49ers running back Coffee quits after one year
David White, Chronicle Staff Writer
Saturday, August 14, 2010
Backup running back Glen Coffee left the 49ers on Friday, making him the second player to leave training camp this week.
That could be seen as a sign of a deeper problem within the locker room. Just don't tell that to 49ers coach Mike Singletary.
"This has been one of the best weeks that we've had," Singletary said Friday after Coffee joined defensive end Kentwan Balmer as players who walked away from the team.
"The reason why is because we have adversity. When you have to deal with adversity, it allows you to focus."
If that's the case, the 49ers should have 20/10 vision come Sunday's exhibition opener at Indianapolis. The second edition of Camp Singletary has been that adversity-prone with a bucket of unpredictability on top.
Balmer remained AWOL for the third straight day at a cost of $16,000 in fines a day. Coffee, entering his second NFL season, did not practice Thursday afternoon and told Singletary he was leaving football before Friday's practice.
Yet Singletary acts like all of this is a good thing.
"It would be very easy to go through the entire offseason and go through training camp without facing any adversity at all," Singletary said, "Go into the season and you have one setback and think, 'Oh my goodness, how are we going to deal with that?' We can deal with anything."
General manager Scot McCloughan disappears into the March night with no explanation for his sudden predraft departure? No problem, team officials say.
Nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin refuses to sign his franchise-tag contract and report for camp? Not a distraction, everyone insists.
"The thing that we're trying to do with the 49ers, we're trying to find 53 men that love the game of football and that's going to help us get to where we need to go," Singletary said Friday.
Coffee won't be one of them, not after deciding it was time to leave the sport after one season. He told Singletary his heart wasn't in the sport as far back as college, one reason he left for the NFL early.
"This has been a tough decision for me to make, but at this time in my life, I feel it is best for me that I move on from football," Coffee said in a statement.
Balmer has, since Wednesday, told reporters he would be coming back, but there remains no Balmer in sight, with all absences unexcused.
"If Balmer wanted to be back, he'd be back," Singletary said.
It's not as if Singletary is running players into the ground this summer. Last year's camp was described by players as the toughest of their career. No one is saying that these days.
The fearsome "nutcracker" drill has been watered down to a blocking and technique exercise. The team took an unannounced field trip to the Monterey Peninsula last week. Team drills are played to the soothing sounds of jazz, soul music and Motown hits over loudspeakers.
Singletary even canceled Friday's afternoon practice.
For players to be quitting in this atmosphere, well, the players left behind just don't get it.
"I've seen it happen in college, but I have never seen it happen at the pro level," said Michael Robinson, who went from special teams player to backup running back overnight. He'll compete with rookie Anthony Dixon for the right to back up 1,000-yard rusher Frank Gore.
"You have to move on," quarterback Alex Smith said. "Different things happen to every team."
Perhaps, but the 49ers aren't usually one of those teams.
The team on the other side of the Bay monopolized the training camp drama in years past, whether it was assistant coach Randy Hanson accusing coach Tom Cable of assault or former Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell staging the longest holdout by a No. 1 overall pick since Bo Jackson.
Now, it's the Raiders who are a portrait of stability while the 49ers are on the other sideline learning how to deal with adversity.
If the 49ers go on to win the NFC West, they can look back at times like this and laugh. If not, perhaps looking back to August in Santa Clara would be a good starting point for an explanation.
"I'm looking high and low to try and find those 53 that really love being here," Singletary said. "So, that's where I'm at."
Briefly: Wide receiver Michael Crabtree missed a second practice with a sprained neck. Singletary said "It's possible" Crabtree will play Sunday. ... Robinson had three rushes for 2 yards last season. His best year running the ball was his second, 2007, when he gained 121 yards and averaged 4.7 per carry. He had career receiving highs of 17 catches and 202 yards in 2008.
A brief career
-- Glen Coffee announced Friday that he is retiring, at age 23, entering his second NFL season.
-- Coffee, a Florida native, went pro out of Alabama after a junior season in which he ran for 1,383 yards with an average of 5.9 per carry and 10 rushing touchdowns.
-- The 49ers drafted him last year with the 10th pick of the third round.
-- He carried 83 times for 226 yards and one touchdown as a rookie and was in contention to be Frank Gore's primary backup this season.
-- In a statement released Friday, Coffee said, "This has been a tough decision for me to make, but at this time in my life, I feel it is best for me that I move on from football."
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