Mike Singletary is out of moves. Just three weeks into the NFL season, the 49ers coach has played his entire hand.
Singletary went for broke on Monday. He fired his hand-picked offensive coordinator, Jimmy Raye, just 18 hours after giving Raye a vote of confidence. It was a full-throated admission that Singletary's vision for his football team is not working. Not at all.
It was about the only bullet Singletary had left in his arsenal. In the exhausting, disappointing first 16 days of the 49ers season, Singletary has:
• Thanked Pete Carroll for whipping his team.
• Called a Sunday night team meeting after the 49ers arrived home from their first road trip.
• Battled with a local television sportscaster, resulting in the sportscaster's removal from Singletary's weekly segment on the station.
• Tried to teach his team a lesson, when trailing 31-3 in the final moments Sunday in Kansas City, he used all three timeouts on a meaningless, punitive touchdown drive.
• Fired his offensive coordinator -- putting not only his vision in doubt, but also his convictions.
This isn't the way things were supposed to start for the 49ers. The trendy pick to win the NFC West this season, the 49ers are 0-3 and sitting last in their division.
They continue to be a team learning on the job, a franchise short on expertise or qualifications.
By handing the offensive coordinator job to quarterbacks coach Mike Johnson, the 49ers now have awarded the three most important jobs in their football operations based on proximity inside the building, not qualification.
Singletary got his job midway through 2008 when Mike Nolan was fired.
Trent Baalke got his job last spring when general manager Scot McCloughan was fired.
Johnson now has a job because Raye was fired.
Add in an owner, Jed York, who was handed the team by his parents at age 27, and a quarterback, Alex Smith, whose main qualification seems to be that he represents a huge financial investment, and the 49ers are 5-for-5 in important positions filled through means other than expertise.
The 49ers seem allergic to the idea of bringing in experienced, successful football people. (Raye was experienced, though he has not been successful over his long career.)
The Chiefs, in contrast, who beat the 49ers to go 3-0, are using a completely different approach. When they hired Scott Pioli as general manager, the Chiefs gave him control. Though Todd Haley is learning how to be a head coach, he's buttressed by proven coordinators: Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel.
Singletary has control over the 53-man roster and his staff. It was his vision -- an '85 Bears kind of vision -- that Raye was attempting to execute. He says the decision to fire Raye was his and his alone, one he came to after spending Sunday night at the 49ers facility watching film and praying. If true, it seems odd that Singletary's superiors wouldn't be involved in such an important, franchise-changing decision.
It also creates the impression that Singletary -- whose primary talent is inspiring his team and teaching them about honesty, loyalty and conviction -- is willing to flip-flop.
Raye was a disaster. But he is also a scapegoat. The 49ers have failed on every level. But Raye's firing guaranteed that the Monday press conference would be all about one subject and there wouldn't be any talk about the defense that has given up a league-high 87 points (tied with Buffalo) or Singletary's odd Sunday decisions.
In the 49ers locker room Monday some of the players mentioned that things seemed all too familiar, recreations from Nolan's tenure. Nolan, like Singletary, was a defensive-minded coach learning to be a head coach. He didn't have a mustard-yellow Hall of Fame jacket in his closet or great oratory skills, but there are similarities.
The reasons everyone thought the 49ers would win the NFC West is that it is such a lousy division and because the offense would thrive with new continuity. Raye was in his second year, marking the first time the 49ers have had the same offensive coordinator in consecutive seasons in seven years.
Turns out the NFC West is a lousy division -- one currently made even worse by the 49ers presence.
And continuity isn't all its cracked up to be. Right now the only continuity the 49ers have is an ongoing tradition of bad football.