Nolan's blessing sold Singletary on 49ers job

In those transitory few hours late Monday afternoon when the 49ers didn't have a head coach – after Mike Nolan had been fired and before Mike Singletary had signed a new deal with the team to replace him – the two Mikes sat together at 49ers headquarters for the final time. If Singletary hadn't already decided to take Nolan's old job by then, he certainly was convinced after their final meeting.

"When I sat down and, basically, just kind of looked at him and he looked at me," Singletary recalled, "it was just one of those situations where, before I could say a word, he said, ‘I want you to understand something: I want you to take this job. I don't even want you to blink.'"

Singletary isn't exactly the kind of guy to blink. As he said Tuesday during his introductory news conference as the 16th head coach in 49ers history, "I don't scratch my head when it doesn't itch, and I don't blink when there's nothing in my eye."

But Singletary might have felt something wet forming in his eye this time. He and Nolan are close. They are friends as well as subordinates. Singletary, then with just two years of experience as a NFL assistant, was the first assistant hired to Nolan's staff when Nolan arrived to run the operation in 2005, and Nolan immediately anointed Singletary as his assistant head coach.

They would brave this stormy battle of rebuilding the 49ers together, Nolan and Singletary, the captain and his first lieutenant.

Now there's only Singletary. But he will carry on where Nolan failed, and will try to finish the job they started together 46 months ago.

That apparently was important to Nolan, who – if he was going to get shoved out – at least wanted to see his mission carried out for the rest of the season by someone who had been on board from the very start.

Nolan said to Singletary, "I want you to take this job," Singletary said, "because I know that you have the heart of the players at hand, and I know that they are important to you. I know that you will be fair to the coaching staff, and I know that you can bring them together. What we have built together has come to an end, but I want you to take it to the next level. If you do not take the job, I will be very disappointed in you as my friend.'"

Singletary – who was going to have options as a possible head coaching candidate elsewhere in 2009 whether he took the interim job with the 49ers or not – didn't need much more persuading.

"Needless to say, at that point, it was very clear that I was going to take the job – with no hesitation," Singletary said. "That was his blessing."

And how important was that blessing?

Would Singletary still have taken the job had Nolan expressed misgivings about that particular development? To be sure, the 49ers had another candidate waiting in the wings that probably would have jumped at the opportunity – offensive coordinator Mike Martz, a former head coach with St. Louis – if Singletary would have expressed any hesitation.

"I would have had to think about it – the reasons why not," Singletary said. "It's not very often that you have an opportunity to be a head coach in this league, as I have learned. I'm excited about this opportunity. I'm excited about the people I work with here and I love these players. I'm very proud to be their head coach and the expectation will be high. I expect to go to the next level, and so will they. We will work together as a staff, as a team, and we will get to where we need to go.

"I believe that with God I can do anything. That's where my strength is, I believe we can do anything, and with the guys on this team, the players, the staff and management, I believe we can get it done."

Singletary accepted an offer from the team to finish the season as the 49ers' interim coach. He will be considered for the permanent position as head coach in 2009, 49ers general manager Scot McCloughan said.

Singletary's performance over the team's final nine games obviously will be high on the criteria list McCloughan and team management will consider when the season concludes.

Nolan, in an interview with 49ers beat writer Matt Maiocco, said he would like to see the team succeed the rest of this season with Singletary in ways it didn't succeed through seven games with Nolan at the helm. Nolan could take some personal satisfaction in that success, he said.

"There are a lot of things in the building that, without question, are better than they were," Nolan told Maiocco. "At this point, it's just about winning. The pieces are in place. The coaches are in place. It's about winning now. If (Singletary) can get that right, I'll be as happy as he is."

Nolan, though disappointed with the circumstances of his abrupt firing Monday afternoon, did not leave the team in a blaze of acrimony. In a statement released through the team Tuesday, Nolan thanked the York family for the opportunity to coach the 49ers. He said he also appreciated the hard work and dedication of his players.

"Even during the toughest of times, they remained strong and fought through it," Nolan said. "It is difficult to put into words my respect for guys that played for the 49ers over the past 3½ seasons. They have my complete respect and admiration. I am forever indebted to them."

Singletary has similar feelings toward his former boss.

"I came here for a reason, and that was to help coach Nolan produce a winning organization," Singletary said. "I don't think many people truly understand what Mike had to do when he came here and what he's built. He set the foundation. All I'm going to do is build on that foundation. Upon looking back on it, I don't think Mike nor myself realized the task at hand."

Singletary certainly realizes it now.


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