Article Title: Lingering questions still exist.
The 2008 San Francisco 49ers ended their season with a dramatic finish in front of their home crowd this past December against the Washington Redskins 27-24, and ended their season with an exclamation point with a (7-9) record under Mike Singletary.
The entire season following Mike Nolan’s departure in October was one of hope, optimism and reinvention in my opinion. No one assistant coach other than our Mike Singletary could have pulled off what he did with the morale of the team at a season low and literally saved it from a cardiac arrest.
His old fashioned approach and steel like demeanor on the field and within the locker room compelled the players to reach for new strengths and exercise the penned-up aggression that had been regulated under Mike Nolan.
Singletary injected simplicity back into the defense and the offense with granting defensive coordinator Greg Manusky autonomy to run it with the basic 3-4 alignment scheme in mind. Mike then exerted his influence over then offensive coordinator Mike Martz by insisting that the team run the ball more and change the tempo to fit a more of a hybrid West-Coast type scheme.
So we begin the first year of the Mike Singletary regime. It will be a season that is filled with immense optimism as we look ahead with immediate accomplishments achieved from the remnants of 2008; the new 49ers are poised to breakout and challenge the emboldened Arizona Cardinals for the rights of this division.
Saying goodbye to Mike Martz was a little interesting two days following the end of the 49er regular season. If at all anything he did improve the offense immensely as it ranked dead last in every conceivable statistical category the year before. The 49ers averaged nearly 74 yards more net per game, improved from being last in passing yardage to 18th and increased their scoring by 120 points over the previous season.
So the search began with Mike Singletary indicating that although Mike Martz was an exceptional offensive coordinator, he didn’t share the same philosophies and vision to be more intoned smash-mouth physicality he was enamored with. As you witnessed during the season the changing of the quarterback from J.T O’Sullivan at Singletary’s request to Shaun Hill indicated the sudden shift in this renowned philosophy. Out with Martz, Singletary also let go running backs coach Tony Nathan and quarterback’s coach Ted Tollner.
Mike was determined to set the tone for a refreshing look on offense that complimented his mindset. He started that with hiring former Super Bowl 49er alumni fullback Tom Rathman as our new running backs coach a position he held earlier in San Francisco under then head coach Steve Mariucci. In (1998-99), Rathman had the 49ers leading the NFL in rushing and finished second in 2001 and two other top-(eight) finishes.
Tom was just cleaning out his desk as an Oakland Raider coach when he got the call and accepted. I couldn’t agree more on this pick as our new running backs coach and possibly even as a coordinator someday down the road. This is a professional player turned legendary coach that has a long consistent history of success. His articulate record as being both for the 49ers indicates that it will continue and he will bring about a positive influence on our main offensive weapon in Frank Gore.
Mike Singletary continues to add to his staff in a peculiar move that involved his nephew as Vantz Singletary was hired as the new inside linebacker’s coach, which moves Jason Tarver over to coach the outside linebackers. In effect his nephew assumes Mike’s old position while he assisted Mike Nolan. Vantz has been a successful collegiate coach over the past 17 seasons and helped lead Buffalo to it’s first ever bowl appearance and a 2008 Mid-American Conference, now he has hopes of making the transition to the NFL.
Former teammate of Mike Singletary, Al Harris was also added. Harris was once a defensive lineman who co-stared with Singletary on the Chicago Bears and now has the title of pass rush specialist coach. This will be his first debut as a coach, and Mike believes his teaching and mentoring abilities will add spice to our beleaguered pass rush.
The quest for the right offensive coordinator seemed like it would go on forever. What started with former St. Louis Rams head coach Scott Linehan turning down the offer after a series of interviews fueled even more hype when others were considered. From the failure to land Linehan, the 49ers gave interviews and interest to Dan Reeves, Rob Chudzinski, Rick Dennison, Hue Jackson, Clyde Christenson and finally Jeff Jagodzinski.
So what turned out to be something Singletary wanted done within a week turned into a month. The process began to look like the 49ers were settling for anyone that appeared out of the bargain basement. It was as if the candidates were reluctant to sign on to a team with such a troubled history and even more of a franchise now under the supervision of a very young executive in Jed York. When all the dust had settled the announcement of the hiring of Jimmy Raye reached the NFL Network and beyond.
The San Francisco 49ers made a three-year deal with the former New York Jets running backs coach to be the trigger man on our impoverished offense. The 62-year old well traveled coach has been within the framework of this great league for 32 years, having been an assistant with the 49ers way back in 1977. He has been employed among 10 different teams, in various coaching positions, including 11 seasons as an offensive coordinator for six of those teams. The most recent coordinator position was with the Oakland Raiders under our very own Norv Turner in 2004-05.
He strikes a balance in Mike Singletary’s mind. He is someone that is always thinking about running the ball and allowing it to help set up the pass. Some are critical of Raye as not being an upgrade over the fired Mike Martz and have even made predictions that their decision to do so would cost them dearly. Raye does not share the same successes as Martz has had and has never coached an offense that ranked even in the top 10, suggesting that we may see an offense on the scale of Jim Hostler all over again?
Even in his most recent tenure as an offensive coordinator with the Oakland Raiders he was not allowed to call the plays because of Norv Turner wearing the headset. Had the 49ers wanted experience why not just settle with Ted Tollner as your offensive coordinator? Be it anything Singletary is under the impression that Jimmy Raye is a duplicate of his ideologies and principles of power running football.
Surely Mike Singletary comes from a time where defense wins Super Bowls and he is assembling a staff that is tutored in that direction. Having hired two personal assistants already and looking at reconfiguring an offense that stresses on time of possession in moving the chains in a methodical manner.
Can we afford to be just one-dimensional as some within the NFL are thinking we are moving towards? With a passing attack far improved over 2007, we have young talent abundant in making big plays and finishing games with high-scoring. Jimmy Raye is a coach mired in relative mediocrity as he hasn’t led anything that can be labeled as electrifying on offense.
Mike Johnson was hired as the new quarterback’s coach, having served as the Baltimore Ravens wide receiver’s coach from 2006-07.Prior to that he was the quarterback’s coach in Atlanta for three years and coached the likes of Michael Vick and has even called the offensive plays from time to time there. Prior to that quarterback’s coach to the San Diego Chargers where he coached Doug Flutie. A positive pick on Singletary’s part in my opinion and one that is going to help sort the differences between Shaun Hill and Alex Smith once and for all.
Still lingering questions abound as to how the 49ers will remain a constant threat on offense with someone that has lots of experience but not quite enough championships and top rated rankings to talk about of. Jimmy Raye is a coach full of personal convictions and beliefs like Mike Singletary is, but is that enough to make us competitive within our division against juggernauts like Arizona and Seattle?
The endless carousel that has been this coordinator position needs to come to a stop. We have to find someone that is creative, definitive and sharp. Jimmy Raye has many years of expertise and knowledge of concepts and schemes. Is he the man that strikes that perfect balance though? And if he can’t do that on more than an occasion can he shift gears in mid-form and keep the pressure on with third down conversion successes. We will have to wait and see.
Sources of Information: Mercury News.com, SF Gate.com, Inside Bay Area.com, NFL.com and my own personal analysis and opinion.