SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Suddenly and without warning, San Francisco 49ers running back Glen Coffee announced today that he was quitting the team, offering no explanation but saying he felt it was "best for me that I move on from football."
Coffee's decision shocked coach Mike Singletary and the 49es players, who indicated that Coffee's decision came out of the blue. Coffee was absent from the team's afternoon practice on Thursday and told Singletary in a face-to-face meeting this morning that he was leaving.
"My initial reaction was, ‘Glen, are you sure about this?'" Singletary said. "He said, ‘Yes, sir, I've given it a lot of thought.' I said, ‘OK, if that's where you are then I respect that. I appreciate your honesty. I appreciate the character that you have to come and let us know so that we can move forward and not put is in a situation where we have to go scramble and do something that we wouldn't want to do.'"
In a statement released through the team, 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. I appreciate what the 49ers, my teammates and coaches have done for me, and I wish them a blessed season and all the best in the future."
Coffee's absence leave a void in the Niners' backfield behind starter Frank Gore. Despite a subpar 2009 season, Coffee was battling rookie Anthony Dixon for the No. 2 job, but Dixon has been slow to learn the nuances of the running back position.
"Right now, it really forces Dixon to grow up quick," Singletary said. "It's one of those things where he's going to take more snaps. He's going to get more of a workload. … He has a ways to go. He's got a lot of work to do in every area, from just being able to hit the hole, knowing when to dance a little bit and when to hit it full speed, knowing when to make a cut, knowing how close that guard is going to be off center and how quickly he has to make a decision.
"We have to pour a lot into him right now, and hopefully he can handle it."
Reserve running back Michael Robinson said he spoke with Coffee on the phone Thursday night and got an indication his teammate might not return.
"When I saw that he wasn't here, I tried to contact him and he contacted me back," Robinson said. "He said he had to talk to coach Singletary this morning. That was all I knew.
"My main concern was, was he OK. Once I heard in his voice that everything was good with him, that was more his issue with the team. I didn't ask any more questions."
Singletary conceded that his morning discussion with Coffee was difficult, primary because he thought Coffee was fearful he might upset his coach by walking away from the game. The only reason he offered his coach was a loss of passion to play.
"I know he felt bad," Singletary said. "His demeanor was, ‘I really hate to do this, I really hate to lay this on you, coach. I love my teammates and I love what you're doing. But since college, my heart just hasn't been in it.'
"Knowing Glen Coffee, he really felt awful. I'm thinking that he was thinking that I was really going to be upset with him. That was not the case."
Coffee becomes the second 49ers player to leave camp. Defensive lineman Kentwan Balmer remains absent and unaccounted for after failing to return to practice Wednesday following a two-day excused absence to take care of personal matters.
Singletary said he had no news on Balmer. Asked if Balmer had asked to rejoin the team, he said, "If Balmer wanted to be back, he'd be back."
Although Coffee averaged just 2.7 yards per carry on 83 rushes last season, he was given a good chance to lighten some of the workload on Gore this season. Singletary indicated that Coffee seemed to be committed to the game in camp.
"Did I think he was having a good camp? Yes," he said. "He's a guy that you want. He's an incredible young man. But he's made that decision, and it's his decision."