This Sunday the San Francisco 49ers will face the Los Angeles Rams to close out the 2018 NFL season. The last time the Rams did anything that held immediate effect on the 49ers was back in 2010, because the two were fighting for a playoff spot in the NFC West. Why do I bring this up? Because that game was played on December 26th.
It was also the day the 49ers fired Mike Singletary.
Singletary came in as an interim coach for Mike Nolan who was let go of in 2008 season. After he proclaimed he wanted winners, the 49ers appeared rejuvenated, finishing the remaining set of games at 5-4 (7-9, when factoring the entire season in). Singletary was offered the job of head coach to close the season.
Just one problem: Singletary had no coordinator experience on his resume and just five years of coaching experience total, all with linebackers. To say he was in over his head is an understatement. He had trouble finding offensive coordinators and when he could find one to stick around in Jimmy Raye II, he fired Raye as the after the 49ers lost their first three games in 2010.
While Singletary managed to take the 49ers to .500 in 2009, there were high expectations for 2010. The NFC West was bad, and everyone knew it. They not only failed to meet those expectations, but managed to display just how bad of a coach he was, and make everyone wonder if the talent on the team was subpar as well. The aforementioned firing of Raye II was just the beginning.
The quarterback carousel was where things really went nuts. Alex Smith was named the starter for the upteenth time for 2010. A statement strengthened by the 49ers drafting offensive linemen Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis in the first round of that year’s NFL Draft. Smith fell below expectations (which as it turned out, was a problem with coaching and not the quarterback) and Singletary moved on to David Carr, finally settling on third stringer, Troy Smith. For the whole story on Troy Smith, go here.
Needless to say, that 8-8 season one year prior seemed so, so far away. Singletary had lava gushing beneath his seat for 2010.
Despite all the dysfunction, the 49ers were in contention to win the NFC West. It came down to an away game against the then-St. Louis Rams on December 26th, 2010. A game that had the quarterback duck-duck-goose game on full display. After a meltdown with Troy Smith, you could almost hear Vince McMahon screaming, “You’re FIRED” and the calls grew more clear with Alex Smith reinserted, and not doing much of anything as the Rams routed the 49ers. The Rams would go on to lose to the Seattle Seahawks and the Seahawks would win the NFC West with a record of 7-9
Singletary was let go that evening. 49ers owner Jed York took the podium and introduced the world to defensive line coach Jim Tomsula who would finish the season with a win over the Arizona Cardinals.
Following his dismissal, Singletary would return to coach the linebackers for the Minnesota Vikings. Meanwhile, the 49ers hired Jim Harbaugh and Harbaugh took virtually the same team (plus/minus a couple roster changes) that Singletary led to 6-10 in 2010, to 13-3 the following year.
One would think the 49ers learned from the Singletary experience/experiment. But just four years later, Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers would ‘mutually part ways’ and Tomsula, a position coach with no coordinator/head coaching experience in the NFL or college level (not counting NFL Europe) was given the job. The Singletary days were certainly times of frustration, but you really want dark times look to Tomsula and Chip Kelly. Now that was a much different feeling.
As bad as Singletary was, he at least inspired some hope in 2009, hope that went up in smoke just as 2010 began. When he said, “I want winners,” you had to wonder who wouldn’t run through a wall for that guy.
The ending of his coaching tenure (at the time) brought Harbaugh and a culture of winning, and it put an end to the dysfunction and bust hires of Mike Nolan,Dennis Erickson, and yes, Singletary. The firing of Mike Singletary ushered in a new era where the 49ers were relevant again and had an underachieving roster instead of a bad one. It’s a shame it had to be so brief at four years before Harbaugh left, but those four years were a treat.
But it what a great time it was to be a 49ers fan.