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Singletary speaks of leaks and lessons learned

3/25/2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

DANA POINT, Calif. -- A relaxed and occasionally self-deprecating Mike Singletary addressed several issues facing the 49ers during the NFC coaches' media breakfast Wednesday at the NFL owners' meeting.

"The only thing I learned in my first year -- not the only thing, but the biggest thing -- is that at halftime, you have to be a little more careful about the things that you do," Singletary said to laughter. "Because you are not always by yourself. That is the biggest thing. I learned that quickly."

Singletary won't be delivering any more speeches with his pants around his ankles, in other words. Though still as intense as ever, Singletary has shown an ability to laugh at himself.

"I think you have to," Singletary said. "I think you have to make sure that you find some humor in your job. And I have a lot of fun with what I do."

Singletary wasn't laughing when one of his assistant coaches recently complained about personnel moves, speaking anonymously to Jim Trotter of SI.com. Singletary called the incident "blown out of proportion" and said he had already spoken with the assistant in question. He also said he's happy with his staff and had the power to make changes, but "there is not one coach that I have that I wouldn't keep."

The complaints to Trotter were atypical only in that they made it into print.

"I just knew the minute I heard it, who said it," Singletary said. "It wasn't a matter of going to the guy and saying, 'Hey, keep your mouth closed.' It was just, 'Hey, guys, come on now. Let's let that go. We're not all going to agree. If you think that was bad, wait till the draft.' "

Singletary's delivery drew laughter from reporters sitting at his table.

"It was just one of those things," Singletary continued. "We can all leave out of the room tearing up papers, kicking trash cans and all that other stuff. But this is the game and I believe that as a staff, whatever we get, we're going to be happy with, right?"

Singletary said he mostly wants to avoid distractions. He's fully aware assistant coaches won't always agree with personnel moves. As I reminded him, he wasn't as excited as general manager Scot McCloughan when the 49ers were about to draft Patrick Willis. But Singletary, who was linebackers coach when the 49ers used their 2007 first-round choice on Willis, is certainly thankful McCloughan saw what everyone now sees in the two-time Pro Bowl choice.

"One of the things I really believe as a head coach is, I approach all of our [coaches] like I would want to be approached," Singletary said. "They are not kids. We work together and we have a destination that we're trying to get to and we're not going to get there if we do not look out for each other. We do not need distractions. You have to fight together.

"No one is going to agree with [everything]. If they do, then we've got issues. I think we all understand what we have to say, what we need to say and what we have to do and where we are trying to go."

I believed Singletary when he said his recent decision to prevent assistants from speaking with reporters wasn't directly related to the anonymously delivered complaints. Singletary is nothing if not sincere. I do not think he would look me in the eye and lie about that. He wanted his assistant coaches to keep their priorities straight in the short term.

He described his message to the staff this way: "Guys, just do your work. We'll talk to the media in enough time. Right now, I will say the things that need to be said. I assured them when I talked to them, 'You'll get your share of the media.' Not that they are fighting to talk to the media, but I really wanted them to make sure, 'Let's get our work done so we have something to talk about.'"