches and other scouting people thought there were 198 better players than him, Pioli said that they were undecided between Tim Rattay and Brady. IMO had 49ers drafted him he would had no better career the Ken Dorsey.

by MC2 :: Wed, 12/29/2010 - 7:00am

I have to disagree with the comparison of Brady to Ken Dorsey. Brady's footwork and arm strength are both light years ahead of Dorsey. As I said in my reply to the previous post, coaching certainly played some role in Brady's development, but I find it hard to believe that a player with his combination of physical skills and work ethic wouldn't have eventually developed into at least a Pro Bowl caliber QB, no matter what team had drafted him (with the possible exception of a true train wreck organization, like the Millen-era Lions).

by greybeard :: Wed, 12/29/2010 - 9:12pm

I was not really comparing Brady to Ken Dorsey. It was a commentary on 49ers coaching staff since 2003. Brady could have become in a lot of teams in the NFL but not with head coaches like Ericson, Nolan and Singletary.

by MC2 :: Wed, 12/29/2010 - 6:54am

I agree with you about Brady not being elite in his early years, and I didn't mean to imply that coaching played no role in his development (although I think that his ability and willingness to accept coaching also played a large role). I just disagree with the idea that a new coach can come in and "fix" veteran players (like Alex Smith) who have already developed poorly, for whatever reason (be it poor coaching or a lack of natural talent, or whatever).

Also, if a great coach can come in and turn around a bad team without changing the personnel, why is it that new coaches almost always start by "cleaning house"? Take Bill Parcells. I'm not as big a Parcells guy as some people, but he is one of the few coaches who has been able to quickly turn around multiple bad teams. The first thing he does when he takes over a new team is to overhaul the roster and bring in some of "his guys", which I think is a major key to his success.

by zenbitz :: Tue, 12/28/2010 - 4:38pm

By raw talent, the 49ers have more (except, obvioulsy, at QB).

How do you measure raw talent?

by BucNasty :: Mon, 12/27/2010 - 8:30am

Are they gonna interview him for the new gig as part of the Rooney Rule?

by andrew :: Mon, 12/27/2010 - 8:31am

Gonna take a stab in the dark: Marc Trestman.

by Theo :: Mon, 12/27/2010 - 10:38am

Now that's a coach who was fired with enthusiasm.

by JonFrum :: Mon, 12/27/2010 - 7:15pm

He did predict his own future with uncanny accuracy:

"I can't do it... just can't do it!"