Bernstein: Madden Critique Hits Dumb Bears Fans

John Madden has not said many things about football that seem important to remember.  Which is odd, considering the years he spent in the NFL’s bully TV pulpit, and his standing even in retirement as a prominent analyst/pitchman/video-game brand.

The essence of his commentary has always been more about the game’s images and feelings than hard opinions:  the chunk of sod in the facemask, the steam off the bald head of a beaten-down nose tackle on a wintry late afternoon, or the Thanksgiving turducken.

So it rings through the din when Madden gives us a football thought worthy of attention, especially one that hits home.

On Sunday night, 49ers coach Mike Singletary made a point of pulling aside struggling quarterback Alex Smith on the sideline and screaming in his face.  This was not a pregame locker-room war cry to the team, nor a rant to an official in an effort to influence a call — it was an attempt to publicly intimidate or embarrass a professional athlete.

And Madden said, “That’s not coaching.”

“That’s something that, a lot of things go on in a game that you’re not proud of as a coach,” Madden told KCBS Radio. “That’s really not part of coaching, that’s sometimes I worry about that. I see youth football and I see high school football and coaches yelling at players and I cringe when I see it. I think people get the picture that’s what coaching is and believe me, that’s not what coaching is.”

Not only is he calling out Singletary, he is torpedoing the screaming, mustachioed phantom that has haunted Chicago sports opinion for over twenty years.

Remember, too many fans here have clamored for Singletary to rejoin the Bears when coaching positions have opened.  The desire to employ him is never based on any actual qualifications or credentials, but on his connection to past glory and his famous intensity as a player — he’d restore the Ditka days by confronting players and “getting in their face.”

(Never mind that Ditka’s inability to control his emotions and manage his celebrity helped a potential dynasty crumble all too quickly.  His own sideline tongue-lashing of Jim Harbaugh in Minneapolis is not something recalled fondly by smart fans.  And his stint with the Saints is best not recalled at all)

Madden continued.  “That’s not what it is. You have to coach, you have to teach, you have to strategize, you have to encourage. That’s what coaching is, not the opposite.”

We can debate all day the positives and negatives of Lovie Smith as Bears head coach, as we often seem to do.  There are numerous, legitimate reasons to find fault with the job he has done to this point in his seventh season on the job.  But too much criticism of Smith is still based on him not being Ditka, and not embodying the projected feelings of fans as does, say, Singletary.

Madden’s point is clear and simple.  NFL coaches are not fans, and they are not over-caffeinated radio talk-show hosts unleashing their latest thought on the nearest target.  They have a job to do that is much more nuanced and complicated than many seem to appreciate.

This city learned some wrong lessons from a successful coach decades ago.  Let’s unlearn them.

More from Dan Bernstein
  • Pulseczar

    John Madden is like the Brett Favre of retired commentators.

  • Chet's Inflated Ego

    Good comments Bernsie.
    I know that I would be demoralized by an abusive yeller for a boss, so why would I think that a professional football player would be inspired by yelling???
    Among the non-yellers were Don Shula, Tony Dungy, Joe Gibbs, Tom Landry, Bill Walsh, George Seifert, and likely some others that just don’t spring to mind.
    Yelling has more to do with the anxiety of the yeller than it does with achieving success.

    • Beverly Brewmaster

      Chet, you hit the nail on the head… People forget that being a professional football player is a job, and a coach is a boss. How many people would thrive in a workplace setting where you get chewed out in front of your co-workers for making a mistake?

  • mike in davenport

    Man, when WAS the last time Madden had a relevant thought? Or, has he been so hamstrung by on-air diplomacy that we’re only now getting the real thoughts?

    My problems with Lovie are actually things that he’s been improving this year – personnel changes, in-game strategy shifts, and better game management (e.g. time outs and challenges), while not perfect, are at least improving.

    Lovie gets criticized for what I think is his strongest point – whatever the situation, he is in control of himself and projects a calm demeanor. That is an admirable trait, not a fault.

  • Chet's Inflated Ego

    Just to follow-up on a story from yesterday: 2 games for Hammer seems about right. I don’t think the play was dirty, but it was blind-side and involved the head and I respect that the NHL is trying to reduce the number of concussions and head injuries. I said yesterday that 2-3 games seemed about right, so 2 it is.

  • Madden needs to stop talking

    I saw a coach motivating his player, which is exactly why Alex Smith kicked ass after that exchange with Singletary. I guess it is all perception, or assumption if you’re not a part of the discussion.

    • mike in davenport

      If that motivation was what caused the success, why are the niners without a win this year? Singletary has been “motivating” them the same way since he’s been there.

      • Chris in Scottsdale

        Doesn’t Singletary have them on the right track because of his training camp? I thought that because he used the Nutcracker drill that he had the fire and the passion to be a great one, like Halas.

      • Madden needs to stop talking

        I wasn’t commenting on their entire season, Mike, but obviously you’re finding difficulty distinguishing between a situation and a whole season. You can look at what Singletary did and what Alex Smith did after the exchange and say that he wasn’t motivated to do well? If that is the case, you’re simply blinding by ignorance.


    Hjarmalsson deserves a suspension for not playing up to the level of his capabilities. SInce he wasn’t a repeat offender, he got off lightly, but he had to know that there was no way for that play to end sucessfully. Weighing his options, he should have peeled off behind and set a pick.
    It’s the kind of hit that needs to be eliminated from the game.
    How about Bertuzzi’s hit in the home opener (3rd period) “I wasn’t hitting the guy, I was headed to the bench. See? Here I am.” Not brutal, but a penalty (and funny).

    • Beverly Brewmaster

      I think two games is about right, but I’m puzzled by the criticism Hammer’s play has garnered thus far. Here’s a second-year player who’s played his entire young career with an all-star caliber defensive partner and suddenly he’s paired with a 19-year-old. Of course he’s not going to look as good. Did you see how Seabrook looked while paired with Leddy Monday night? Don’t get me wrong… I’d like to see Hammer elevate his play in Campbell’s absence, but the decline we’ve seen is to be expected given the circumstances.

      • SPAULDING!

        Oh yeah, I think this whole team will look better when Campbell comes back (and where is Sharp? DId he play in the last game?)
        I didn’t know this was his second year.
        They were already getting their power play in shape in Buffalo.


    Coaches are probably on the losing side of the “it’s either the player or the coach…”
    argument for a GM.
    They make more money. If a coach can figure a way around that dynamic, he has about half of his work done for him.
    SIngletary can employ the “I’m not asking you to do the same thing I wouldn’t as myself to do approach” Lovie Smith really can’t. But you cannot berate in public.
    In lockerrooms, offices, yep. But you have to offer a carrot as well.


    Would you rather have a “poor man’s Ben Rothlisberger”
    a “rich man’s Eli Manning?”
    What about a rich man’s Rich Hill? I have no idea where I’m going with this.
    Go Rangers!

  • Chris in Scottsdale

    That Bernstein just dun’t get it. Singletary has the Fire and the Passion to bring back the glory days! That’s what we’re missing in a Chicago Bears coach- Lovie doesn’t have the Fire and the Passion. We need the power running game to play smash-mouth football in Bear Weather, like back in the day! Bill George would have eaten Aaron Rogers for lunch, because he’s got that Bear attitude! I long for the days of going 2-12, as long as those two wins were against the Packers, who cares what else happened?
    What the heck? Bernsie sounds like a New York name anyways.

  • bronzo

    I’m surprised nobody is talking about the SI story regarding agents paying college football players. It confirms everything I thought about college football and agents. I couldn’t figure out whay everybody made such a big deal about Reggie Bush? was it wrong?…Yes but it didn’t effecr anything he did on the field. Schools make a fortune off players and as the article said they were just doin what’s best for their families.

    • Chet's Inflated Ego

      Excellent point.
      I hope that Bernsie brings that up today.
      That SI piece felt like it was illustrating what was very typical.

    • Bob in San Diego

      I’m a day behind the show – they talked about the preview of the SI article yesterday.

  • bronzo

    I missed it…I just think the NCAA is so hypocritical…

  • Chet's Inflated Ego

    Crawford in Goal against The Preds.


    When I saw 49ers head coach Mike Singletary give struggling QB Alex Smith a tongue-lashing during the 4th quarter of Sunday’s latest loss to the Eagles in San Francisco, it reminded me to a certain extent of what former Bear QB Jim Harbaugh got from Mike Ditka in his last year as Bears’ head coach in 1992, the infamous audible turned touchdown for the Vikings at the Metrodome.

    That being said, it appeared to me as if Singletary was trying to give his winless team a swift kick in the rear and may have also read the onetime former #1 overall pick in 2005 the riot act as fans were chanting for David Carr, another former #1 pick now backing up Smith in San Francisco. Make no mistake about it…Someone’s on the way out in San Francisco…Smith, Singletary or both sooner rather than later.

  • Jake from Da Burbs

    I agree that Singletary’s angry-eyed, foaming at the mouth coaching methodology is outdated and amateurish in today’s NFL. But as Madden pointed out (who would have ever thought I would have to say that), coaches are supposed to coach on the sidelines and at least be, if not look, active. Its not about the “Fire and the Passion,” its not about yelling or jumping up and down or acting the fool… Its about actively coaching the team and be involved in the game.

    Look at Belichick, he’s a virtual statue of emotions on the sidelines but I’ve actually seen Belichick gather his defense around him, pull a draw up plays, look at photos and strategize with his defense on how to stop an opposing offense. Or huddling with Brady to talk offense.

    Look at Tomlin… He’s actively involved in both offense and defensive strategy. He’s gotten in people’s faces but doesn’t go crazy with it. He actually reminds me of Singletary minus the crazy gene.

    Look at Rex Ryan… Active in every aspect of his coaching especially on the defense. Actually coaching up his players, talking strategy, encouraging and pushing his guys.

    When’s the last time you saw Lovie Smith even go talk to a player coming off the field that deserved a talking to? When have you seen him go strategize with the defense when they’re giving up massive yards? How about going to talk to that Offensive line who was offensive in that NYG game? Whenever I have seen Smith, it is the same cross-armed, mouth agape, dumb-founded look who doesn’t seem to exactly know what the heck is actually going on. Nothing about Lovie Smith on the sidelines shows me he’s the unquestioned leader of that sideline, commanding respect, pushing his players, strategizing to defeat his counterpart on the opposing sidelines.

    Does this make me a Fire & the Passion meatball? If it does… then I’ll wear it proudly.

  • Chris in Austin, MN

    This is extremely misguided criticism. Patrick Willis stood up for Alex Smith during a half-time tongue lashing from Singletary against the Seahawks or Chiefs. Willis said he had learned since high school that you don’t criticize until you see the tape. That was wrong of Singletary.

    This, however, is right after a stupid decision by Alex Smith. Madden acts like the right thing to do is “encourage” whether you bench him or not. Well, I think Alex Smith is tough enough that he’ll take the criticism he deserved and play rather than an “encouraging” benching. When you’ve been as close as San Francisco has been to beating three teams with winning records from last year, it would be hard not to be upset.

  • AT3374

    Ditka , sausages , Ditka

  • Chet's Inflated Ego

    Don Banks of (who is a smart guy) now ranks The Bears #8 of 32 NFL teams in his power ranking (he makes The Steelers and The Ravens 1 and 2).
    So, The Bears are now toward the top of the blob.
    But with this O-line I can’t see how they can win in the playoffs.
    (Jim Mora screech-voice “Playoffs?”)

  • Lydell

    Don’t blame Singletary. Blame the Coco Puffs.

  • General Soreness

    Singletary is just not a good NFL head coach, plain and simple. He cannot will teams to win with his fire and passion. Win are all that matters in a 16 game season and they have 0. Look for him to get canned within the next couple of weeks.

    • Madden needs to stop talking

      Didn’t he just sign a contract at the end of last season? So they’re not even going to give him a season or two to figure it out? HILARIOUS! Everyone’s a critic even when they don’t know what they’re talking about. GJ General…

  • davi

    i started watching the bears in 2000, at the age of 10, and I even realize how moronic both ditka and singletary are. Wasn’t Ditka the meathead who inherited a team with a good general manager who’d drafted well for years and an innovative dcoordinator in buddy ryan?

    Wasn’t Ditka also the moron who traded all of the Saints’ 1999 and 2000 draft picks to move several spots up in the draft to get rick williams?

    • Mike - Milwaukee

      If Ditka only had you around to advise hime.

  • Joey in West Chicago

    As the owner of a mid-size biz, I generally never condone screaming into an employees face. That said, extreme situations call for extreme measures. Their 0-5 start is the equivalent to my biz losing $$ for nearly 4 months straight. If those $$ losses are due to an employee not being properly prepared, not listening to me, and not following the set game plan, and especially if it’s a senior manager making $200k/year, you’re darn right I’m getting in his/her face. Sometimes being humiliated is the one thing that can make a person step up to the plate and get better. My college baseball coach yelled at me and humiliated me in front of teammates for not being fully present during a baserunning exercise. I was mad, but you can bet it never happened again and I became a better ball player for it. All of us had a love/hate realtionship w/him – we all thought he was a prick, but he wanted to win and we all became better ballplayers out of fear of him humiliating us.

  • Mike - Milwaukee

    The minute a coach starts yelling Bernstein wants to label them a bad coach. Coaches yell sometimes, get over it. Anyone who has played a competitive sport has been yelled at from time to time. Are we really to believe that the psyche of an NFL QB is that frail? If getting in Smith’s face didn’t lead to the improved play what did? I guess it was just a coincidence.

  • Johnny Fontane

    I read one of Madden’s early books and one of his comments was that he never got down on his team when it was losing. He would be a hard ass only when the team was playing well. His recent comments seem to support this theory.

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