Mailbag: Singletary, Martz and 49ers' future


Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Martin from Des Moines, Iowa, writes: Mike, I have been a diehard 49ers fan since I was a very young. I have enjoyed some great times and as of late, I have suffered with my team's ineptitude. It appears with the hiring of Mike Singletary (couldn't be happier) that we are on the right path. With Singletary taking the reins for good, it appears that Martz is on his way out. Which means another year with another offensive coordinator. Do you think this is a good idea? You need consistency, and if we change OC every year, how can we achieve success?

As the past 49er teams achieve success with a short passing game in place of a power running game, which is the opposite of Singletary's philosophy. My question is, do you think a marriage of the two philosophies much like the Washington Redskins offense with the West Coast passing and a power running game work with the Niners? Who do you see as possible candidates for offensive coordinator and will they stay longer than one year?

Mike Sando: All things being equal, the 49ers probably would have hired an offensive head coach who called the plays. That would have provided protection against the coordinator instability that has hurt the franchise in recent seasons.

All things were not equal, however, after Singletary led the 49ers to four victories in their final five games. Singletary's strong leadership, backed by the 49ers' on-field improvement, made him the only choice the 49ers considered for the job.

If Singletary determines Martz isn't a good fit for his offense, he needs to make the change now. Yes, such a move would come at the expense of continuity, but these are the breaks. Singletary might get only one chance to set up his staff the right way. Now is the time to get that done. Singletary needs in place an offensive staff he trusts, one that shares his philosophy. Singletary and Martz made things work over the second half of this season, but their philosophical differences might be harder to reconcile over the long haul.

The fact that the 49ers were willing to risk continued instability at offensive coordinator speaks to a couple of things.

One, 49ers management wasn't onboard when former coach Mike Nolan hired Martz (we know this because general manager Scot McCloughan said as much before Nolan made the hire).

Two, Singletary proved enough over the second half of the season to make his hiring worth [in the 49ers' eyes] whatever staff fallout might ensue.

Singletary's rise is a great story at this point. Things were not looking good for him after his memorable debut game against the Seahawks. My criticisms of Singletary then related to his unstable behavior during and after that game. Singletary later acknowledged that he needed to project himself differently. He did that, and it worked. He deserves credit for that.

Unlike Nolan, who never seemed to admit an error, Singletary worked to get better. Had he continued in the vein he displayed in that first game, I would still be questioning that behavior and the 49ers would probably be looking for that offensive-minded head coach.

As for coordinator candidates, I don't have a firm list. I would think former Rams coach Scott Linehan might be a good fit. If the team goes for an unproven coordinator, that would seem like quite a risk. It's not like the head coach could take over the offense in a pinch.

Mitchell from Toronto writes: Hey Mike Great job with the blog and hope you continue with it. I was just wondering if the Cardinals set a record for the first team with 3 different WR's gaining a 1000 yards in a season?

Mike Sando: Thanks, Mitchell. Here is what the Cardinals have said about the milestone involving Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston:

The Cardinals 2008 season marks just the fifth time in NFL history that a team has had three players all reach 1,000 receiving yards in a season. The others:

1980 Chargers: Kellen Winslow (89-1,290); John Jefferson (82-1,340); Charlie Joiner (71-1,132)

1989 Redskins: Art Monk (86-1,186); Ricky Sanders (80-1,138); Gary Clark (79-1,229)

1995 Falcons: Eric Metcalf (104-1,189); Terance Mathis (78-1,039); Bert Emanuel (74-1,039)

2004 Colts: Marvin Harrison (86-1,113); Reggie Wayne (77-1,210); Brandon Stokley (68-1,077)

Rob from San Francisco writes: Mike, always love reading your posts. Enjoy your insights and thoughts. Regarding the 2009 Draft for the 49ers, should they go OL (Andre Smith, M. Oher) or improve the secondary (T. Mays or M. Jenkins). Or do you see them try to grab Bradford for a future franchise QB if he's still on the board (assuming he declares)?

And since it's fun to play the guessing game, how much fun would it be to see a 3-4D that included Willis, T. Spikes, Lawson and possibly Maualuga or Laurinaitis at LB? I'd like to think a defense like that could apply the pass rush. Thanks for your time. Have a great and safe New Years.

Mike Sando: Thanks, Rob. Mike Singletary did commit to the 3-4 and we can assume he'll continue down that path. I do think the 49ers need to emerge from this offseason with their offensive line solidified. While that doesn't necessarily mean taking an offensive tackle in that No. 10 spot, taking a quarterback that early would represent a higher-risk move. And after what happened with Alex Smith, I'm not sure the organization will want to take that gamble.

Shaun Hill has proved the 49ers can compete with a game manager at quarterback. Unless the 49ers are convinced they can find a franchise quarterback in that spot, they might be better served addressing the offensive line or helping their defensive front seven. I generally would not take a safety that early.

PaulieP from Scottsdale writes: Hey Mike! Any thoughts on Mora's new staff, how it might shape up? Thanks!
Mike Sando: I've heard the same names over and over without much variance. Greg Knapp for offensive coordinator, with Tom Rathman also possibly joining the staff. Some have suggested Ed Donatell for defensive coordinator, but I haven't heard Donatell tied to the coordinator's job from anyone in the know. Perhaps he becomes a candidate for another job on staff. Donatell coordinated the defense for Mora in Atlanta. He's coming off a brutal season as defensive coordinator at the University of Washington. His experience there would not seem to serve as a springboard to an equivalent job in the NFL.

We can expect new coordinators on both sides of the ball and certainly on defense. Continuity becomes an important variable. Keeping Gil Haskell in some capacity would seem to make sense given that Jim Mora wants to keep offensive carryover for Matt Hasselbeck's sake.

Jordan from Folsom, Calif., writes: Hey Mike, i was just curious about the free agent signings this time around. who do you think the 49ers should and will sign this offseason.
Mike Sando: The free-agent lists aren't very impressive. They should consider Jordan Gross from Carolina if the Panthers let him hit the market. He would give them a big, physical presence on the offensive line. Of the other potential free agents, Julius Peppers and T.J. Houshmandzadeh are familiar names. I would expect the Panthers to re-sign Peppers.

Doug from parts unknown writes: Miiiiiister Sando, Was that a run game I saw Sunday afternoon or was I just dreaming? From what you could see, how much of that success do you credit to the Cards and how much do you chalk up to playing a 4-12 opponent? Is this the Hightower game in St. Louis all over again? Tell me it's not a mirage. Also, there were moments where Kurt looked flustered. How much of that was due to pressure from the D and how much of that could possibly be from the Cards running out of actual run formations. He seems to be in more of a rhythm when he's set up in shotgun. Thanks for everything, Mike.
Mike Sando: You're welcome, as always. I give the Cardinals credit for their success running the ball. They tightened their formations several times and made a real effort at running the ball. That doesn't mean they'll have similar success against better defenses, but the Falcons just allowed 200 yards rushing to the Rams, so it's not like the Cardinals are facing the 2000 Ravens this week.

Few teams can run the ball on their own terms, and by that I mean lining up and running successfully against eight-man fronts. I think the Cardinals just need to mix in running plays more frequently and from varied formations and personnel groupings. They can't drop back to pass every play and expect Kurt Warner to have the time he needs to operate successfully.

I thought Seattle's pressure bothered Warner early in the game. I was surprised to see Warner's passer rating near 100 at halftime. He seemed to struggle a fair amount of the time. He did not appear comfortable. I'm still not convinced the Arizona passing game is ready to play at the level it achieved earlier in the season, but the Cardinals' performance Sunday proved how dangerous Larry Fitzgerald can be.

George from Ashburn, Va., writes: Mike, Your blog says the 'hawks get the 4th pick in the draft, yet they have the same record as Cleveland. With Detroit, KC & St Louis getting 1-3, why doesn't Cleveland get the 4th pick? What's the tie breaker?
Mike Sando: Strength of schedule. The Seahawks had the edge there.

Jared from Bend, Ore., writes: Sando, now that Singletary officially has the job, who might be on the short list for offensive coordinator? I know Martz could be retained, but given Coach Mike's desire to play smash-mouth ball, who might fit that mold? Thanks!
Mike Sando: I've heard people familiar with the 49ers' offense advocate former Rams coach Scott Linehan. I do think Linehan can be a good coordinator, and I think he would be credible in that role. But I have not heard a firm list of candidates.

Dan from parts unknown writes: Everybody looks at players as our problem. Yes you need to release some of the injured and bring in more talent. The draft should help. I honestly believe we need another defensive coordinator like Ray Rhodes to bring some fire and passion back to the defense. Special teams could also use a new coach. What are your thoughts?
Mike Sando: Mora brings plenty of fire and passion. Under Holmgren, Seattle almost never had its first choice as a defensive coordinator. Fritz Shurmur's death in August 1999 set back the defense from the beginning. Steve Sidwell arguably never had the talent he needed. Ray Rhodes' health issues prevented him from continuing in the role. John Marshall went from linebackers coach to defensive coordinator after Rhodes stepped aside. Look for Mora to bring stability to the position this offseason.

Toby from Granada Hills, Calif., writes: Mike, I also noticed that the Giants' 1000 yard rushers each averaged 5 yards per carry, 1st and 3rd in the league (D. Williams of Carolina only other runner to average over 5 a carry.) I bet there are some statistical firsts here.
Mike Sando: The Giants are the fourth team in NFL history with more than one 1,000-yard rusher in a season. I do not know how the per-carry averages distinguish those players.

Nate from parts unknown writes: Hey Mike, I'm a college student at the University of Connecticut. I was thinking about this idea today and wanted to get someone's feedback. It's an idea about the 20 teams that don't make the playoffs and mixes in idea of college bowls. NFL Playoffs stay the same. 4 division winners, 2 wild cards. Now for the losers... a BCS type score based upon Wins / losses / strength of schedule / media polls will give you a number. This number will rate all 20 teams that didn't make it.
Next, you take the top NFC team (that didn't make playoffs) and they will play the top AFC team (that didn't make playoffs). So on with the second rated teams of each conference. We NFL fans get 1 more game (good thing if your team doesn't make the playoffs). The NFL Owners get more revenue for the game. So whats the catch, why play this game? The winner takes the lower draft pick. So say the 2nd bottom NFC team (just example say Rams) plays the 2nd bottom AFC team (Raiders)... instead of picks #3 and #4... they play for pick #3. Lions and Chiefs would play for #1 pick. Winner takes it.

Mike Sando: Would you really want to watch the Rams and Raiders play? I'm skeptical. As of Monday, the Cardinals had 8,000 tickets available for their playoff game. How many people would pony up to see bad teams play this time of year?

Also, players probably don't care whether their team gets the third or fourth pick, diminishing the incentive aspect. Finally, the NFL Players Association would have something to say about adding games. I'm just not sure the stakes would be high enough to create compelling action.

Michael from Navarre, Fla., writes: At the end of the Houston and Bears game there was a called fumble on the field but was reversed by replay. What no one saw or was talking about was that the Houston running back was carrying the ball in his left hand and when he was hit he spun around and his left elbow hit the ground.
You can plainly see that the ball was not in his left hand anymore before his elbow hit. I think everyone missed the fact that before he went down the ball was jarred loose and was bouncing around between the two players before he was down and then popped out after he hit the ground. Please let me know what you think!!

Mike Sando: I'm happy to pass along your view on the play, but I did not see the game or the play, and I'm unlikely to see them at this point. Sorry about that.

Falcons Fan from parts unknown writes: How is it that San Fran does not have to go through the charade that is the "Rooney Rule" and can hire Singletary (I do feel he has earned this opportunity) while the Rams were not allowed to do the same with Haslett earlier in the year?
Mike Sando: Singletary fulfills the Rooney Rule requirement by definition. Haslett does not. That is the difference.

Dean from Hillsborough writes: Hi mike, I have lived in the Bay Area my whole life, not since the early 70's has there been a doubleheader for the NFC and the AFC for our local stations. Can you explain why this happened.
Mike Sando: The NFL schedules no more than one network doubleheader per week in a market. This means you won't see more than three games in a market (for the general 1 p.m. ET and 4 p.m. ET time slots). Hopefully I'd reading your question the right way. Perhaps someone more familiar with Bay Area TV arrangements can help us out.

Kevin from New Jersey writes: Sando, from your experience so far with the NFC West and dealings with the 49ers, what do you know about Jed York? What are your opinions of him and how do you think he will affect the franchise in positive and negative ways? Have you ever met him personally? We, as fans, really don't know too much about him so maybe you could shed some light for us.
Mike Sando: He strikes me as enthusiastic, energetic, passionate and -- more than anything -- young. I think he wants to do well. I have no evidence suggesting he will do well. That doesn't mean he'll fail. It does mean York has to prove himself. He has not earned the benefit of the doubt, that is for sure.

Christopher from parts unknown writes: Michael Singletary just proved he is a good coach. He just proved: He can light a fire under a team's posterior even when it is a last game of the season, you have nothing to play for, you are losing 16-3, you come back to hold their offense, score with yours and you make the other team feel cursed. Heck, Mr. Singletary has these guys growing mustaches. And a word of advice, Mike, sir? Don't tell the people you were thinking about pulling your quarterback after the game, opportunity missed to lift up your team. Next time say what you want to the press, 'Only he and I need to know what really went down.' Obviously. We won.
Mike Sando: Singletary is learning on the job and he seems to be learning well. The capacity to adapt and improve is important for a head coach.

Eric from East Phoenix writes: One of the major concerns i have about the 49ers heading into the offseason is the question on what will happen to Mike Martz. With the way things have been around the organization last few years there has not been any consistency from the offensive coordinator position. Now, it seems as though the 49ers are turning the corner but only to here that AGAIN there's possibility of bringin in ANOTHER offensive coordinator. Why would 49ers want to bring in someone else when and risk the chance of taking another step back and have to start all over again? just doesn't make sense
Mike Sando: Mike Nolan hired Martz despite concerns within the organization that the Martz offense would not suit the talent on hand. Nolan is obviously gone. The organization has committed to Singletary as its leader. In the end, the 49ers were willing to risk continuity at coordinator for the sake of hiring Singletary. Now we'll find out if there's a place for Martz.

Harry from San Francisco writes: Hi Mike, I was wondering what your thoughts were about the possibility of the 49ers signing Julius Peppers via FA this coming offseason. From a defensive standpoint, we really need to upgrade the pass rush and Peppers fits that mold. My gut tells me that Carolina will franchise him but as a Niners fan, I would love to see him hit the open market. What are your thoughts? Thanks, Harry.
Mike Sando: I'll be surprised if the Panthers let Peppers hit free agency. Peppers would help any team. He's been a 4-3 defensive end in Carolina but I'm sure the 49ers' defensive staff could find a role for him. I just don't think they'll get that chance. Besides, the team opened the vault for Justin Smith last offseason.

The 49ers need to draft and develop impact players, thereby getting those players under contract at more reasonable rates. Teams pay a premium in free agency, with inconsistent results. The Browns' general manager had a great offseason in free agency, then got fired. The Jets had a great offseason in free agency, then fired their head coach.