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Columnist
Credit Singletary for trying it his way
By Barry Rozner | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 11/14/2009 12:00 AM

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To many football fans, Mike Singletary remains a punch line.

He's the lunatic screaming at his players and dropping his pants to make a point.

And it's an unfair portrait, because he's far from insane.

Maybe he will burn out or wear out his players before he gets any real talent to coach, but he's nothing like Scott Skiles or Mike Keenan, who made coming to work an absolute misery for the players.

When I think of Singletary as a coach, I remember first Singletary as a player, one who would come in on an off day and sit outside Buddy Ryan's office, waiting for that week's game plan so he could study film and get a two-day jump on everyone else.

That's the Singletary the 49ers are learning about now, the guy who demands attention to detail, insists on hard work, and with a focus on preparation and being professional.

It's really not that much to ask, is it?

So far, and granted this is a small sample, he's 9-9 as the San Francisco head coach, after the club had gone 5-16 before he took over.

And this is not a good football team we're talking about.

You watched the game Thursday night - unfortunately - and what you saw was a bad football team.

They have no business beating any NFL team this year, which explains a lot about Thursday night.

And yet he's managed 4 victories this season.

It's amazing.

It's even more amazing the way Vernon Davis talks about him now.

This is the same Vernon Davis that Singletary was so fed up with that he sent him to the showers in a famous sideline confrontation a year ago.

Instead of being angry, Davis later that same week thanked Singletary.

He thanked him for saying to Davis what no one had ever said to him before, that it was time to grow up, be a man and be a professional.

It was time to use his talent not just for himself, but for the betterment of the team, and that he couldn't do that when he was being selfish and stupid.

Davis says now that it was the greatest gift he's ever been given, that he never really had a father, and that he wished Singletary had been his father.

Now Davis is playing as well as almost any tight end in football.

After his foolish words about the Bears earlier this week, Singletary has taught Davis another lesson.

Regardless, when you contrast Singletary's style with the way things work in Chicago, where no one's ever wrong and no one's ever sorry and no one's ever in trouble no matter the crime, you wonder which way you'd rather have it done.

You wonder how things might have gone with Tank Johnson or Cedric Benson or Tommie Harris if a guy like Singletary had been around to have an influence on them.

Maybe it's reach. Maybe guys like Benson weren't going to wake up until they were out of work anyway, or maybe when you look at Vernon Davis, another former first rounder, you see a guy who didn't get it at all and was wasting his talent - like Benson - until Singletary got through to him.

Now, there's talk of Davis for the Pro Bowl this year.

Notwithstanding his ill-timed comments this week, remarks that hurt his team to be sure, Davis is growing up and Singletary made him a captain this year, a far cry from where they were when Singletary benched him last year.

There's not just one way to do things and Lovie Smith has had success his way, and his players certainly seem to appreciate his relaxed style.

And the Bears' predicament today is more a reflection of the lack of talent in Chicago than anything else.

But Singletary's way is another way to do it, and not just the way of dinosaurs. In measured doses, it can still be effective in today's NFL.

It's just striking that a Bears organization that should have understood him, should have known exactly who he was, never saw a place for him, and never had any use for him.

In San Francisco, he has a truly wretched team playing hard and playing competitively, even while severely lacking talent, and at least not jumping offside play after play after ridiculous play.

That does say something.

Some might look at that and view the Bears' stunning lack of discipline and concentration and say that Singletary is just the kind of presence the Bears need, whether it's on the staff, leading the staff, or in management, which has also made a shocking habit of forgiving and enabling.

And some will say that Singletary's style will wear his team out in a short amount of time and that he'll wind up as just another legendary, head-coaching burnout case.

All I know is Singletary looks to be exactly what I thought he'd be if ever given the chance, and I see a bad team playing hard and showing up every week.

I don't know how his style will ultimately serve him in the NFL as a head coach.

But I'm certain that no matter which way it goes, Singletary will be able to look in the mirror and know he tried to do things the right way, the way it should be done, even in 2009.

And I hope he succeeds.

brozner@dailyherald.com