By Janie McCauley
SAN FRANCISCO – Mike Singletary was fired by the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night after two disappointing seasons, including a 5-10 showing this year for a franchise expected to win the NFC West.
The team made the announcement late Sunday upon returning to the Bay Area, several hours after San Francisco was eliminated from playoff contention with a 25-17 loss at St. Louis. Defensive line coach Jim Tomsula was promoted to interim coach and will run the team in next Sunday’s season finale at home against Arizona. He was to be formally introduced in a news conference Monday.
Team president Jed York addressed reporters in St. Louis after the Niners’ loss Sunday and was noncommittal about whether Singletary would coach the final game, saying he planned to think about it. Singletary was told of his dismissal back at the team’s Santa Clara complex.
York said money wasn’t an object in this decision considering Singletary had two years remaining on his contract.
“We’re going to take our time before we make any decisions like that. We don’t want to make an emotional decision right now, after the game,” York said in the locker room. “Obviously, we didn’t achieve the things we set out to achieve. We should be a playoff team. We aren’t a playoff team this year. Very disappointed about that. We need to figure out how we can get into the playoffs and how we can start competing for Super Bowls.”
San Francisco began the year with high hopes of winning the West and reaching the postseason for the first time since 2002. Singletary finished with an 18-22 record in two-plus seasons.
“One of the greatest experiences of my life was having the opportunity to coach the San Francisco 49ers,” Singletary said in a statement. “What made it so special were the players. They were some of the most outstanding men I have ever been around in my life. The coaches were truly professionals. I wish the 49ers nothing but the best. I am thankful to the York family for having given me the opportunity to be a head coach in the NFL. I am indebted to them for that. I am also thankful for the Faithful fans, I am just sorry I couldn’t give them more.”
The 49ers began 0-5 and will finish with a losing record for the seventh time in eight years. They went 8-8 in Singletary’s first full season, then produced an unbeaten preseason this year only to drop their first five games. It was the franchise’s worst start since losing seven in a row to begin a 2-14 season in 1979 — in the late Hall of Famer Bill Walsh’s first year as coach.
No team has recovered from an 0-5 start to reach the playoffs, but the 49ers would have made it if they had defeated the Rams and won again next Sunday. If that had happened, San Francisco would have won the tiebreaker over Seattle and St. Louis to win the division and become the first team with a losing record in a non-strike season to make the playoffs.
“You know what, I’ll put it this way: a personal failure. I’m the head coach of this team and obviously wanted us to do better, felt that we could do better,” Singletary said after Sunday’s loss. “There are some obvious questions that I hoped would be answered as the season went on, and obviously were not answered. When that happens, you end up out of the playoffs.
“I take full responsibility for every unanswered question.”
The 52-year-old Singletary, who first took over as coach on an interim basis when Mike Nolan was fired in October 2008 and soon declared “I want winners!” had two years remaining on his contract. York — son of owner John York — seems ready for major change around the Niners despite having to pay Singletary, a Hall of Fame linebacker during his playing days for the Chicago Bears.
“Money is no object,” Jed York said in St. Louis. “I mean, our object is to win the Super Bowl, year in and year out be there and compete for Super Bowls. We’re going to make sure we get this right.”
Singletary fired offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye after Week 3, then lost secondary coach and special assistant, Johnnie Lynn, when he resigned for personal reasons earlier this month.
Singletary switched quarterbacks three different times, starting with Alex Smith, going to Troy Smith for five games even after Alex Smith’s hurt non-throwing shoulder had healed, then back to Alex Smith for two games before Troy Smith started Sunday — only to give way to Alex Smith in the fourth quarter after Troy Smith had a heated exchange with Singletary.
“I’m not worried about individual things like that. What bothers me is we come in here, this is a playoff-caliber game, and we didn’t get it done,” York said. “And that’s the bottom line.”
York said he plans to hire a general manager and will open a search to fill the job. Since former GM Scot McCloughan departed last March — and ended up with Seattle — in what York called a “mutual parting,” San Francisco’s football operations have been run by vice president of player personnel Trent Baalke. He was responsible for selecting two offensive linemen with the team’s first-round draft picks in April, and both Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati are starters on the Niners’ revamped offensive line.
York was asked whether a new general manager would help in a potential coaching search.
“We’ll have a general manager, and as we go forward, that will be something that the general manager and I discuss together,” York said.
Finding a quarterback will be another priority. Alex Smith most certainly will be gone after this season once the 2005 No. 1 overall pick’s contract expires.
“One more week. We can start talking about that in one more week. I understand my contract is up and what’s at stake,” he said. “We’ll finish out here and see what happens.”