Warning: This blog could ruin your weekend.
For many, it might inspire emotions ranging from anger to fear to confusion. Some will be overcome with an unshakable sense of melancholy. In the most extreme cases, readers will shiver in a corner and mumble “but physical is spelled with a P” until there is a new CBA.
OK, still here? Great. Here’s the challenge … pretend Mike Singletary is still the 49ers head coach (you’re fine – remember to breathe).
Now, ask yourself a question. What would Singletary do with Alex Smith? Would he woo him like Jim Harbaugh? Or would he sever ties?
Well, this is not a hypothetical after Singletary appeared on The Herd with Colin Cowherd on ESPN Radio on Friday. During the interview, Cowherd posed this question, referring to Alex Smith: Can he do it? Or do you go another way if you’re the next coach?
Singletary’s response: “I’ll put it this way — I believed in Alex Smith before the season started. I think the most important thing for a guy that has struggled like Alex has — I think the most important thing for him is to get him off to an early start. And our first five games were brutal. And so they were all playoff teams. And so we don’t get off to a good start.
“And when you don’t do that, then maybe Alex begins to look at himself and think ‘Maybe I’m not the guy.’ Maybe some of the players begin to look around and go ‘I thought we had it maybe we’re not.’ I just felt that if we could have got off to a better start then I think the season would have been a whole lot different.”
To summarize Singletary’s version of events: Alex Smith, already a bit fragile due to past struggles, needed to start the season well. He didn’t. And so the Niners didn’t. Alex Smith lost even more confidence. And his teammates lost confidence. And the season went down the tubes.
Singletary obviously lost confidence in Smith, which explains why Troy Smith started the must-win game at St. Louis. What if Alex Smith had started? What if the Niners had won and made the playoffs? What if they had gotten hot and won a few postseason games? What if, as a result, Singletary was retained as the Niners head coach?
Sorry. In fairness, I did warn you this blog might be an emotional minefield.
• It sounds like Singletary believes a quarterback can make or break a season.
How important is the quarterback position in the NFL, Mike?
“I think the way the league has changed the rules, the quarterback is the guy they’ve always surrounded the rules with to make sure that he’s the focal point of every team,” Singletary said. “So with the rules, he is the most important guy on that team. And you have to take the rules that they have given the quarterback to protect him. You can’t hit the receivers after five yards. You can’t really hit the quarterback at any time. So it’s a pretty interesting deal. But you do have to have a quarterback.”
Funny. Singletary, the coach, still views the game from an ex-middle linebacker’s perspective, at least in some respects. He is clearly in the why-don’t-they-just-put-a-dress-on-those-guys camp. That is, he resents the rules favoring quarterbacks (who need to be screamed at on the sideline when they struggle).
Singletary’s response reminded me of what ex-NFL quarterback Oliver Luck, the father of Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, said recently about one of Harbaugh’s strengths as a coach.
Harbaugh, he said, understands that each position, on an emotional level, needs to be coached differently.
Luck said that Harbaugh – perhaps Singletary’s equal in intensity – brought a much-needed “physical, lunch-pail, smack-you-in-the-face attitude” to once pillow-soft Stanford. But Harbaugh, the ex-quarterback, understood that he couldn’t have his quarterback frothing at the mouth.
“I think Jim recognizes that the quarterback position is a little bit different,” Luck said. “Quarterbacks don’t tend to be successful if they have a linebacker mentality. There’s a different emotional level that a quarterback needs that’s maybe similar to what a kicker needs. The safety who’s calling plays maybe needs to think about the game a little more than some other players who tend to react a little bit more. I think Jim’s very good at knowing what buttons to push for which positions.”