One of the first things that new special teams coordinator Kurt Schottenheimer asked Mike Singletary in their Friday interview was this: "Mike, do we have a return guy?" Singletary's answer: No, but we will.
In a conference call today, Singletary said that finding a return man, particularly a punt returner, "ranks very high" as far as his offseason priorities. In fact, Singletary said that finding a number of players who can return punts will be important for the 49ers this offseason. Allen Rossum, Nate Clements, Arnaz Battle and Brandon Jones all handled punt returns this past season, none of them very well.
Singletary said he had no misgivings that Schottenheimer hasn't coached special teams since 1994. "A good football coach is a good football coach," he said. In fact, Singletary said he thought it was a plus that Schottenheimer has coached defense because the two units -- special teams and defense -- mostly share the same players.
Singletary said he consulted with both Jimmy Raye and Greg Manusky when considering Schottenheimer. The three worked together on the Redkins 2001 staff. Schottenheimer was the defensive coordinator and Manusky worked underneath him as linebackers coach. Manusky also played for Schottenheimer for a season in Kansas City.
Singletary also denied that the botched punt-return reverse in Seattle cost Al Everest his job. "If I was that shallow as a coach, I need to be out of the game." Instead, he said that parting ways with Everest, who was at the end of his contract, involved a personal issue. "It was just something that Al needs to take care of," he said.
Singletary said that at least one team has asked for permission to interview one of his assistants. He declined to reveal which team or which assistant. However, he said that as long as no coaches bolt for other teams, he plans on keeping the rest of the staff in tact. That means he won't hire Mike Nolan, who parted ways today with the Broncos. Singletary said he spoke recently with Nolan but did not know why he's leaving Denver after only one year as defensive coordinator.
As for Schottenheimer ....
He said he felt right at home on a staff that includes Manusky and Raye because they share the same values about football. "I believe this is a team that is going to be very tough and very physical," he said.
To accent that point, he said that returns "were more about the 11 people you have out there." he said he wasn't interested in a jitterbug-style return man who dances around the field. Like Raye in the running game, Schottenheimer said he's "always liked a guy that can find the lane and hit the hole."
Schottenheimer said that when his brother, Marty, was the head coach in Kansas City in 1994, he gave Kurt, the special teams coordinator, permission to retain one player just for special teams. The Chiefs didn't have anyone like that on the team at the time, so Kurt Schottenheimer insisted the Chiefs sign Manusky, who had been recently released by the Vikings. Schottenheimer said Manusky didn't run any faster than he did, but that "he had heart. He was outstanding as a special teams player."
Schottenheimer will be in Orlando this week to coach in the East-West Shrine game. He will be the defensive coordinator. He likely will travel to Mobile, Ala the following week to join the rest of the 49ers staff for the Senior Bowl.
-- Matt Barrows