The Singletary-Walsh connection

In August 2007, a few days after the death of Bill Walsh, I spoke to Mike Singletary. I asked the Hall-of-Fame player about the Hall-of-Fame coach. What follows is the article I wrote for The Press Democrat.

Originally printed: Aug. 5, 2007


By Matt Maiocco



SANTA CLARA — During their Hall-of-Fame careers, linebacker Mike Singletary and coach Bill Walsh were on different sides of one the best football rivalries of the 1980s.


When Singletary, formerly of the Chicago Bears, became an assistant coach in 2003 with the Baltimore Ravens, the legendary 49ers coach was among the first people he sought for advice.

“I was fascinated with Bill‘s willingness to talk with me,” said Singletary, 48, now the 49ers’ assistant head coach. “Every time I called him, he would take my call. I’d fly from Chicago — I’d fly from wherever I was — and sit down with him for two hours and then fly back home.”


Walsh, who died Monday of leukemia at 75, left an impressive legacy of coaches who came under his tutelage. Singletary considers Walsh one of his mentors.


“I got more notes from Bill Walsh than any coach in the league,” Singletary said. “It was like a kid sitting down and listening. He was the teacher and I was the student.”


He said he yearned to know the reasons Walsh did certain things. He wanted to learn the history of Walsh‘s offensive system; he wanted to understand why he scaled back the amount of contact in practices; and he even wanted to know why he created a staff position for sociologist Dr. Harry Edwards.


“He broke down all those different things and told me, `This is what you need to do as a head coach,’ ” Singletary said.


They met once or twice a year the past four years, Singletary said, and spoke with each other countless times.


“I wrote out everything he said. He would say, `Write this down.’ But I wrote everything down. And then I’d have my wife or my daughters type it up. I have pages and pages of notes from him,” Singletary said. 


Singletary interviewed for head-coaching openings this year with the Falcons, Cowboys and Chargers. He interviewed for the Lions’ job in 2005. When Singletary gets his chance — he is expected to be a hot candidate again after this season — he said he will be a better coach because he did not get one of those jobs.


“I’m very, very thankful that I did not get hired, because I wasn’t ready,” Singletary said.


He has contacted coaches on both sides of the ball and pieced together a tentative staff he can tout at interviews.


“The best thing I’ve done is on the offensive side of the ball, where I have a blind spot,” Singletary said. “I’ll have a tremendous offensive staff. The staff I’ve put together will be very impressive.”


The learning continues for Singletary. He spoke with Dick Vermeil this offseason. He has also taken copious notes from basketball icon John Wooden, as well as such disparate football coaches as Mike Ditka and Pete Carroll.


In June, Singletary flew to Las Vegas to spend 45 minutes with his former defensive coordinator, Buddy Ryan, 73, who had a free evening while visiting from Kentucky.


“I had some questions I needed to ask,” Singletary said. “I wanted to know about things we did and things he did. There were some things that were a little gray, and I had to clarify them.”


That breadth of knowledge will make Singletary a stronger candidate, he believes. In the meantime, he is taking to heart what Walsh told him.


“One of the biggest things he said to me was, `When it’s time, it’ll happen,”’ Singletary said. “You don’t sit around wondering why it’s not happening, you keep pressing and you keep preparing. He told me, `If you do what I’m telling you to do, you’ll be ready.”’


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