Posted by: Ron Loza | December 28, 2010

Is the Coach to Blame? 49ers Coach Mike Singletary Fired

I’ve been watching the San Francisco 49ers since the 1960’s. They’ve had good and bad seasons with a good run in the 1980’s, but most recently they appear to be a franchise with no rudder. Ever since the York family took over the team from Eddie Debartalo, Jr. they’ve had trouble winning. Who is to blame?

Many fans want to blame the coach which is easy because he has the highest profile position. Just like any organization, it takes a lot of people to be successful. The owner must hire a General Manager that knows football. The GM must hire a head coach that knows football strategy, runs a good system, and knows how to work with millionaire athletes. The head coach must hire a coaching staff that can teach, plan for each game, and adapt on-the-fly during a game. Finally, the coaches must hire (draft) the right players for their system. So what’s wrong? Who is failing and why?

I am not an insider by any account but I can observe failure points. As a long time coach I have trained myself to watch games a little differently than the average fan. I’m not always watching the ball but often I am looking elsewhere (as camera angles will allow). I watch to see a play unfold to determine why a play succeeded or failed and I also watch the bench and interaction of the coaches and players.

In addition to seeing poor behavior on the sideline I saw a lot of failure in basic football technique. I’m speaking of technique that should have been taught in high school. Incorrect body positions, holding the ball wrong, and poor blocking position have led to multiple failures including a lot of fumbles and interceptions. Who was responsible to teach these techniques; the high school coaches, the college coaches, or the pro staff? Is it possible that these players were coached correctly but cannot execute the basics because they do not have the ability to learn?

One obvious deficiency this year was uncreative play calling on offense. I’m not talking about flea-flickers or the hook-n-ladder, I’m talking about calling plays that 1) play to the strengths of the players, and 2) keep their opponents guessing as to what was coming next. Who is to blame here? The obvious answer would be the offensive coordinator but would that be correct? Since the ownership changed to the York family the 49ners have gone through 8 offensive coordinators in 7 years. Some of these coordinators have been in the league over 20 years! Did they become stupid?

The answer is no, they haven’t become stupid, the league has changed. Coaches salaries have gone up significantly in the last 7 years and job security has plummeted. Owners (and fans) put so much pressure on the coaches to win (each wants a return on their investment) they’ve lost sight of the fun of the game. This change has become a detriment to the game causing coaches to coach “not to lose” rather than coaching to “win.” There is a distinction here; coaching to “win” means taking chances, trying things good or bad. Coaching “not-to-lose” means never taking chances, play it safe so you can’t be blamed for failure. Never have I seen such a discrepancy between college games and pro games. College football has become far more entertaining to watch.

What about Mike Singletary? Should he have been fired? Yes, but not for the reasons above. In his position of leadership he needed to behave in a professional manner. Whether it was for show, or it was sincere, he should NEVER discipline a player (employee) in public. He did this on several occasions over the last 2 seasons. This is the fastest way to lose respect with your team. I too have had issues with players and no matter how frustrated or angry I felt I waited until the next day to speak with him or her so I had time to calm down and formulate a “teaching” moment not a “disciplinary” moment.

So what is my point? I often speak about leadership and empowering employees. There is no better environment than the world of sports to practice these qualities. To the 49ner ownership (Jed York); hire a great GM and head coach and allow them to succeed. Create a safe environment that allows them to make good decisions and to take chances…play to win. If you are going to push them, push them to take chances, encourage them to bring back the beauty and fun of football!

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