Singletary named coach after 49ers win

Monday, December 29, 2008


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(12-29) 18:51 PST -- Joe Nedney kicked the 49ers into a feel-good offseason as Mike Singletary signed a four-year, $10 million contract to remain as head coach in the immediate aftermath of the team's last-second 27-24 victory over the Washington Redskins.

"I am very excited and humbled to be the head coach," Singletary said Sunday in his postgame address, with his wife Kim and five children watching. "Very humbled."

The day began with the announcement that Jed York, 27-year-old son of owners John and Denise York, assumed the title of team president in charge of day-to-day operations and ended with Nedney nailing a 39-yard field goal as time expired on a rousing win by San Francisco.

"I told the team this is the last time our season ends in December,' Jed York said in announcing Singletary's hiring as permanent coach.

That puts the burden of elevating the 49ers to a playoff-caliber team squarely on Singletary's ex-linebacker shoulders. Famously intense as a player, Singletary brought that same quality to the 49ers as interim head coach and in little more than two months' time won over his players as well as management.

"The biggest thing is those guys in there (the locker room) are excited to play," Singletary said. "I love these guys. They know that. They know what the prerequisites are: work. We have a lot of work to do."

When he heard the news in the locker room after the game, quarterback Shaun Hill said, "Everybody started cheering and clapping. People were genuinely happy for him."

Singletary was 5-4 in his nine games as interim head coach after taking over the job from the fired Mike Nolan on Oct. 20. More important, he inspired the 49ers to win five of their last seven games to finish the season 7-9 - an overall disappointment but substantially better than the team's 2-7 record as of Nov. 10.

"It's a blessing," linebacker Patrick Willis said of his former position coach's promotion. "It's not just because he was a linebacker or because he coached me. I think they've got the right man for the job. He deserved it. He earned it."

Singletary also earned a contract worth more than his predecessor's. In 2005 Nolan signed for $8 million over five years, or $1.6 million per season. Singletary's deal amounts to $2.5 million per season.

The difference, agent Bob LaMonte said, is that he negotiated as if Singletary were a second-year coach, not a rookie like Nolan was.

"It's a solid contract," LaMonte said.

Left unsettled in the wake of Sunday's game was the status of Hill and offensive coordinator Mike Martz, both of whom are under contract with the 49ers in 2009.

Singletary has autonomy over his coaching staff as head coach and there was a report last week that he would fire Martz. No announcement was made Sunday regarding Martz, who elevated the play of San Francisco's offense from the gutter to respectability.

With Martz running the offense, the 49ers scored 120 more points and generated nearly 1,200 more yards than the pathetic unit of 2007.

The subject of Martz's status, and that of other assistants on Singletary's staff (all of whom are under contract for 2009) will be determined later this week. The head coach and his offensive coordinator did not always see eye-to-eye this season, but the creative friction between the two ultimately was positive for the team.

"They disagreed, but there was a professional respect there that they would sit down and talk," general manager Scot McCloughan said. "There was nothing in the building that led you to think there was turmoil."

As for Hill, the easy-going former career clipboard-holder improved his record as San Francisco's starter to 7-3, including two games he started in '07. All he did Sunday was rally the 49ers to 13 points in the fourth quarter by completing 12 of 16 passes for 163 yards and a 9-yard touchdown pass to Jason Hill with 9:53 left that gave San Francisco a 21-17 lead.

Shaun Hill sent the 49ers into a happy New Year by leading the offense down the field in the final 1:02 by completing three passes for 52 yards to set up Nedney for his game-winning field goal.

Asked if Hill had done enough to earn the starting job for 2009, Singletary said, "Don't know that yet."

What the organization does know about the quarterback was expressed by McCloughan, who said, "One thing I will say about Shaun Hill is he's under contract and I'm glad he's a 49er. His winning percentage is excellent. Coach Martz did an excellent job of adjusting his system to fit Shaun Hill."

Whereas the 49ers of 2006 under Nolan won their last game to similarly finish 7-9, the hope generated by that win with that team and that coach proved illusionary. There seems to be an entirely different feel to the 49ers of 2008 under Singletary, one of continuity achieved in the interest of common sense.

The new head coach mentioned the need to have everyone in the organization on the same page. He then was asked what the first paragraph is on that page:

"What do we have to do to have this team be in the playoffs?" he said. "Once we're in the playoffs, anything is possible."

Seeing the 49ers win five of their last seven games under Singletary with clear improvement in the offense and defense during that span leads one to believe the team is not that far from being playoff- worthy.

E-mail John Crumpacker at jcrumpacker@sfchronicle.com.

This article appeared on page C - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle


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