New 49ers coach Singletary vows to build on Nolan's foundation

Updated: October 22, 2008, 12:03 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Mike Singletary radiated an uncommon intensity during his Hall of Fame career with the Chicago Bears. He then spent a decade giving motivational speeches before getting into coaching in 2003 as Mike Nolan's right-hand man.

With yet another season nearly lost in San Francisco, the woebegone 49ers will need every bit of intensity and motivation they can get from the former linebacker with the famously fierce eyes.

Singletary became the 49ers' interim head coach Tuesday, replacing his coaching mentor with a vow to build on the foundation he built with Nolan -- even if he gets only nine games to do it.

"Right now, the guys realize that we do have something here," Singletary said. "To what degree, I don't know, but we do have something special here. It's a matter of stepping in and being able to bring it together, and that's something I've done all my life."

After the club fired Nolan seven games into his fourth season, Singletary had mixed feelings Monday night when general manager Scot McCloughan asked him to take charge. Although Singletary has interviewed for four top jobs in the NFL and another at Baylor, his alma mater, the thought of replacing Nolan made him uneasy until he spoke to the man who had just been dismissed.

"[I] looked at [Nolan] and he looked at me, and before I said a word, he said, 'I want you to take this job,'" Singletary recalled. "'I know that you have the heart of the players at hand, and I know they're important to you. ... If you do not take the job, I will be very disappointed in you as my friend.'"

Singletary's appointment gives the NFL seven black head coaches, matching the most in league history. He's the third coach to take over a club during the current season, joining St. Louis' Jim Haslett and Oakland's Tom Cable.

Singletary had been Nolan's assistant head coach since 2005 with the 49ers (2-5), who went 18-37 in Nolan's tenure and lost their fourth straight game last Sunday to the New York Giants. McCloughan said he approached owners John and Jed York "a couple of weeks ago" with a plan to fire Nolan, who hired him in 2005 when the Yorks gave control of all football operations to a career assistant coach with no background in personnel.

When the Yorks agreed, McCloughan didn't even wait until the 49ers' bye next week to drop Nolan.

"I don't think there is a right time for a decision like this," said McCloughan, who gained decision-making authority over Nolan last winter after the 49ers' third straight losing season under Nolan. "If you go off of past experiences and talking to people, the bye week is usually the best week. ... But I think with the distractions on the outside, the most important thing is for us to be ready to play this week, to play against the Seahawks."

Hall of Fame: Mike Singletary

NFL.com Video

A look back at the Hall of Fame career of former Chicago Bears linebacker Mike Singletary.

Nolan released a brief statement through the 49ers thanking his players for their hard work.

"It is the responsibility of the head coach to build a foundation and an environment for success," Nolan said. "In many areas we were, although it is winning that ultimately determines success."

San Francisco hasn't made the playoffs or had a winning record since owner John York fired coach Steve Mariucci in a fit of pique following the 2002 season. Singletary, who also coached the 49ers' linebackers, will attempt to succeed where Dennis Erickson, Terry Donahue, Nolan and McCloughan all have failed so far.

Jed York, John's 27-year-old son, appeared alongside McCloughan and Singletary for the announcement. His presence was the most significant sign to date of his rise in the club's power structure.

Jed York said the 49ers lack "passion and intensity."

"We have talent. There's no doubt that we have talent," he said. "We've got Pro Bowlers on all three phases of the ball. What we're lacking right now is that killer instinct, that finishing ability.

"We're not getting outplayed," York added. "I think we are getting out-intensitied. I don't think that's a word, but I'm going to use it anyway. That's what we need, and that's what Mike Singletary is going to bring. I think you feel it, I assume you feel it. You feel his presence when he's up here speaking. That's what he brings to the organization. That's what he's going to bring out of the players."

That intensity is what elevated Singletary past offensive coordinator Mike Martz, who took the Rams to the Super Bowl during his tenure as their head coach. While Martz, San Francisco's sixth coordinator in six seasons, is busy each week with the 49ers' game plan, McCloughan believes Singletary can more easily assume the head coach's supervisory role while concentrating on motivation.

That's an area Singletary knows intimately. After his final NFL season in 1992, Singletary dabbled as a motivational speaker and an author while raising seven children with his wife, Kim. After he caught the coaching bug a decade later, he landed a job on Brian Billick's staff in Baltimore alongside Nolan, and the two quickly became friends.

Nolan's firing came late Monday afternoon after he met with ownership. Earlier Monday, ESPN's Michael Smith reported that Nolan was going to be fired after next Sunday's game and replaced by Singletary. Whether that story sped up the process or not, it was clear that Nolan's days were numbered following Sunday's loss to the Giants in the Meadowlands.

Even with Singletary's elevation, speculation -- especially in Southern California -- immediately turned to USC coach Pete Carroll, a former 49ers assistant, as a possible replacement. Carroll told the Los Angeles Daily News on Monday that he did not want to answer questions about the 49ers' coaching situation because it would lead to just more inquiries.

"There's no reason to respond," Carroll told the Daily News.

The 49ers also fired offensive line coach George Warhop, one of Nolan's original assistants. San Francisco's line has yielded a league-high 29 sacks this season.

Jason Tarver will take over many of Singletary's duties as the 49ers' linebackers coach. Singletary has been praised for his work with Patrick Willis, the NFL's defensive rookie of the year last season.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

ALSO SEE