When asked the reason for Scot McCloughan's departure, only a month in front of the draft, Jed York wouldn't say. He WOULD say, though, what the reason was NOT. No, he said, McCloughan didn't lose a power struggle with Mike Singletary. "Mike's not going to move into a more significant role in personnel," he said. Of course "the coach is always going to have a say," but make no mistake, Trent Baalke "will be the point person for the draft."

"Mike is concentrating on coaching."

I for one believed it. I accepted the prevailing view that McCloughan was let go for some personal demon. And I expressed relief that Singletary would lack the power to build a roster in his own, outdated image.

What a fool I was.

It seems so obvious now. Last year, the Niners were about to use the 10th pick. On the board were McCloughan's choice, receiver Michael Crabtree, and Singletary's, right tackle Michael Oher. A flashy wideout and a road-grading mauler. The Niners went with Crabtree, who promptly began the most ludicrous holdout in the history of sports. Meanwhile, Singletary watched in horror as his offensive line, the key to his grind-it-out design, completely collapsed.

You know the force of Singletary's will. You can hear him in your head. And you can bet, as this year's draft approached, he solemnly swore: "I'm not gonna let McCloughan screw me again."

And only a month in front of the draft, McCloughan was gone.

Oh, there was a power struggle, all right. Predictably, Singletary won. And in THIS draft--no offense, Trent--nothing and no one would get in his way.

This draft proved it. Singletary's in total control. Ready or not.

Has any draft ever been so focused philosophically? Day one, two offensive linemen who will maul in run-blocking and struggle (at least at first) in pass-blocking. Day two, a safety who will hit like a truck but be lost in coverage, and a linebacker who racks up tackles but seems strictly 4-3 (which the Niners don't play). Day three, a running back who's tougher than he is fast (like every other back we've got), a pure blocking tight end, and a slow but physical corner. (It seems like the ONLY place we recognize the need for speed is in the return game, where Kyle Williams (and free agent LeRoy Vann?) should join Ted Ginn in making things interesting, or at least competent.)

"I made the final decisions," Baalke said afterward. "But [Singletary] certainly was involved in them."

Impressively, Baalke said this with a straight face.

Believe it or not, my point isn't that we had a bad draft; actually, like most analysts, I think we did well. (Not as well as Seattle, unfortunately, but well.) We had OTHER weaknesses, but the offensive line and the return game were the ones that were most embarrassing. The first-round focus on the line was impressive (though trading up was wholly unnecessary), and the commitment to returners (including Ginn, who remember was our fifth-round "pick") was a relief. When you're pretty confident that you've shored up your two biggest areas of concern, you've had yourself a pretty good draft. And when you've done it while being faithful to an overarching vision, you've had yourself a GREAT draft.

Depending on the vision, that is. And there's the rub.

It's never been a secret. Singletary wants tough and physical, and who could disagree? "Hit 'em in the mouth! Physical with an F!" This is what makes the masses drool. This is his singular vision (pardon the pun), and now he gets to build it himself.

But every singular vision, by definition, is a rejection of any other. And though Singletary's old-school approach appeals to our primal senses, what he's rejecting is the modern recipe for building a winner.

In today's game, you win by passing, not by running. You win vertically, not horizontally. You win outside the tackles, not between 'em. You win with speed, not with size.

You win with brains, not with brawn.

Of all the folks who oughta know, WE should know best. In the '70s, the Cowboys were everything Singletary loves. A big, strong bunch of brutes who'd run down your throat and then stomp on your neck. How could the '81 Niners, midgets by comparison, possibly hope to compete?

Up to that point, the game was toughness and physicality. Ever since--for 30 years now--the game's evolved exponentially. There's nothing wrong with being tough and physical. But if that's ALL you are, you just don't have a chance.

We took such pride in being so much more. But in his first draft--and sorry, Trent, this was HIS draft--Singletary began the process of making us nothing else.

Don't get me wrong. Singletary landed some excellent players. I really don't question a single pick, at least individually. What I question, instead, is the singularity of the collective. I question only the vision.

Singletary's gonna take these guys--already tough and physical--and make 'em even more so. He's gonna make 'em run the hill. He's gonna watch 'em sumo in nutcrackers. He's gonna drive 'em with fire and brimstone.

And then, with little else, he'll put 'em out on the field.

He'll run his big backs behind his big O-line, up the gut again and again. He'll pass only when strictly necessary, and sometimes not even then. He'll make our opponents beg for mercy. He'll hit 'em in the mouth all the way to the Super Bowl, conventional wisdom be damned straight to hell.

That's how the vision goes, anyway. I'm not sure I buy it, but what choice do I have?

Singletary's in charge, of everything now, and there's no one left to stop him.