Seeing Singletary is believing
But Nolan was happy to tell everybody anyway during an afternoon news conference to introduce the first member of his coaching staff. "Mike is one of the best leaders and teachers that I have ever been associated with," Nolan said. "Mike teaches with great passion and great energy. It's easy to see. Mike commands a tremendous amount of respect from the players, not only because of his achievements and all that, but also because – once they get to know him – Mike is a unique guy, one of the best men I know. He walks the walk. You don't find many people like him with his accomplishments." Singletary walked the walk as one of the greatest defensive players of his – or any other – NFL era during 12 legendary seasons playing middle linebacker for the Chicago Bears from 1981-92. Singletary ended his career with 1,488 tackles and a reputation as one of the most ferocious players of his day, both factors in his speedy induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1998. Singletary played in 10 Pro Bowls, was named All-Pro eight times, was the NFL's defensive player of the year twice and the NFC's defensive player of the year three times. Leader by example? You could say that. "I realized that being a football player to me was really special," Singletary said. "It meant something. I would have played for nothing. I was not one of those athletes that was really gifted, but the things that I did was that I really studied and I really worked myself to be the best that I could possibly be. My opponent was never going to outwork me. He was never going to outsmart me, and I was going to be more disciplined than he was. In other words, I wanted it more." Singletary brings that passion, urgency and responsibility to a team that can use it, and he's already gushing at the prospect of working with a talented group of linebackers who probably already possess more of those qualities than any other unit on the team. But Singletary's focus won't just be linebackers, a unit that features some of San Francisco's top players in Julian Peterson, Jamie Winborn, Jeff Ulbrich and Derek Smith. He'll also be responsible for bringing his coaching message to all aspects of the team, hence his dual label as assistant head coach. "One of the things that is very important to me is, obviously, surrounding myself with very good people and very good coaches," Nolan said. "So often, the title of assistant head coach is used by people to get other people on their staff. That is not the case because I didn't need it to get Mike to come here. I'm using it for the sole reason that I want Mike to have the impact on the entire football team and just not on the position coaches. Mike will be the linebacker coach, but he'll have an impact on our entire football team. Mike's impact will be very important to me and very important to the success of our football team." Singletary made an immediate impact in his first stab at NFL coaching with the Baltimore Ravens in 2003. Working under Nolan – then Baltimore's defensive coordinator – Singletary's first season as a coach at any level produced the NFL's defensive player of the year in linebacker Ray Lewis. Singletary's group of linebackers in Baltimore remained one of the NFL's best this past season. Singletary says he sees "a lot" of talent and youth on the San Francisco roster – and not only at linebacker – and he is expecting a quick turnaround in fortunes for a beleagured, injury-plagued team that went 2-14 last year. "It's all about believing," Singletary said. "Believing that you could be great. Believing that you can be special. Believing that we can be an elite team. Believing that we can get back to where (the 49ers) were before. That is what coach Nolan represents to me. "Yes, I could have stayed in Baltimore. Yes, I could coach the best linebacker corps in the league. Yes, that would have been wonderful. But I have the opportunity to build something here. To make a statement along with coach Nolan, creating something great that can be great, and I just have to believe that it will be great." And, in pointing the 49ers in that direction Friday, seeing Singletary sitting next to Nolan as his right-hand man sure seemed like a great place to start.
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