The first time Jimmy Raye was on the San Francisco 49ers' coaching staff, he didn't even really have a job title. He's coming back 32 years later to take on a title that nobody has kept very long in recent years.
Raye agreed to terms with the 49ers on Friday to become the club's seventh offensive coordinator in seven seasons.
The 62-year-old coaching veteran is a somewhat unlikely choice for the 49ers, who needed a full month to fill the vacancy created when coach Mike Singletary fired Mike Martz on Dec. 30 in his first major act after getting the permanent job running the club.
Singletary, who went 5-4 as an interim coach to finish the 49ers' sixth consecutive losing season, wanted a veteran coordinator who would build his game plans around a sustained running attack. He apparently found what he wanted in Raye, the eighth man to interview for the job last week.
It certainly took longer than we would have liked it to, but sometimes good things come to those who wait, Singletary said. The thing I didn't want to do was go ahead and make a knee-jerk decision and select someone before I thought we had our guy.
Singletary also hired former Baltimore Ravens assistant Mike Johnson as the 49ers' new quarterbacks coach.
During more than three decades of NFL coaching experience, Raye has been a coordinator with the Los Angeles Rams, Tampa Bay, New England, Kansas City, Washington and Oakland, where he also was the Raiders' assistant head coach in 2004-05 under Norv Turner. He spent the last three seasons as the New York Jets' running backs coach under Eric Mangini.
Raye fits Singletary's desire for a coordinator who emphasizes the running game. He was the Rams' coordinator in 1984 when Eric Dickerson rushed for a league-record 2,105 yards.
Despite their mutual decades of NFL experience, Singletary and Raye hadn't even met until the Jets' trip to San Francisco last month to face the 49ers. Raye admired San Francisco quarterback Shaun Hill's dissection of New York's defense that day, but never imagined he might be joining Singletary until they initially spoke on the phone several weeks ago.
We had a shared vision of how you play the game and what we would like to see when the game is played, Raye said. His passion for football is kind of contagious. That started the mutual understanding between the two of us.
Raye wasn't Singletary's first choice, however. Former St. Louis coach Scott Linehan turned down the position earlier this month, saying he wasn't ready to commit to his next coaching stop—only to take the same job with the winless Detroit Lions a few days later.
San Francisco's offense finished last overall in the NFL in 2005 and 2007 under coach Mike Nolan, but Martz raised it to a level of respectability in 2008. The 49ers scored 339 points after managing just 219 in 2007, also racking up nearly 74 more offensive yards per game.
But the franchise that redefined offensive football in the 1980s under Bill Walsh has employed a new coordinator in every season since 2003, one year after the 49ers' last trip to the playoffs.
Raye will be at work in the Bay Area on Wednesday, breaking down game film of last season and formulating a plan. Most of his staff already is in place, including new running backs coach Tom Rathman and offensive line coach Chris Foerster.
Although Raye doesn't yet know much about the 49ers' personnel beyond running back Frank Gore, he'll be instrumental in choosing the quarterback. Hill isn't guaranteed to be the starter despite his solid play in the second half of the season, while former No. 1 overall draft pick Alex Smith won't return unless he reaches an agreement to drastically reduce his salary.
Raye might not know all the players, but he knows what Singletary wants him to do.
The teams that I've been the leader of as a coordinator have been tough, physical football teams that run the ball and have a physicality about them, Raye said. The overriding factor is that we want to be tough-minded physically and emotionally.