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Singletary: I was born to coach

Associated Press

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) ” Here’s a surprise for fans of a certain wide-eyed linebacker on the Chicago Bears’ dominant defenses of the 1980s: Mike Singletary thinks he’s even better suited for his new career.

After six weeks as the San Francisco 49ers’ interim coach, Singletary claims he’s deriving at least as much satisfaction from game-planning and teaching as he ever did from his Hall of Fame playing career.

“I am having the time of my life,” Singletary said Wednesday as the 49ers (4-8) began preparations for Sunday’s visit from the New York Jets.

“This is what I was born to do,” he continued. “There is absolutely no doubt in my mind. … I’m enjoying it simply because of the staff and because of the players. When you’ve got players like that and a staff like that, it makes it fun.”

Most people who know Singletary from his 12 seasons with the Bears would say he was born to play linebacker. He roamed Soldier Field with a singular intensity, earning his peers’ unending respect both for his mental preparation and athletic ability.

But just six seasons after the father of seven returned to the NFL following a decade as a motivational speaker, Singletary has become attached to the intense challenges of his high-pressure profession.

Although his future in his current job is far from secure, the 49ers are 2-3 since he took over for Mike Nolan, winning twice in their last three games to lighten the final weeks of San Francisco’s sixth consecutive non-winning season.

“He’s a great motivator, but that’s just one of his strengths,” defensive back Donald Strickland said. “Everybody in this locker room has great respect for him, and the coaching staff has kept us in position to win games. Making a coaching change in the middle of the season could have been a distraction, but everybody here has kept working hard, and (Singletary) just increased our confidence all around.”

While Singletary’s players praise his motivational techniques and management skills, most say they admire Singletary primarily because of his success as a player. Singletary is grateful for his locker-room credibility, but his newfound passion for coaching has trimmed any nostalgia for his youth.

“There are pros and cons to both,” Singletary said. “When you’re playing, you had the bumps and bruises. Of course, when you’re playing, you could go out there and do something about it. As a coach, you stand on the sideline and hopefully your work is done … and hopefully they go out there and get it done the right way. They both have their pros and cons, and great sides to both, but I really love coaching.”

Singletary still appears to be in good enough shape to fill in on special teams if necessary, and the 50-year-old coach cuts a striking figure on San Francisco’s sideline.

Singletary also gets notice for the sizable wooden cross he wears around his neck on a black chain, a souvenir from a shop near his family’s annual vacation spot in Green Lake, Wis. Singletary is the only NFL coach who displays his religious affiliation so prominently, but the NFL apparently has no problem with his necklace.

“If they would say something about it, I would just move on, because it’s more in me than on me,” Singletary said. “It’s not going to be an issue. … From the first day I started coaching, I decided to wear the cross as a reminder of who I am, and not lose my mind on the field and not become somebody else.”

It’s too soon to say whether Singletary will hang on to his job next season. The 49ers are more lively and less hapless than they were under Nolan, and two or three wins in the club’s final four games would present a compelling case for keeping Singletary to preserve a bit of continuity for a franchise that’s had precious little in recent years.

But Singletary is enjoying the time he has left in another San Francisco season that’s almost certain to end outside the playoffs.

“I was talking to the team this morning about how wonderful it is, and how humbled I am, to be in a situation where I can lead,” Singletary said. “I’m supposed to be a motivational speaker and all those other things, but you can’t motivate anyone to do anything that they’re not excited about doing. These guys want to win. They want to go to the next level.”

Notes: WR Chris Hannon, who was promoted from the practice squad to the active roster last Sunday, was signed by the Miami Dolphins on Wednesday. The 49ers had hoped to re-sign Hannon to the practice squad. … The 49ers signed LB Justin Roland to the practice squad. Roland played at Kansas State. … CB Nate Clements sat out of practice with a slight fracture in his left thumb. The 49ers haven’t decided whether their $80 million defensive back and punt returner will play against the Jets. If he can’t play and WR Arnaz Battle (foot) also sits out again, several players could get a shot at returning punts, from Michael Robinson to Isaac Bruce. … KR Allen Rossum (ankle) and S Michael Lewis (abdomen) also sat out of Wednesday’s practice with minor injuries. S Dashon Goldson (knee) is expected to return Sunday, and rookie WR Josh Morgan (groin) also might be back.