Introducing Mr. And Mrs. Coach

By Anne Killion
Updated: May 10, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO — The NFL might as well stand for the No Family League. In a sport that glorifies workaholic coaches who sleep nightly in their office and put their jobs ahead of family, a man could easily overlook that Sunday was Mother’s Day.

Not Mike Singletary, who has the date circled on his calendar.

“Oh, we’ll do something special,” the 49ers’ coach said with a big smile last week.

Singletary is a coach today because his wife, Kim, mother of their seven children, urged him to pursue that line of work. He attributes his Hall of Fame playing career to Kim’s love and support.

The couple, who will celebrate a quarter century of marriage this month, met at Baylor University. She was a freshman from Detroit, feeling like “a fish out of water” in Texas and looking for a place to study in a crowded library. He was a sophomore, a budding star on the football team, and he had covered one large table with all of his books.

Kim asked if she could sit. Mike was sure she had come to flirt. Kim had no idea who he was. Mike was sure she was fawning over his football prowess. Kim, who was struggling in calculus, noticed the problems he was working on and asked for help. Mike, who was actually doing business math but confidently offered to tutor her in calculus, was still sure she was trying to flirt.

“We couldn’t have been further apart from each other’s brains,” she said.

That’s not surprising to anyone who knows them now.

“My parents are very opposite,” their oldest child, Kristen, a 23-year old senior at Baylor, said. “That’s why they complement each other so well.”

Kim is the velvet to Mike’s iron. She moderates the white-hot flame that he brings to every endeavor. She points out the bigger picture surrounding the object of his intense focus.

“She pulls him back,” Kristen said.

As Kim said, he’s “always asking me to map out our top five goals for the next five years.

“And I say, ‘Mike what are we doing for dinner?'”

Setting an example

The young Baylor students forged a strong friendship. They also shared a faith in God. But Kim had never envisioned herself in an interracial relationship. She kept thinking, “I’d sure like to meet someone like him who is white.”

Pretty soon she figured out there wasn’t anyone else like Mike Singletary.

They married in 1984. Singletary, the youngest of 10 children, wanted 10 of his own. Kim thought four children was more reasonable. Four became seven: Kristen, Matthew, Jill, Jackie, Brooke, Becky and John.

When Mike retired as a player, after the 1992 season, he dedicated himself to his large family. He brought his linebacker’s intensity to the home front: to the dishes, the laundry, the school projects.

“He wanted you to do everything with all your heart,” Kristen said. “Even if it was folding the laundry.”

“Everything he does, he does hard,” Kim added. “He played hard. He studied hard. And he loves hard.”

Family matters most. And Singletary says he is blessed to have such a strong partner.

“I tell all my kids that I hope every one of them finds someone they can feel about the way I feel about their mother,” he said.

A young man named Cooper Calhoun is the first to meet the test. He and Kristen plan to be married at the end of the year.

“I feel bad for my fiancé sometimes,” Kristen said. “He’s got a lot to live up to.”

One night at the dinner table, Mike came up with the idea of crafting a family mission statement. The statement still hangs in their kitchen. It reads:

“This is the home of champions. As Singletarys we will always strive to do our very best in all we do. We will strive to be honest and respect each other’s feelings, property and time. We will always pray for one another, fight for one another and encourage one another. For our trust be not in our home, nor our money or status or knowledge, but in each other, and above all, in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

“That was one of those moments when it hit me that, ‘Wow, this is so different from other people’s families,’ ” Kristen said.

Loyalty and belief

Kim knew Mike’s passion and intensity were better suited for coaching than for unloading the dishwasher. After a lot of prayer, she told him she thought it was time to make the leap to a profession that is notoriously hard on families.

He threw himself into it, preparing his own binders and notebooks for the day he’d become an NFL head coach. But when he got the 49ers job midway through last season, after his friend and boss Mike Nolan was fired, Singletary was conflicted.

“Loyalty is so big for him,” she said. “He was loyal to the Nolans in an old-fashioned way.”

But, as usual, he threw himself into the new role. Right off the bat he proclaimed his intention to be the best coach in NFL history. Most people raised their eyebrows, but Kim wasn’t surprised.

“Well, from Day One he said he was going to be the best linebacker in history,” she said. “And then he kind of ends up doing it. He doesn’t have cheap words.”

‘Everything to me’

Singletary’s family, scattered in different locations, watched his controversy-filled first game — the one in which he sent tight end Vernon Davis off the field for insubordination. Perhaps better than anyone else in the world, Singletary’s children knew just what Davis could expect.

“I thought, ‘Ohhh, Vernon, don’t turn back around,'” Kristen said. “And of course he did. So when Dad sent him off, I thought, as his kid, ‘of course he’d do that.’ He does not make idle threats.”

And then there was the postgame news conference, the one in which Singletary famously went off on selfish players by ranting, “Cannot play with them, cannot coach with them, can’t do it.” When Kim watched him come to the podium, she could tell what was about to happen.

“I thought, ‘Oh no. No, no, no,'” she said. “I think he’s learned that you don’t have to say everything.”

But Singletary does things his own way. Always has. For example, 253 men have been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But Singletary is in a class of one. He is the only man in that macho club to have his wife introduce him at the induction ceremony.

“That was a very easy decision,” Singletary said. “My wife, outside of my faith, is everything to me. If she’s not there, I’m not there.”

She’s there. Every step of the way.