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November 22, 2008
How to keep the 49ers job (in four easy steps)

Vernon Davis. Trouser-Gate. The fullback flop. Mike Singletary's first month in office has been a roller coaster. What the interim coach needs now is a freight train - steady, uncontroversial, moving in one direction, perhaps into 2009. At the end of the season, his best argument for keeping his job will be continuity. If he can convince the Yorks that the team is heading in the right direction, he will be the coach next year. (The argument worked for Mike Nolan, after all). Of course, that will mean wins - three? four? - over the last six games. Here's more unsolicited advice on how Singletary can turn his audition into a starring role:

1. Win on the Road. Yeah, it's obvious. Four of the 49ers' last six games are on the road. A lot of ink has been spilled on just how bad the 49ers have been as visitors over the last six years. Perhaps Maiocco had the best stat this week when he noted that since Steve Mariucci was ousted the 49ers have won a grand total of three games that began at 10 a.m. Pacific. Three. Consistently losing on the road means either you have a young team or a mentally weak team. The 49ers have been both in recent years.

Singletary is taking an interesting approach to the problem. He's not overthinking it. Asked about his team's road woes this week, he's bristled. He said he doesn't care if games begin at 10 a.m. or 1 p.m. or midnight. The start time is a non-issue. Singletary's attitude seems to be that if you identify something as a problem, it becomes a problem. The strategy is similar to a player who sloughs off a nagging injury. I remember when we spoke to Patrick Willis immediately after he broke his hand last year. He was wearing a cast on the hand but he refused to talk about or even recognize the injury. If he acknowledged it existed, it would affect his play. He didn't and some of his best games in 2007 came with him wearing a club on his hand.

Singletary and the 49ers have four more 10 a.m. starts, beginning tomorrow. If he can win two of them, he'll have a good argument for keeping his job. If he can win three - matching the total of Dennis Erickson and Nolan combined - he'll have a great argument.

2. Play the Youngsters - Singletary already has begun to do this. It makes good sense from a strategy standpoint. After all, the more rookies and first-year players get in the game, the better they'll be next season (Remember: "Continuity" should be his mantra). It's also a wise move politically. Why? Because it makes the GM, who drafted David Baas and Chilo Rachal and Jason Hill, look smart. The GM will be whispering in Jed York's ear at the end of the season. It doesn't hurt to cozy up.

3. Hope like Hill - Singletary has tied himself to quarterback Shaun Hill, which seems like a brilliant move considering last week's game against St. Louis. Hill is smart but self-effacing, which is usually an excellent combination in a leader. He and Singletary also have a similar blue-collar spirit. The two are a good match. But if Hill should falter, that would undermine Singletary, whose first major decision as head coach was giving J.T. O'Sullivan the hook and sending in Hill. Singletary's chances also would be damaged by an injury to Hill. Remember, Hill started only two games last season yet suffered a broken finger and a broken back. Maybe he shouldn't be diving into piles for loose footballs when the outcome is decided.

4. Like Mike. This is a tough relationship to figure out. Every time Singletary opens his mouth about offensive coordinator Mike Martz, you go away with the impression that the two men can't stand each other. Asked directly about this, both insist it's not the case. And perhaps they're still trying to figure each other out. The bottom line is that they need each other.

Singletary is weak where Martz is strong. Singletary is a motivator, a team builder, a unifier. For lack of a better term, he's a "big picture guy." He's not an Xs and Os guy and offense, the 49ers' biggest issue in recent years, is certainly not his forte. Martz, meanwhile, excels in minutia. The 49ers also want to avoid having to find their seventh offensive coordinator in as many seasons. If Singletary's best argument for keeping his job is continuity, then having Martz on board only will amplify that message.

And what of Martz? Singletary's preference for a game-management style of offense runs counter to Martz's high-risk, high-reward mentality. Someone with Martz's experience and Martz's ego also must have a hard time playing under someone as green, coaching-wise, as Singletary. But there's also a sense that the moderation Singletary insists upon is just the medicine Martz needs. Let's face it, the Greatest Show on Turf jumped the shark years ago. The crowd started leaving in 2000 and the auditorium's been emptying out every year since. Martz's signature attack may put up staggering numbers in spurts, but for the last four years those gains have been more than outweighed by turnovers, sacks, quarterback injuries and defenses that spend too much time on the field. If Martz indeed wants to be a head coach again, he must show that he can evolve. He's got a perfect opportunity to do so over the last six games.

-- Matt Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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