SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Vernon Davis, Ted Ginn Jr., Alex Smith, Patrick Willis—they all will be watching closely in the coming days and weeks to see what the San Francisco 49ers’ future entails. Along with many others.
Team president Jed York will soon hire a new general manager, then that person will find the coach to replace fired Mike Singletary.
Will sought-after Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh consider leaving the Cardinal after the Orange Bowl on Monday night for a franchise that hasn’t reached playoffs in eight years? He will have his share of options, that’s for sure.
“It’s going to be interesting,” said Willis, a four-time Pro Bowl linebacker who missed the first game of his career Sunday following a second surgery on his broken right hand.
San Francisco heads into the offseason—earlier than expected— after a disappointing 6-10 year that began with a perfect preseason and high hopes of winning the NFC West. Instead, the 49ers started 0-5 and couldn’t recover. It’s 7-9 Seattle instead headed to the playoffs as the unlikely division champion, a team the 49ers beat 40-21 back on Dec. 12.
The 49ers fired Singletary after a 25-17 loss at St. Louis on Dec. 26 that eliminated the team from playoff contention.
“I think we did play tight,” Davis, the Niners’ star tight end, said Monday after a season-ending team meeting. “Guys were just a little scared. They were scared. They were more worried about coach Singletary getting on them instead of playing football. But you have to understand him. If you don’t understand the guy then you are not going to be able to relate to him. I think that’s what the problem was with most guys. They were scared, worried about dropping passes and missing tackles instead of just going out and being themselves. But he left and guys started to be a little easy.”
York said last week he would get a general manager in place and that person would hire the coach, though it’s unclear whether it will actually happen that way. The Niners want to make their run at Harbaugh, and soon. Vice president of player personnel Trent Baalke is considered the favorite for GM, though it appeared York still planned to interview some other candidates early this week who were still working for teams as of Sunday.
Fill-in coach Jim Tomsula, promoted from his defensive line duties for all of a week, led the loose, animated 49ers to a 38-7 season-ending victory against Arizona on Sunday in what likely was Smith’s final game in a San Francisco uniform. The 2005 No. 1 overall draft pick out of Utah becomes a free agent, so finding a quarterback is yet another thing on the team’s to-do list heading into 2011.
“Nothing’s changed,” Smith said Monday upon cleaning out his locker at team headquarters in Santa Clara. “A lot of uncertainty out there, that’s for sure, but don’t know enough at all to make any decisions.”
Smith lives in the Bay Area, so he knows there will be no avoiding the 49ers news as it happens this month.
He isn’t ruling out a return to the only team he’s known during a rollercoaster professional career so far.
“I’m not ruling that out yet in any way. It’s hard to decide— no head coach, a lot of uncertainty in this building,” he said. “I will wait for all of that stuff to get ironed out and then make a decision.”
Smith took over the starting job midway through 2009 and was entrenched as the starter heading into 2010. After separating his non-throwing left shoulder Oct. 24 at Carolina, Singletary turned to 2006 Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith for the next five games— even after Alex Smith was healthy again. Troy Smith went 3-2 as a starter, then it was Alex Smith’s turn again for two games, including the commanding win over Seattle.
After a flop at San Diego, Singletary turned back to Troy Smith for the must-win game with the Rams. Tomsula went with Alex Smith for the season finale.
The constant quarterback switcheroos were just the start of the drama for this franchise in another lost season. San Francisco, which went 8-8 last year in Singletary’s first full season in charge, has failed to post a winning record since its last trip to the playoffs in 2002.
Three players departed along the way: second-year running back Glen Coffee retired, defensive lineman Kentwan Balmer was traded to Seattle after opting not to show up for training camp practices, and former Pro Bowl safety Michael Lewis also left and landed in St. Louis.
Last month, secondary coach and special assistant to Singletary, Johnnie Lynn, resigned for personal reasons. Singletary fired offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye after a Week 3 loss at Kansas City and amid problems for Smith getting the play into his headset in time.
San Francisco had its share of injuries, too, most notably losing veteran center Eric Heitmann for the season and star running back Frank Gore going down with a season-ending fractured hip in a Monday night game at Arizona on Nov. 29.
Many of the 49ers spent Sunday night contemplating what might be different had they played all year like they did against Arizona. San Francisco produced its second-largest scoring output of the season while the defense held the Cardinals in check.
“It’s truly bittersweet knowing what it should have been the entire year,” linebacker Takeo Spikes said. “You take it for what it’s worth. You deserve what you get and you get what you deserve.”
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