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The Biggest Problem For The 49ers
Authored by Erick Arnold - 6th November, 2010 - 8:12 pm

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The San Francisco 49ers had playoff expectations at the beginning of the 2010 season, but they sit at 2-6 at the halfway point. The blame has primarily fallen on starting quarterback Alex Smith, former offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye (fired after Week 3), and Head Coach Mike Singletary. But the real reason the 49ers are losing is because there is tension between the players and their coach ?the type of tension an employee feels when they think their boss is doing things wrong and/or seems out of touch.

As a player, Mike Singletary was as feared as he was good. Every football fan and current player knows who he is and has seen the highlights of the leader of the 1985 Bears defense. Those same eyes and demeanor can make the average person feel as tough as a mouse. According to the sources close to the team, there is a similar type of fear for Singletary that permeates the 49er locker room. Enough so in fact, that the team?s play has been paralyzed this season. Unintentionally or otherwise, the overall demeanor of Singletary makes him unapproachable to his players ?even the star players- especially when the coach is wrong, as he has frequently been this season. So wrong, in fact, that even when a game plan is obviously ineffective to the entire team, nobody on the team has the courage to tell coach Singletary and his staff what?s happening on the field.

To best describe the real issue the 49ers are having calling plays, John Madden once said about player to coach communication, ?I liked it when the players would say, ?This is what we want to do?. Rather than a play being sent in by the coaches and the players saying, ?This is the play they want us to run?. When you put they on it it?s like (the players) aren?t responsible for it.?

San Francisco?s players appear to play unmotivated and unprepared for situational football- almost as though they?re simply going through the motions.

Hall of Fame players that try their hand in coaching is nothing new to sports. Wayne Gretzky and Isiah Thomas were two of the most high-profile players in their respective sports to become head coaches but neither fared very well (Thomas? record as Head Coach of the Indian Pacers and New York Knicks: 187-223, Gretzky?s record as Head Coach of the Phoenix Coyotes: 143-161-24). The same reason Vernon Davis has thrived under coach Singletary (and played terribly for Mike Nolan for that matter) is because Singletary was a great player. Similarly, Singletary?s failure as a head coach is identical to Gretzky?s and Thomas? in large part to the fact that neither of them can relate to the average player mainly because they weren?t average players themselves.

Now compare this to what?s happening with the 49ers and it becomes apparently that the same reason the team improved last season is the same reason they are failing in 2010. The players rallied behind someone they believed in last season ? the legendary player- but now they?re afraid to tell him things need to change in order to take the next step. After all, what player would or could tell a Hall of Fame player that they?re wrong?

One source very close to the team recalled a current player?s experiences with other NFL teams. According to the source, on the last team he played for their star quarterback (a future Hall of Fame quarterback at that) would either ?advise? the coaching staff on how to improve their strategy for the upcoming opponent or even wait until coaches left the meeting room after Tuesday?s meetings to inform the team of how he would audible out of the plays he and the team didn?t agree with to ensure victory. Unfortunately for the 49ers, they don?t have a star quarterback ? or any player on the team for that matter ? whose opinion is valued and respected so highly that they can offer input into team strategy.

Thus, the situation described is no different than what the majority of the working population has also experienced in a situation when we?ve hated our jobs but dare not speak up to fix the issues in fear of losing your job. For those of us that have had this awful work environment in our lives, ask yourself this- how did that situation turn out? Generally speaking, either something dramatically changed to your work environment (like a new rule or new structural change) or, you left to go work elsewhere or, you stayed and did the best you could all the while being miserable.

As far as the 49ers are concerned, their current situation speaks to the two latter outcomes. It?s extremely rare, in any field of work, when an employee simply quits without having another job lined up. However, the 2010 49ers have three such cases in DE Kentwan Balmer, RB Glen Coffee, and S Michael Lewis, where two quit during training camp and the latter left after Week 4 ? all with nothing guaranteed.

So how about the rest of the team who are going through the motions and simply is collecting a paycheck? According to sources close to the team, the team is and has been upset and frustrated for a long time now. The team truly believes they have the talent and drive to win games, but feel they will continue to lose unless communication with Singletary improves.

There is however, strength in numbers and according to sources the 49ers had a ?Players Only? meeting last week to discuss how to confront their head coach and discuss the prospect of open communication and/or changing the game plan at halftime if it was ineffective. Apparently, this confrontation was to happen in London before the International game against the Broncos. Whether the 49ers winning that game is any confirmation that the confrontation between locker room and head coach actually happened is anyone?s guess but if it is, the 49ers may not only justify their preseason expectations but have improved their workplace as well.