49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

October 21, 2008
Enter the Samurai

What's next for the 49ers? At noon today, they will hold a press conference announcing Mike Singletary as their interim head coach. The 49ers, of course, hope to get a bump in momentum out of this mid-season coaching change similar to the one currently being enjoyed by the Raiders and Rams. And "Samurai Mike" Singletary is an excellent choice for that bump. The man is inspiration personified. He's an author of three books, he's a motivational speaker and was hired by Nolan because Nolan was bowled by the command Singletary - deep, measured voice, cerebral -- had whenever he opened his mouth. Singletary is the type of guy who sends chills down your spine when he speaks. And for a team still searching for an identity, one that frankly needs a collective slap in the face, Singletary is an inspired choice.

What I also expect to hear at noon today is a pledge to shed the "Umbrella of Caution" (tm) that has suffocated this team in recent years, most recently on defense. I remember watching defensive coordinator Greg Manusky when he played for the Washington Redskins. He was the team's wedge buster, a fu manchu-wearing missile who threw his body at opposing teams with reckless abandon. Which is to say, I don't believe he's a cautious man by nature. It will be interesting to see what he does when he has carte blanche to run the defense.

But I'm also skeptical whether the 49ers will get more than a short bump from their latest moves. Yes, Singletary and Manusky will ramp up the risk factor on defense. But it still won't mask the fact that the 49ers have few playmakers on that unit and few who can rush the passer. Nolan and Scot McCloughan have assembled a unit that resembles a Ford F150; it's unrealistic to think that it will perform like a Ferrari.

And nothing is bound to change on offense, which has quickly become the most self-destructive unit in the league. Firing George Warhop was a necessary move and one that was about to happen after last season when Martz called with a last-minute stay of execution. The 49ers' offensive line was horrid in 2007 and was responsible for ruining Alex Smith's season and perhaps his career. This year the offensive line leads the league in sacks allowed - 29 - and is on pace to smash its own franchise record from a year ago with 66 sacks.

But it seems that Martz, not Warhop, deserves the blame. Martz's offenses always allow a lot of sacks because they require the quarterback to take such deep drops and to hold onto the ball. Martz's "sacks allowed" statistic has been steadily growing since his heyday with the Rams. Defensive ends have sometimes beaten a 49ers' offensive lineman to get to J.T. O'Sullivan this season. But the majority of the sacks have come when O'Sullivan has nowhere to throw and the defense eventually collapses on him.

One of the lessons from the Mike Nolan regime is that the head coach must at least have some working knowledge of offense. This, to me, was Nolan's biggest shortcoming, one that was evident in the players he drafted, the coaches he hired and the string of oddball decisions he made on game days. The 49ers on Monday had an offensive-minded option with head-coaching experience. But it doesn't seem like the Yorks felt Martz was the answer. (Or maybe they made him an offer and Martz decided it was a no-win situation and declined). Like Nolan, Singletary has no background in offense. Which is why the new interim head coach will end up being an interim solution.

-- Matt Barrows

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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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