49ers fire Mike Singletary

Here’s the newspaper story for Monday’s paper on Mike Singletary’s firing. Wow. What a day:

After the latest sloppy loss in a 5-10 season that began with division-title hopes, 49ers coach Mike Singletary was fired Sunday night shortly after the team’s flight returned home from a 25-17 defeat to the Rams.

Defensive line coach Jim Tomsula, in his fourth season with the team, will serve as interim coach for San Francisco’s regular-season finale against visiting Arizona this Sunday. Tomsula, who led the Rhein Fire in NFL Europe in 2006, is the only assistant on the staff with head-coaching experience. Team president and CEO Jed York and Tomsula will speak at press conference at noon today at the team’s headquarters in Santa Clara.

The 49ers released a statement Sunday night in which Singletary, 52, who had an 18-22 record in two-plus seasons, expressed gratitude for his players and coaches. He also thanked the franchise that gave him his first opportunity to be an NFL head coach.

“One of the greatest experiences of my life was having the opportunity to coach the San Francisco 49ers,” Singletary said. “What made it so special were the players. They were some of the most outstanding men I have ever been around in my life … I am also thankful for the Faithful fans, I am just sorry I couldn’t give them more.”

York had strongly hinted that Singletary’s firing was imminent in a brief interview session with reporters after the 49ers, prohibitive preseason favorites to win the NFC West, had been eliminated from playoff contention by a loss marked by a sideline shouting match between Singletary and quarterback Troy Smith.

York had said “money was no object” when Singletary’s four-year, $10 million contract was mentioned. The Niners will have to pay the remaining two years, about $5 million, on Singletary’s deal.

“Obviously, we didn’t achieve the things we set out to achieve,” York said after the game. “We should be a playoff team. We aren’t a playoff time this year. Very disappointed about that. We need to figure out how we can get into the playoffs and how we can start competing for Super Bowls.”

In the game’s immediate aftermath, York had said he didn’t want to make an emotional decision on Singletary’s future. But it clearly didn’t take too much reflection for him to fire a coach whose fiery temperament, once viewed as an asset, contributed to his undoing.

After posting a 5-4 record as an interim coach in 2008, Singletary, a Hall of Fame middle linebacker with the Chicago Bears, was viewed as a strong leader who commanded respected from his players. He was credited with redirecting the career of underperforming tight end Vernon Davis, who turned into a Pro Bowler under his watch.

But after an 8-8 season in 2009, Singletary lost his way this season.

During the Niners’ 0-5 start, he had a testy interview with KPIX host Dennis O’Donnell, fired his handpicked offensive coordinator, Jimmy Raye, didn’t shake hands with Falcons coach Mike Smith after a loss in Atlanta and shouted at quarterback Alex Smith on the sidelines during a loss to the Eagles.

Beyond his emotions, there were also questions about his offensive philosophy. Singletary, who famously said he wanted his teams to be “physical with an F,” was increasingly viewed as a coach hanging on to a smash-mouth style of offense that had become increasingly outdated in the pass-happy NFL.

In the end, of course, Singletary was undone by the scoreboard. The Niners, expected to win the NFC West, one of the weakest divisions in NFL history, are tied with Arizona in last place at 5-10.

“I want to thank Mike Singletary for the passion and effort that he brought to this organization,” York said in a statement. “He is a tremendous person for whom I will always have great respect.”

Singletary’s firing could be just the beginning of changes for the Niners.

After the game, York said the team will conduct a search for a general manager.

The GM post has been unoccupied since Scot McLoughan was fired in March. According to multiple reports, York will also consider director of player personnel Trent Baalke, who was in charge of a draft that received high marks in April.

Asked a hypothetical question about hiring a new coach after the game, York said he would hire a GM first and the pair would then collaborate on the hiring of a head coach.

“As we go forward,” he said, “that will be something that the general manager and I will discuss together.”

It also appears that quarterback Alex Smith, an unrestricted free agent after the season, could be leaving the team. Smith, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft, has never fulfilled his promise in six seasons in San Francisco. He had an NFL-high 10 turnovers during the 0-5 start and was demoted on two occasions this season. He didn’t start the Niners’ must-win game Sunday.

York said the quarterback position needed to be addressed.

“We can’t get a quarterback until the draft, really,” he said. “(But) is that a need? Yeah, absolutely.”

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