-- Mike Singletary bristled ever so slightly once today during his introductory news conference as linebackers coach for the Baltimore Ravens, when he was asked whether this was "an experiment." Singletary has been out of football since ending a Hall of Fame career with the Chicago Bears after the 1992 season.
"I'm not trying to coach, I'm going to coach," he said. "An experiment is when you come to Baltimore and [keep] your home [and children in their familiar setting] just in case things don't work the way you hope. We sold our home [in Chicago] in four days. . . . This is not an experiment. Anything that I'm going to do I will with all my heart and all my mind and all my soul. This is where I'm supposed to be."
Ravens Coach Brian Billick tries to hire former players when possible. One was Jack Del Rio, who left the Ravens before last season to become defensive coordinator of the Carolina Panthers. After Del Rio became head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars about a month ago, he hired Mike Smith from the Ravens, creating the vacancy Billick filled with Singletary.
With Singletary, Billick measured his commitment to the job with the sort of "litmus test" he had used with former Minnesota Vikings star Del Rio and some others, among them ex-Dallas Cowboys standout Dennis Thurman, whom he elevated today from part-time aide to assistant secondary coach.
"Basically, you paint a tough and dismal picture of this profession," Billick said. "The [former pro star] says, 'You mean I won't get Tuesdays off? You want to pay me how much?' You remind them about having to go to Buzzard's Breath, N.D., to see a kid -- and he won't show up [for the scheduled workout] so you have to track him down.
"You tell him about all the mind-numbing meetings [before the draft and in training camp], that you have to prepare for practices three months from now. And that you'll sit here 'til midnight every night of the week [during the season], take your kids to school Monday morning and not see them 'til Thursday night at dinner. 'Yeah [he said to Singletary], you're in the Hall of Fame. But if things don't go well you're an idiot just like the rest of us.' "
Billick paused and said of Singletary's response: "He came in here on a Sunday night. We met on Monday. His wife came here Tuesday -- and picked out a house by Thursday and had a school by the following Monday."
During his 10-plus years as a motivational speaker and developing training methods, Singletary, 44, had kept in touch with football mostly through clinics. Billick had him talk to the team that eventually won Super Bowl XXXV after a late-season victory over the Cowboys and was impressed by how with a relatively soft voice he kept the attention of veterans such as Ray Lewis, Rod Woodson, Shannon Sharpe and Rob Burnett.
Singletary's interest in giving as much energy to being a coach as he had as a player started about 18 months ago, when Baylor, his alma mater, approached him about the head coaching job that eventually went to Guy Morriss.
The Bears had no openings when he spoke with Dick Jauron before the end of last season, Singletary said, but there were "two or three possibilities" with other NFL teams and one as defensive coordinator at the major-college level. Probably, he added, going directly into coaching might not have been best.
"I might have been a great coach early," he said, "but an awful dad, an awful husband. . . . I have seven kids. I will find a way to see them often, somehow, some way. They may be on the board helping me write things."
Singletary will be in charge of the best unit on the Ravens. It features Lewis, possibly the only current NFL player whose passion for football matches his own and who barring injury also will rank among the sport's all-time linebackers.
Fans came to know Singletary's intensity through cameras focusing on his eyes and high-pitched voice during games. Singletary had 1,488 tackles during his career, 885 of them solo, after being chosen in the second round of the 1981 draft. He started 172 games, a team record for a defensive player and 12 shy of the late Walter Payton's mark.
In 1985, Singletary directed a defense that set a record for a 16-game season by allowing just 187 points. The Bears overwhelmed the New England Patriots, 46-10, in Super Bowl XX. In the playoffs, Singletary had 13 tackles, two fumble recoveries, a sack and two passes defended.
In addition to winning the Super Bowl, Lewis's 2000 Ravens broke that Bears record for fewest points allowed by 22. Any comparisons between those two defenses apparently will be in private.
"I'm not getting into that," Singletary said.
Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan anticipates a quick and solid fit for Singletary, Lewis, three-time Pro Bowler Peter Boulware and rising star Edgerton Hartwell.
"They've got an awful lot in common," Nolan said of Singletary and Lewis. "I think there's an instant connection. Ray having watched Mike play . . . maybe sees himself in that a lot of times. Ray has a lot of the charisma [Lawrence Taylor] had, but he's got that great intensity Mike had when he played. Ray has that same look in his eyes."
By the minicamps, Lewis is expected to have fully recovered from shoulder surgery. He missed 11 of the final 12 games last season. By training camp, Singletary expects to be fully acclimated to his new job.
"The first few days," he said, "I'm not sure they'll like me very much. A lot of work has to be done."