Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Prudence and Coach Singletary

Although it almost sounds like an old fashioned word, or can be confused with "being a prude" which has a negative connotation, prudence, according to Fr. John A. Hardon is "Correct knowledge about things to be done or, more broadly, the knowledge of things that ought to be done and that ought to be avoided." In short, prudence requires us to distinguish between what is right and wrong. In light of the unsurprising firing of 49er head coach Mike Singletary, the only question I want to raise is related to prudence.

Cicero made the claim that "gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others." During this season of giving, nothing is more true. But he lived before Christ and a common question that we ask in the ethics course I teach is "what difference does Christ make to the good?" And so, it is interesting to teach and learn what virtues are truly Christian virtues. For example, humility was not considered to be a "good moral habit" to the Greeks, but Jesus modeled humility to His death. St. Thomas Aquinas, the Catholic Church's greatest theologian and philosopher said prudence, not gratitude is the queen of all virtues. "Through its exercise we acquire the moral knowledge necessary to form all other actions into virtues." Prudence, in addition to temperance, justice and fortitude is also a cardinal virtue. These four are called "cardinal" virtues from the Latin word for "hinge." In the Catholic faith tradition, all other virtues, like patience, generosity, kindness, etc. "hinge" on them. Unlike the theological virtues, which are gifts of God through grace, the cardinal virtues can be practiced by anyone. Singletary was fired on the flight home from St. Louis to San Francisco. The man lost his job of two years before the plane even touched ground. Just as ending a long term relationship is painfully difficult, I do not doubt that this was a tough thing for Jed York to do. I do however wonder if firing him after what was already an upsetting loss (the 49ers will not play in the post season) was prudent. Am I raising a fair question?I don't think there is ever the appropriate or "right" time to fire someone, especially a human being like Mike Singletary. I firmly believe Singletary is a virtuous man. My God, the Singletary family even has a mission statement (former posting)! 

He was not fired because of off field behavior or questions about what he represents. No one will question his character, his resolve and love for the game. To this day, I harbor resentment against Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder for the way he fired Norv Turner back in 2000. Following a bitter loss to the New York Giants, Snyder had Turner wait outside his office for close to four hours before he opened his door to meet with him. Four hours!? 

The Catechsim of the Catholic church states "the prudent man looks where he is going." Clearly this is untrue for Snyder. Turner's life and livelihood were on the line. To treat another person in the way that Snyder did lacks prudence, and the other three cardinal virtues for that matter. (no wonder he was named "Sports Jerk of the Year" by the “Tank McNamara” comic strip) 

I wish Singletary had been able to finish the 2010 season with the Niners. Even one week from today, I am sure the "49er Faithful" would still find it necessary for him to go, but it would allow this organization to act like the "winners" Singletary was famous for wanting. Good luck Coach Singletary. Your remarks, though prepared, reflect exactly who you are. 

One of the greatest experiences of my life was having the opportunity to coach the San Francisco 49ers. What made it so special were the players. They were some of the most outstanding men I have ever been around in my life.

Photo Credits

Coach Singletary
Jed York


  1. Singletary had a job to do and he didn't do it. I like him and feel bad for him. However, I feel worse for the players who want to win and are on a team that hasn't produced when it should have.
    He knew it was over-- Of course he hoped to finish the season.

    The Faithful needed to know that the Niner's organization is aware and ready to step up. I was impressed with York's press conference. He was coached well dealing with reporters and showed he's in control and looking to stabilize the organization. The momentum is now. Interviewing for a GM has begun. I like knowing that the team didn't finish the season, take a break for the New Year and then slowly start to rebuild under the radar. The prudent choice was to take care of the fans and the team, now. --to show us someone is leading. York has not done that in the past. He is ultimately responsible.

    This situation reminds me of my job.
    As a teacher if my students are not performing after 2 years with me, do I finish the year or is it the principal's responsibility to remove me before the year ends? Students would be sad because we've developed a strong relationship and I've encouraged them well, I just haven't taught them any academics. Should the principal get me out and get someone in who can prepare the students academically or wait for another year to conclude?

  2. The firing was actually merciful. The '9ers had one home game left. It would have been a boo-athon with Singletary on the sidelines. Instead, we had the disarming fresh face of Tomsulo. The spirit was relaxed, the players performed, and Coach Sing was spared.