49ers fans might be rejoicing that Jed York proved he was his uncle's nephew by firing Mike Singletary with a game to play but at least one man at 4949 Centennial Dr. was not happy.
Three-time Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis found out about Singletary's firing on the Internet. He reacted by immediately calling the man who started as his position coach and turned into a mentor and a head coach.
"I called him right away, because I wanted to hear it from him rather than hear it on the news, so we talked briefly," Willis told the San Jose Mercury News. "It was sad."
There is reason for Willis to feel an affinity for Singletary. Beyond serving as his head coach for the past two seasons, Singletary helped transform Willis from a powerful but raw linebacker out of Ole Miss into a player many believe to be the best middle linebacker in the game today.
Singletary's presence was a calming force for Willis when he first arrived with the team. The 49ers star said he struggled his first season in the league.
“At first it was really hard. I was frustrated, I didn’t understand how the 3-4 worked,” he said in 2008. “It was tough…I had some discussions with my coaches, it didn’t go too well and I remember just telling myself ‘either I learn it or I don’t play’ or ‘I learn it or I go home.”
Singletary was one of those coaches, who was tasked by then coach Mike Nolan to harness the rookie's raw talent. And the work has played out in the field.
Willis is only in his fourth season in the league but his career is on an early path to match the one that Singletary had. On Monday, the coach had some final advice for the player, who he says can get better.
"He said, 'I'm not going to coach you any more, continue to lead this team and never forget the fundamentals of the game. They'll take you far and the rest will come to you,' " Willi said of his conversation with Singletary.