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Mike Singletary wants back in the game

The Hall of Fame linebacker interviewed for the Bears’ defensive coordinator position and didn’t get it. But, after learning some hard lessons as coach of the 49ers, he’s “absolutely ... interested” in returning to the NFL after a four-year absence.

Philadelphia Eagles v San Francisco 49ers
Mike Singletary (right, talking with quarterback Alex Smith in 2010) was 18-22 as head coach of the 49ers in 2008-10.
Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Hall of Fame linebacker Mike Singletary doesn’t wear the Super Bowl ring he won in 1986 — for the same reason he skipped the celebration in Chicago and headed straight to Hawaii after winning it all at the Superdome in New Orleans. Because it’s not enough.

“The biggest reason I don’t wear the Super Bowl ring is because I don’t want to get comfortable,” Singletary said. “I’m thankful that we won that Super Bowl. But at some time, I believe I’ll win another one. Don’t know when. Don’t even know if it’ll happen. But I believe that. I don’t want to wear this one because I want to replace it with another one.”

At 62, four seasons since he last coached in the NFL, Singletary is eager to get back. He was 18-22 as the coach of the 49ers from 2008 to 2010 — 5-4 as a replacement for Mike Nolan in 2008, 8-8 in 2009 and 5-10 before he was fired with one game left in the season in 2010. He last coached in the NFL as an assistant with the Rams in 2016.

Singletary interviewed for the Bears’ defensive coordinator position last month — his agent initiated the contact. He didn’t get the job, but he hopes it’s a first step toward getting back into the coaching loop.

“Absolutely I’m interested in getting back in the league, and hopefully the right opportunity comes,” said Singletary, who coached a team in the Hula Bowl against Rex Ryan last week. “But since leaving the 49ers, there’s a lot of work that I needed to do in order to not just be another coach in the league. I don’t want to be a coach looking for another gig. I want to be a great coach. I want to be one of the greatest coaches ever.”

Samurai Mike, very obviously, is as big and bold and as resolute as ever. But he knows he can’t be the same brash, in-your-face coach he was with the 49ers. He learned some hard lessons in those 40 games as an NFL head coach. The main one: You can’t coach with the same demeanor that you played.

“The mindset of a championship coach is quite a bit different than the mindset of a championship player,” Singletary said. “As a player, when you’re in that huddle, you can say anything, you can do anything, because you’re all in there together. You’re a pack of wolves. And they understand totally what you’re saying.

“But when you’re on that sideline, it’s another thing. It’s another demeanor that has to come about. And it’s taken some time to develop that demeanor in order to be just as competitive, just as ferocious, just as intense as you were as a player when you’re on that sideline — but your demeanor has to be different.”

The kicker is that the incident that branded Singletary as an off-the-wall coach — his blistering public rebuke of tight end Vernon Davis in 2008 — was his most fruitful motivational tactic.

In Singletary’s first game in place of Nolan, he sent Davis to the locker room after he was unhappy with Davis’ nonchalant response to an unnecessary-roughness penalty for responding to trash talk from Seahawks safety Brian Russell. Singletary’s postgame rant quickly became legendary.

“I will not tolerate players that think it’s about them when it’s about the team,” Singletary said at his news conference. “Cannot play with them. Cannot win with them. Cannot coach with them. Can’t do it. I want winners.”

As it turned out, Davis took Singletary’s admonishment to heart and became one of the best tight ends in the NFL.

“That was the moment that turned everything around,” he said in an NBC Sports Bay Area podcast in 2017.

Still, Singletary knew he needed a finer touch.

“My approach had to change because I couldn’t continue being on that sideline and after a game feeling like I had just played the game,” Singletary said. “[I was] like, ‘Something’s wrong here.’ I realized I have to compete at a different place.”

As for his interview with the Bears, Singletary met with coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace on a Zoom call. Obviously, this opportunity was more personal for a candidate who played his entire career with the Bears — with seven All-Pro selections and 10 Pro Bowl appearances.

“I’ve come back to the Bears a couple of times and talked about what it is to be a Bear,” Singletary said. “But there comes a time when you get tired of talking about it, [and] you say, ‘Hey, let me show you better than I can tell you.’ They’ve got some great players there, and I wish them the best.

“I thought it was a good interview. I thought the questions were fair. Didn’t like the outcome. But it is what it is.”

Singletary once was a promising coaching prospect. His preparation and dedication as a player set an example that commanded the respect of his teammates. That was never more evident than in 1992, when the Bears honored Singletary in his last home game — and the 4-9 Bears responded with a 30-6 victory over the playoff-bound Steelers to end a six-game losing streak.

But that was nearly 30 years ago. Now Singletary is starting over, just trying to get his foot in the door.

“The strategy for me is just [finding] the right situation,” Singletary said. “It’s not so much the position — it’s the situation. And when you find the right situation, you know what it feels like, what it sounds like. That’s the right situation.”