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Chaos Reigns for Winless 49ers

SAN FRANCISCO - So now the man in charge, using that word loosely for a football franchise which seems not to have anyone in charge - at least no one who understands football - makes a wild-hare prediction the San Francisco 49ers will win their division.

As a suggestion here from the peanut gallery, they might want to start by winning a game. Which they hadn't in their first five starts.

Jed York is 29, an impetuous age. He's a good kid and secure in the knowledge his mom and dad own the team, meaning he'll never have to pay for tickets. Jed is listed as president and CEO, these days a more secure position with the Niners than, say head coach or quarterback.

A region long obsessed with the NFL, the Niners and cross-bay Oakland Raiders both having Super Bowl victories in their history, the Bay Area is suddenly infatuated with the baseball San Francisco Giants.

This is understandable, since the Giants are into the second round of the post-season while the football teams, who face each other Sunday, have two wins between them.

Also understandable is Jed York's dive-over-the-cliff text message to ESPN's Adam Schefter about the 49ers, and thus himself, "We're going to win the division.''

That the division they're in is NFC West, where nobody appears to be any good, although the Arizona Cardinals have won three more games than San Francisco, perhaps gives a young man reason for such a nonsensical prediction.

A realist would note no team in the history of the NFL has begun a season 0-5 and even made the playoffs, never mind finishing first in its division.

A realist additionally would note the Niners are a mess, the offensive coordinator, Jimmy Raye, already has been bounced; the head coach, Mike Singletary, in danger of a similar fate; and quarterback Alex Smith looking more and more inadequate for the task.

On Monday night, the Niners and Smith couldn't beat a Philadelphia Eagles squad without Michael Vick. During the game, Singletary threatened to bench Smith but after a dialogue - or debate, if that be more accurate - kept him in the game. For a brief while then, looked good enough to be the first player chosen in the 2005 draft. Which he was.

Jed York showed a brave face, with that boast, which maybe was intended both to allay the anger of a fan base that only too eagerly remembers the way it used to be and to steal some of the attention now commandeered by the Giants.

Normally, baseball season by the bay is over in early October, and so it's all Niners and/or Raiders. This year, it appears football season is over in early October, although Oakland did upset the Chargers on Sunday, and is 2-3.

Singletary is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He's tough. He's persuasive. But is he a head coach? He's trying to go about his work as aggressively and selectively as when he played linebacker for the Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears in the 1980s.

He doesn't like criticism - Singletary forced out the announcer on his own weekly show when the questioning turned negative - and he doesn't like skeptics.

Smith is a fine individual. And he's had six different offensive coordinators. And a few injuries. And a bad rap from his former head coach, Mike Nolan, the one who with that very first pick, went for Smith instead of the quarterback over in Berkeley, Aaron Rodgers. Nolan took a cheap shot at Alex when he thought Smith was taking too long rehabilitating a shoulder bruise.

All that aside, if it can be shoved aside, Smith, as Monday night, too frequently throws an interception or loses a fumble. He kills drives. He kills opportunities.

You ask then, if the Niners can win with Alex Smith. If the Niners can win with Mike Singletary. If the Niners can win with Jed York, who accepts the status quo and endorses it.

A football team like any other business, needs direction from the top. Needs people able to recognize the problems and correct them.

The late columnist Jim Murray once wrote nothing is so bad it can't be made worse by firing the coach. Yet, when you're 0-5, how much worse can it get?

Something's wrong when a pro football team begins a season with five consecutive losses, when the coach and the quarterback are unable to get along, when it keeps turning the ball over.

But the president/CEO contends it will win the division. Please!

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a living treasure of sports history. A recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- he has earned himself a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was recently honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America for 2009.

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