No matter how immature, petulant, selfish or egotistical, NFL players don’t simply give up on their team without some serious thought. Not about the team in all instances, but about their own future. Even if they’re in the worst situation a player can face — a senile coaching staff who can’t communicate the plays correctly, terrible food in the team cafeteria, even ugly uniforms — quitting on one’s team paints a scarlet letter so darkly on your chest that no amount of turpentine or sincere explanations can wipe it clean. And any agent worth his salt (or 10%, anyway) will do whatever they can to persuade his client to stay quiet and make the best of things.
The fact that multiple 49ers have decided their careers would be better off if they threw a tantrum and quit entirely speaks to how badly it’s gotten under Mike Singletary. Glen Coffee didn’t want to play football anymore for anyone, so let’s forget his retirement while we’re talking about this. But Kentwan Balmer said he’d rather hang out in his house and look like another spoiled athlete than set foot on another practice field with Singletary and his staff. And today, safety Michael Lewis did the same thing when he asked for his release.
This isn’t something you can write off as just a player upset that he’s about to lose his starting job to Reggie Smith and/or Taylor Mays. In the NFL you don’t get paid if you aren’t under contract. If Lewis was upset by the move but felt like his team was a squad worth sticking with, he’d bust his ass in practice and do all he could to keep his job. And if he lost his job, he’d do whatever he could to contribute to the 49ers making the playoffs.
But as much as Singletary speaks about things like conviction, he shows none himself. I asked Ray Ratto in a chat today about the 49ers’ biggest problem, and he wrote that they could get started on their way to semi-relevance by, “Knowing what they believe in for more than a few weeks at a time.”
When you walk around like a holy figure, spouting off absolutes while attempting to motivate people through volume and personality-size like Singletary, people pay attention to what you say. They take notes. If you act like you’re better than everyone else, people are more attuned to when you do things flawed humans do. Like say one thing and then the next day do something completely different. Sound familiar?
Lewis isn’t that great a safety, relatively speaking. If he’s starting every game of a season for your team, it’s pretty tough to call your defense dominant. But you’ve watched the NFL for a long time. You’ve read the daily transactions, adjusted your fantasy teams when coaches decide to start certain players over others. You’ve watched “Hard Knocks.” When coaches make decisions, even ones players disagree with completely, the result is usually hard work and the assumption that behind the scenes the player is unhappy. Rarely will a player stand firm and publicly state, “There has got to be a better situation than the one I’m facing here, and I’m willing to gamble that I’ll find that situation, reputation be damned.”
We knew Singletary wouldn’t coach the Niners for a decade, because these days his brand of rhetoric and bombast wears thin over time when you’re working with professional athletes. But there’s already been several instances that lead one to think he’s lost the team, and he isn’t even a quarter into his second full season. This isn’t about weeding out players he can’t win with, like he sort of stated during the Vernon Davis press conference after Singletary’s first game in charge. If Lewis was a malcontent, he wouldn’t have been kept around after training camp. He wasn’t good enough. Somewhere along the line, something happened that made Lewis snap, and it’s becoming a pattern on the 49ers, who are sinking into the abyss to the extent where the Raiders are clearly the better team in the Bay Area right now.
So far this season, Singletary and his staff have lacked several things, including:
1. A modern, intelligent plan to win games beyond, “We know what we’re doing, shut up and let us do it.”
2. The conviction to stick to ANY plan for more than three weeks (as Ratto pointed out)
3. The desire to connect with the media (and by extension, fans) in any worthwhile way
4. Proof of even average strategic planning (both in terms of playcalling and scouting of opposing teams) before games, and that goes for every unit on the team
5. The ability to utilize the talent on hand, even though this team, on paper at least, is far more talented than any of the Mike Nolan 7-9 squads
Singletary’s style, which consists of butting one’s head into a brick wall and hoping it breaks, doesn’t work today. Every team has talented players and coaches who put in a lot of time, games are won and lost by adjustments made at halftime and the ability to handle 53 players and make each one feel like they’re contributing to a common goal. Singletary has failed at all those things this season. And as a result, this season looks more like a failure every week.
As for Lewis, I guess it’s time to wish him well in the Pacific Northwest. Just add another guy to the list who can pass along the Niners’ defensive schemes to Pete Carroll. That’s pretty much how this story always seems to end, isn’t it?