Patrick Willis’ phone call to Singletary

Patrick Willis should know better by now. When your team is 5-10, it’s better just to ignore the media, because the news and analysis tend to be pretty negative. But the 49ers linebacker couldn’t help himself. Back home in the South Bay after the loss at St. Louis, he unwound by surfing the Internet on Sunday night. It was when Willis clicked over to ESPN that he saw the news: his organization had fired Mike Singletary.

“I called him right away, you know, because I wanted to hear it from him as opposed to hearing it in the news and all that stuff,” Willis said to the reporters still hanging around the media trailer Monday afternoon.

It was a hard call for Willis to make, but an important one. Singletary had worked with him closely for four years, first as assistant head coach/defense, then as head coach.

“It was sad,” Willis said of the conversation. “It was just, ‘I’m not going to be able to coach you no more. Continue to be a leader, continue to lead this team and never forget your fundamentals of the game. They’ll take you far and the rest will come to you.’ ”

Willis has been exposed to the best and worst of the football business this year. He received a five-year contract extension in early May that could pay up to $50 million. Now he has seen his coach and mentor terminated before the end of the regular season. A fourth-year player has seen enough to know it’s all part of playing in the NFL.

And in case the message hadn’t already gotten through to Willis, defensive coordinator Greg Manusky gave him and the rest of the defense a reminder this morning.

“Coach Manusky put a word up on the board earlier in our defensive meeting room, and he talked about the word ‘change,’ ” Willis said. “And that’s something that’s guaranteed in this game. Year in and year out, there’s always gonna be changes. And we just have to learn how to adapt to them. And like I said before, I pray and I know that our management, the Yorks, are going to put together what they feel is best for the team.”

Willis is the highest-paid player on the 49ers, and probably the best. He will be central to whatever plans they make over the coming months. But he isn’t tricking himself into believing he will be consulted in the next search for a head coach.

“Honestly, that’s not my position,” Willis said. “They brought me in to play football and that’s all I know. Maybe one of these days when I’m done playing, who knows? But for, now all I can do is play the game, and I’ll let management handle their jobs and I’ll do mine, and that’s play football.”

–Phil Barber

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