SAN FRANCISCO — Mike Singletary made a name for himself as a coach with that bold "I want winners!" declaration more than two years ago.
Ultimately, he didn’t produce enough victories to save his job.
The Hall of Fame linebacker was fired by the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night after two disappointing seasons, including a 5-10 showing this year for a franchise that expected to win the NFC West.
The team made the announcement upon returning to the Bay Area late Sunday, several hours after San Francisco was eliminated from playoff contention with a 25-17 loss at St. Louis. Defensive line coach Jim Tomsula was promoted to interim coach and will run the team in the season finale at home against Arizona. He was to be formally introduced in a news conference Monday.
After team president and CEO Jed York told reporters in St. Louis after the loss he would think about whether Singletary would coach the final game, Singletary then was told of his dismissal back at the team’s Santa Clara complex.
"I want to thank Mike Singletary for the passion and effort that he brought to this organization," York said in a statement. "He is a tremendous person for whom I will always have great respect."
York said money wasn’t an object in this decision considering Singletary had two years remaining on his contract.
"Obviously, we didn’t achieve the things we set out to achieve. We should be a playoff team," York said in the locker room. "We aren’t a playoff team this year. Very disappointed about that. We need to figure out how we can get into the playoffs and how we can start competing for Super Bowls."
San Francisco began the year with high hopes of winning the West and reaching the postseason for the first time since 2002. Singletary was 18-22 in two-plus seasons.
"One of the greatest experiences of my life was having the opportunity to coach the San Francisco 49ers," Singletary said in a statement. "What made it so special were the players. They were some of the most outstanding men I have ever been around in my life. The coaches were truly professionals. I wish the 49ers nothing but the best. I am thankful to the York family for having given me the opportunity to be a head coach in the NFL. I am indebted to them for that. I am also thankful for the Faithful fans, I am just sorry I couldn’t give them more."
The 49ers opened 0-5 and will finish with a losing record for the seventh time in eight years. They went 8-8 in Singletary’s first full season, then produced an unbeaten preseason this year only to drop their first five games. It was the franchise’s worst start since losing seven in a row to begin a 2-14 season in 1979 — in the late Hall of Famer Bill Walsh’s first year as coach.
No team has recovered from an 0-5 start to reach the playoffs, but the 49ers would have made it if they had defeated the Rams and won again next Sunday. If that had happened, San Francisco would have won the tiebreaker over Seattle and St. Louis to win the division and become the first team with a losing record in a non-strike season to make the playoffs.
"You know what, I’ll put it this way: a personal failure. I’m the head coach of this team and obviously wanted us to do better, felt that we could do better," Singletary said after the game Sunday. "There are some obvious questions that I hoped would be answered as the season went on, and obviously were not answered. When that happens, you end up out of the playoffs.
"I take full responsibility for every unanswered question."
The 52-year-old Singletary, who first took over as coach on an interim basis when Mike Nolan was fired in October 2008, had two years remaining on his contract. York — son of owner John York — seems ready for major change around the Niners despite having to pay Singletary.
"Money is no object," Jed York said in St. Louis. "I mean, our object is to win the Super Bowl, year in and year out be there and compete for Super Bowls. We’re going to make sure we get this right."
During his debut in place of Nolan — a 34-13 loss to the Seahawks on Oct. 26, 2008 — Singletary pulled down his pants in the locker room at halftime to make a point, benched struggling quarterback J.T. O’Sullivan in favor of Shaun Hill, and sent now-Pro Bowl and captain tight end Vernon Davis to the showers early for what he deemed inappropriate behavior following a personal foul penalty. Afterward, Singletary called out his team with the now infamous "I want winners!" speech.
"I’d rather play with 10 people and just get penalized all the way until we have to do something else rather than play with 11 when I know that right now that person is not sold out to be a part of this team," Singletary said. "It is more about them than it is about the team. Cannot play with them, cannot win with them, cannot coach with them. Can’t do it. I want winners. I want people that want to win."
This year, Singletary fired offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye after Week 3, then lost secondary coach and special assistant, Johnnie Lynn, when he resigned for personal reasons earlier this month.
Singletary switched quarterbacks three different times, starting with Alex Smith, going to Troy Smith for five games even after Alex Smith’s hurt non-throwing shoulder had healed, then back to Alex Smith for two games before Troy Smith started Sunday — only to give way to Alex Smith in the fourth quarter after Troy Smith had a heated exchange with Singletary.
"I’m not worried about individual things like that. What bothers me is we come in here, this is a playoff-caliber game, and we didn’t get it done," York said. "And that’s the bottom line."