49ers will need to learn how to handle success

Jun 12, 2010 at 5:07 PM

All the talk in San Francisco this offseason revolves around the 49ers' strong candidacy as the NFC West favorite. Between Kurt Warner's departure from Arizona and the rebuilding efforts going on in St. Louis and Seattle, the 49ers appear poised to capture the crown in the NFC's weakest division. An aspect that has not been heavily discussed is whether or not the 49ers are equipped to handle success. After so many years of losing, are the 49ers ready to handle the pressure that comes along with winning?

According to pundits and fans alike, the 49ers' success will depend on quarterback Alex Smith. Smith has his fair share of supporters as well as detractors, and there are valid arguments on both sides of the table. Yet even the harshest of critics has to admit that there's never been a better time for him to succeed. He has been provided with ample weapons, two powerful rookie offensive linemen and, in case you haven't heard, this is the first time in his career that he's had the same offensive coordinator for two consecutive seasons. So the first question is: can he make progress and be an effective starter? The second question is: what happens if he starts winning? Is he mature enough and experienced enough to continue winning games, or will the fire burn out should San Francisco get off to a hot start?

The same can be said for Mike Singletary. Much like Smith, Samurai Mike does not bring a wealth of experience to the table. One would like to think that Singletary is the type of person that would keep himself and his team grounded in victory and defeat, but that may not be the case. Although the team continued to play hard throughout the season last year, an argument could be made that they didn't show up when it counted (see Seattle, Week 12). If it was difficult to keep the team hungry when the playoffs were within reach last year, would any of that change this season?

This topic recalls the story of the 2009 Denver Broncos. After kicking Jay Cutler out of town, rookie head coach Josh McDaniels got the Broncos off to a miraculous 6-0 start heading into the bye week. That streak included victories against Cincinnati, New England, Dallas and San Diego, all 2009 playoff teams. After a week off, Denver lost four straight and would eventually go 2-8 in their final 10 games. No team should miss the postseason after going undefeated in its first six games. What caught up to Denver was inexperience. They were an unseasoned team on the field and on the sidelines. One could argue that the Broncos' dearth of talent caught up with them, but when a squad beats four eventual playoff teams, it's difficult to say they aren't talented.

To be fair though, the 49ers appear to have a much more talented team on their hands, but at the same time, Denver had the advantage of being labeled a loser before the season even began. The 49ers will not be afforded the same courtesy thanks to preseason hype. How will Singletary and company react if they put together a similar streak? After all, the team's longest winning streak since 2001 stands at just three games. The most recent time that occurred was in 2006, when the Niners won three straight against the Vikings, Lions and Seahawks to improve to 5-5. The good news is that Alex Smith was at the helm during that three game stint. The bad news is that they followed it up losing four of their last six games.

The bottom line is that the 49ers do have a genuine opportunity to be successful this season. Truth be told, it's the strongest chance they've had in eight years. The problem is that they lack veterans with playoff resumes. What's more alarming is that they also lack players with just the experience of winning several games. It will be a true test of Mike Singletary's capacity as a head coach if he can take a team that is so used to losing, and keep them focused and calm if victories begin to mount. In what is quite possibly the NFL's worst division, the 49ers have only one team that can stand in their way to a division title... the 49ers.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


  • Terry B.
    Good column, Steve. The interesting thing about the Broncos' season last year was that they won a lot of difficult games early and then lost easy games late. We'll have to be wary of the same thing if we get through the difficult first five. I found the following comment from Dan a bit odd: "I think it's safe to say our coach is a little more familiar with success than Josh McDaniels." I assume he's referring to the fact that Singletary won a Super Bowl as a middle linebacker during the Reagan administration. I hardly think that compares to McDaniels directing the all-time record setting NFL offense just three years ago. Moreover, in his three years as New England's OC, McDaniels directed an offense that led the NFL in points per game while ranking second in the league in yards per game. That's the kind of stuff that impresses me in a coach. Demonstrated record setting success at the highest levels. Remember when that's what the 49ers were all about? Sigh. That carries more weight with me than that someone was a passionate, tough player over 20 years ago. And Singletary wanted Dan Reeves for OC--the guy who built an offense around Sammy Winder when he had John Elway.
    Jun 21, 2010 at 12:32 PM
  • Dan
    Louie I think I respect your pessimistic approach more than any other "we can't do it" arguement I've so often read here. I dissagree but I can understand your concern. Lack of experience as a coach can make people who think experience is the end all of success nervous. I think coach is doing all the right things. I think Martz is a dinosaur who refused to change the game to fit the personell on the field, he hasn't had much success lately. Norv Turner didn't show us his best moves here in SF either. Put the blame wherever you want to but you can't deny that this coaching staff, along with Jed, is having more success than we've seen in years -YEARS, and no one really knows what this team is capable of under their direction. All this babble is just speculation, both ways. I will defend that Jimmy Raye showed us better decisions more times than Martz and Turner in game, and has used what was available to win more games more effectively than the other two did while they were here. Better or not, I prefer the process that wins games. This is a reletively young team with room for improvement, stop whining all over the season before it begins. Even Vegas odds have more faith in our team.
    Jun 20, 2010 at 9:45 PM
  • louie
    I believe it's a stretch to assume the 49ers will be a "success" next season. Of course, there are different interpretations of "success", but I'm of the opinion winning the West is not necessarily a benchmark. We all want to see the 49ers improve and become a successful franchise, but before I worry about how they'll handle success let's see them have a winning season.
    Jun 20, 2010 at 3:47 PM
  • Tele-Cat
    "Yet even the harshest of critics has to admit that there's never been a better time for him to succeed." But he will not succeed. Why? because he is a loser. I'm sorry, but if he could only muster up 10 points with a +4 turnover ratio in one game (Chicago) and 24 points in a game where the 49ers defense collected NINE turnover, the addition of a pair of linemen isn't going to help. There have been no relevant additions to the skill positions in the offseason (pipe down about Ginn, he's a loser, too) but it wouldn't matter if Smith had Jerry Rice and John Taylor in their primes, he would find a way to lose to the teams that matter because he's a LOSER. You don't want the discussion to be about Smith, but it has to be, because with the 49ers, Smith and Raye are the WEAK LINKS and when those two guys are the weak links in your offense, your offense isn't going anywhere. To think a few years ago they could have snagged Brees when San Diego let him go. It just makes me want to beat my head against a concrete wall. 6-10 or 7-9, no playoffs.
    Jun 20, 2010 at 2:15 PM
  • louie
    "Handling success" is quite a stretch. We'd all like to see the 49ers win games, win the division, and do well in the playoffs. That said, Arizona and Seattle are not necessarily going to be worse than they were last year. Their management and coaches are working just as hard as the 49ers' are this off-season. Those of us who have serious doubts in regards to Jed York's approach to building a truly successful NFL franchise are not being overly negative, nor are we looking backwards. There is no team in the NFL now or in the past that has a management structure so lacking in relevant experience as the 49ers'. When you add to that Singletary's lack of coaching experience, and his approach to the game ( QB's aren't all that important, innovation/creativity is not all that important, nor are the offensive coordinators who are creative and innovative,.... but the nut-cracker drill stays even though it injures our players,etc.) being a skeptic about the 49ers' chances is being more realistic than thinking they'll do well. On the other hand, I have to say the statement I read that Jimmy Raye is a better OC than Martz or Turner is make-believe optimism, and flat wrong.
    Jun 20, 2010 at 11:41 AM
    Response: Why is it a stretch? It's the truth.
  • Tele-Cat
    Overthemiddle: I'm sorry, but Sing is dumb and Raye is dumber. Some people don't like to face the raw truth but that's THEIR problem. I call it like I see it. I don't see an offensive juggernaut in Santa Clara (largely because they don't have a single NFL-caliber QB) and I'm not going to be satisfied with the 49ers winning the division because the other teams in the division are worse. That's not enough. I want the 49ers to win it because they're great, not because the rest of the division is crap. I mean, that almost defines the dubious distinction. I want the 49ers to establish the kinds of standards they had during the Walsh/Seifert era. They need a guy like Ronnie Lott, who will demand his teammates play their best. I want the 49ers to win because they're great, not because other teams suck.
    Jun 20, 2010 at 8:43 AM
  • Dan
    I agree with overthemiddle, the west coast was especially effective when defenses weren't equipped to stop it. It always was and still is genius giving options against blitzes and opening up the field. Many 49er fans seem stuck in the past, wanting to go back. I think calling the coaches dumb and dumber is pretty dissrespectful considering the improvements they've managed in one year removed from Nolan, Turner and Martz. I am constantly reading questions and critisisms about the coaches and the offense here and it's getting old. No one seems to want to mention the defence, or say much positive about the niners for fear of seeming stupid if they crash and burn. I believe this attitude from some fans is exactly the type of attitude you speak of here, that could never sustain winning. I'm not afraid to look dumb (or dumber) for saying I believe the 49ers have what it takes to at least get to the championship round of the playoffs. I see more talent on this team, both sides of the ball, than we've had since the 90's. I believe the coaches do know what they're doing and I actually saw quite a few good play calls on offense last year, which I saw as improvement over Martz and Turner.
    Jun 18, 2010 at 7:36 PM
  • overthemiddle
    One of the reasons Walsh was so succesful wasnt just the WCO it was when he installed it. Defenses in the league were geared up to play tough punishing football with slow to foot players. Walsh was able to exploit the defense with smaller quicker players. The defenses have now adjusted to that so the WCO still is good but not as dynamic as it once was. It is possibile that going to more physical offense might work due to the faster lighter defenses. Tele-Cat wherever I see you comment you always destroy your valid comments by calling people names. Name calling is for liberals and kids. Knock off the name calling in order to validate your insights. The Niners should win the division by being the best team in a weak divison. I have more concerns about Raye then I do about Sing. Yes the Niners are going to have to get use to success as they are about to start wining once again. Going deap into the playoffs - I dont think they are there yet but stranger things have happened.
    Jun 18, 2010 at 8:51 AM
  • Tele-Cat
    The 49ers have a very limited opportunity for success in 2010. Setting Smitty aside, the two people most responsible for the team's failures in 2009, Mike Singletary and Jimmy Raye (AKA Dumb and Dumber) are still in place. Motivational speaking and death stares only go so far. Eventually you have to be an Xs and Os guy, and Sing is so far from that as to be laughable. Raye's Xs and Os look like they were taken from the 1940s. News flash: I think most teams have figured that out. Sing even said it himself: "We're not going to outsmart anyone." The 49ers need to return to smart, innovative and aggressive offensive football. Sing and Raye are not the men to bring that back to the team that first put the WCO in the Super Bowl. To think we could have had Shanahan. Sigh.
    Jun 17, 2010 at 7:22 AM
    Response: A very valid argument Tele, and that notion scares me as well. The question that I always ponder is whether Raye limited his playbook last year due to inexperience of the players and lack of an offensive line. In year 2, he has no excuse. If I see constant runs up the gut for 2 and 3 yards a pop, we'll know he has nothing innovative. As far as Singletary goes, I agree with your sentiment as well. I love the guy's personality but does he have the chops to learn the technical side of the game? We'll have to find out. I'd like to hope that each year he learns more and more, but that remains to be seen. Being stubborn won't get you anywhere in this league but after readjusting the offense last year to a spread formation, Singletary showed his willingness to adapt. At the same time, we can't keep flip flopping either. Ah, so many questions to be answered this year.
  • UT_JD_Niner
    @Bill - Kill Bill was a good movie, especially it's title. @Steve - Your article confused me a little bit. You start off talking about how you are concerned how the team will handle all the high expectations going into 2010. Then you compare them to a team that went into 2009 with no expectations of winning. I think that you could have chosen a better team to compare the 2010 49ers to than the 2009 Broncos. If there were any 2009 team you could chosen instead, I think the Texans, Packers, or Bengals would have probably been better choices. At least those teams had positive expectations going into the season along with QB and coordinator questions/issues. The Bronco comparison would have made more sense if you had started off talking about how the 49ers handle success rather than expectations. However, I do like the fact that your article was mainly positive (without coming off like a homer) and that you didn't write an article just to 'stir the pot' like some other contiributors on this website. Job well done Steve. I'll definitely keep reading your articles.
    Jun 16, 2010 at 9:02 PM
    Response: Thanks UT, if you notice though, I do mention how the Broncos aren't an ideal comparison and bring up exactly what you just stated. The Broncos were labeled losers before the season even began, whereas the Niners do have a lot of hype going into this season. I also discuss how the Niners are definitely a more talented team. The comparison was used in the light of the fact that they won six straight games and got off to a hot start. In that regard, the Niners will need to learn how to keep composure if they do the same because so far, they've never achieved such a streak.
  • Bill
    Solid article -- but you're putting too much pressure on Smith's shoulders. He's not a good QB. He's not going to miraculously become a good QB with a "bunch of new weapons" and two new offensive linemen. A bad QB is a bad QB. Period. End of story. You can't mask it. It's like a bad haircut. That said -- the Niners are certainly not favorites to win the division in my book. I see another 8-8 finish -- perhaps even 7-9. It will be another year or three before we reach respectability stage because we don't have a good QB. By that time? Gore's best years will be behind him. We just haven't drafted well at the QB position unfortunately.
    Jun 15, 2010 at 5:26 PM
    Response: First of all, you're turning this into an Alex Smith discussion and that is not the focal point of the article. Secondly, I never said Alex Smith was going to "miraculously become a good QB". To be honest, I'm one of Smith's biggest critics. I simply stated that this year is his best chance to succeed. I don't think Smith is going to set the league on fire this year, but he doesn't have to. He just has to be a decent QB for us to win the West. Between Gore, the help he'll get from the WR/TE corps and the defense, Smith is not being asked to win games for us... he's just being asked to not lose them.
  • Dan
    Interesting comparison, The Bronco's were another 8-8 team last year. Also, their head coach was in his first year, almost as new as our coach. I think it's safe to say our coach is a little more familiar with success than Josh McDaniels, although McDaniels did have some success Coaching the Patriots offense and Matt Cassel in 2008. I don't worry as much about Alex buckling under success as much as handling pressure situations when things get tough. I believe the 49ers have a much different personality as a team than last years Bronco's. I would compare them more to the Vikings - a hard hitting relentless squad who are tough to score on and can reach the end zone running from anywhere on the field. I like your article, I think it was thoughtful and I look forward to more compelling articles from you in the future.
    Jun 15, 2010 at 4:10 PM
  • David Velez
    Really really nice article Steve! Great insight, great perspective, and great research, bravo!
    Jun 15, 2010 at 3:42 PM
  • ikedog49
    Not much to critique. U did an excellent job.
    Jun 15, 2010 at 2:28 PM
  • Darrell G
    Solid article. The lack of commentary isn't a slight, you hit the nail on the head. I look forward to more of your writing.
    Jun 14, 2010 at 4:14 PM
    Response: Great to hear. Thanks
  • Darrell G
    Great article, your dead on, the only team that can keep the 9ers out of the playoffs is the 9ers.
    Jun 13, 2010 at 9:29 AM
  • CucasConPelos
    Good read.
    Jun 13, 2010 at 1:12 AM
  • Steve
    Hey guys, this is my first article submission so comments are greatly appreciated. I realize this isn't earth-shattering news but I felt it was worth discussing during a time when there isn't much to talk about outside of the stadium issue and Alex Smith's progress (both of which have been beaten to a pulp). I think this is something that hasn't been mentioned too often so again, please leave comments/critiques. This will help me sculpt my writing and content to fit what you guys want to read. Thanks.
    Jun 12, 2010 at 7:29 PM

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