THE MORE YOU listen to Mike Singletary, the easier to perceive his plan for the 49ers. Maybe this plan will work, maybe it won't. But it is, given all the interim coach stands for, theoretically unassailable.
He wants the Niners to be like Mike.
He wants them to commit, completely, to maximizing their capability. He wants them to study film and playbooks until their brains overheat. He wants them to play out of their minds, to hear what he says but, moreover, do as he once did.
This is about establishing an identity. All quality teams have one. And it tends to be an extension of the head coach.
Bill Belichick's Patriots are smart and ruthless. Tony Dungy's Colts are studious and precise. Tom Coughlin's Giants are tough and remorseless — as are Jeff Fisher's Titans.
Bill Cowher's Steelers were emotional and relentless. Jimmy Johnson's Cowboys were rugged and emotional. Bill Walsh's 49ers were, of course, cerebral and composed.
Singletary's vision for the 49ers — and he hopes to start seeing it tonight at Arizona — is that they are physical and more physical. That's his desired direction. That's why he's cranking up the practices. When Singletary says he wants his team to "hit (opponents) in the mouth," he means it.
"The emphasis couldn't have come at a better time," linebacker Takeo Spikes says.
Effort, aggression and intellect were the hallmarks of Singletary's approach as a player. He needed all of that and more to survive in the NFL, much less prosper at a level to earn Hall of Fame status.
Drafted out of Baylor in the second round by Chicago in 1981, Singletary came with a long list of questions. Was the linebacker, not even 6-feet, tall enough? Hardly a sprinter, would he be fast enough? Did he possess the desired athleticism?
Singletary's obsession with being great — from film study to practice to game day on through the offseason — rendered those questions irrelevant. He outplayed those who were bigger or faster, as well those with classically sculpted physiques.
Singletary is that rare athlete made great only by squeezing every ounce of potential within.
And now Samurai Mike is hoping his 2-6 team can adopt the same mentality.
"I'm not going to say it was lacking," Singletary says when asked about boosting the team's intent to punish. "Maybe (it wasn't) an emphasis, maybe (we were) trying to get other things right. I really don't know. I just know that going forward, that's really an emphasis as a staff."
Nothing pleased Singletary more than seeing the 49ers come off the bye week and engage in high-velocity practices. The idea is to create an atmosphere of sustained intensity.
"He laid it down,'' veteran cornerback Walt Harris says. "There's no question about it. You'll see us a lot more crisp, a lot more physical. This team definitely will have an identity."
Identities usually are established in training camp, when the coach has had months to determine a direction, devise concepts and set a tone. Singletary, using the bye week, is attempting to accelerate the process.
Maybe it will work. Maybe the 49ers will summon the nastiness the coach is seeking. Singletary can't contain his delight with the aggressive play of guard David Baas and believes rookie guard Chilo Rachal is another with a fairly wide mean streak.
"The physicality is definitely something we want to have more of," Singletary says, "whether it's on offense or defense — and it starts with the offensive and defensive lines. That's what football is all about."
San Francisco's first game under Singletary, six days after the firing of Mike Nolan, was utter disaster. Walloped by an injury-depleted Seattle team, the 49ers were as bad as they were during the worst of games under Nolan.
Yet Singletary made an impression. He banished tight end Vernon Davis for what amounts to felony immaturity, then benched quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan for poor game management. Samurai Mike tore into his team — privately and publicly. It was quickly concluded that Singletary, bless his soul, will do it his way.
All he can ask now is that the 49ers get tougher and play harder. Might not be enough, but it's the only way this team will have a chance.
Contact Monte Poole at firstname.lastname@example.org.