With Singletary's future secure, 49ers still have lots of uncertainty

Updated: December 29, 2008, 6:33 PM ET
Associated Press

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The 49ers secured Mike Singletary's future with a dramatic postgame flourish. A day later, the quarterback just as responsible for San Francisco's late-season turnaround still didn't know what his own future holds.

Shaun Hill left the team's training complex Monday with no idea whether the 49ers (7-9) expect him to return to the starting job after he led the club to five wins in its final seven games. Singletary promoted Hill at midseason, and the veteran backup was among the NFL's most efficient passers during the surge.

"I don't know what to think, I really don't," said Hill, who's 7-3 as a starter over the last two seasons, including 5-0 at Candlestick Park. "You never really know what the perception is, and that's not for me to decide. I feel like I definitely played hard. Sometimes it wasn't as good as I wanted it to be, but I feel like everyone in this league ... has those moments."

General manager Scot McCloughan was cagey Sunday when asked about Hill, praising his winning percentage as a starter and noting he's under contract for next year.

Even with the uncertainty at their most important position, the 49ers (7-9) were still basking Monday in the excitement of the big finish to their sixth consecutive losing season. Retaining Singletary was an easy choice for president Jed York and McCloughan, who made the call on their inspirational coach earlier in the week.

"He told us, 'This is the last year we're going to go home early, so be ready for that," said running back Frank Gore, who earned his club-record third straight 1,000-yard rushing season Sunday despite a sprained ankle.

Many tougher decisions will come in the next few months, from deciding on an offensive coordinator and a quarterback to navigating the draft and free agency. San Francisco also must decide what to do with Alex Smith, who missed the season on injured reserve.

The 49ers' most prominent free agents are linebacker Takeo Spikes and receiver Bryant Johnson, two veterans who signed one-year deals to prove their worth after failing to get long-term, big-money deals elsewhere. Both played well in San Francisco, but while rookie Josh Morgan's emergence might lead to Johnson's departure, Spikes still fills a need with the Niners -- and he's eager to return.

"It's not like we need a lot," Spikes said. "I feel like this is home, and I feel there is unfinished business."

Spikes has played in Cincinnati, Buffalo and Philadelphia during his career, but he had only positive words about the club he joined in August.

"I would have regrets about leaving this team," he said.

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McCloughan has said Smith, the No. 1 pick in 2005, wouldn't be back under the terms of his current contract, but Smith recently said he'd be willing to adjust his deal to stay with the club. It's still far too early to know whether such an adjustment is possible, or whether Smith would be allowed to compete with Hill or another quarterback for the starting job.

Most of those answers won't be known until the 49ers decide what to do about Mike Martz, the coordinator who resuscitated San Francisco's offense this season. Aside from Gore's solid season and Hill's remarkable late-season performances, Isaac Bruce had 835 yards receiving, the most by a San Francisco pass-catcher since Terrell Owens had 1,102 in 2003.

The 49ers scored 339 points this season after managing just 219 last year, also racking up nearly 74 more offensive yards per game. San Francisco had 35 turnovers, nearly the same number as last season, and the quarterbacks were sacked 55 times.

Singletary, Martz and McCloughan all have downplayed any notions of tension between the two coaches, with McCloughan insisting that Martz greatly aided Singletary's transition. Still, Singletary and McCloughan have refused to back Martz's return next year, which probably means San Francisco will have its seventh offensive coordinator in seven seasons.

Martz is a passing-game specialist, and Singletary prefers a lower-key running attack. Martz's agent, who also represents Singletary, would like to see Martz as a candidate for the head coaching job across the Bay in Oakland.

Next season already has begun in the minds of some players who are secure in their spots next season. Linebacker Patrick Willis, who's headed to his second Pro Bowl in a few weeks, went through his usual morning workout before packing up his locker for the winter.

"It's going to be a lot of fun being a part of this organization as we go through 2009," said kicker Joe Nedney, whose field goal as time expired beat the Redskins. "There's going to be a buzz right from the start."


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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