Patrick Willis clearly wants to be the best

Earlier today, after announcing that Patrick Willis had agreed to terms on a 5-year contract extension through 2016, the 49ers conducted a press conference featuring Willis and head coach Mike Singletary. If you click on the picture above, you can view a few more pictures from the press conference.

I don't know if there is such a thing as the "perfect player," but if there was such a player, I'd argue Patrick Willis is that guy. I realize a lot of times professional athletes usually are too good to be true. However, Patrick Willis seems like the total package. He's a phenomenal athlete and one of the best, if not the absolute best, at his position. More importantly as far as the big picture is concerned, he seems like a great person. Yea he says all the right things, but he's always come across as just a great person. You want great players on your team, but when you get great individuals, it makes it that much easier to root for them.

As far as the on-field product, the only question at this point, at least in my mind, is how great can he really become by the time he retires. If he continues at his current level of production, he'll be in Canton in no time at all. However, based on what Willis generally says, he clearly wants to be one of the best of all time. We've seen a tremendous amount of progress from his rookie season to now. I'm particularly excited about the kind of progression he makes in the coming years.

After the jump, I've posted the transcript of the Willis/Singletary press conference.

LB Patrick Willis Extension Press Conference
May 4, 2010
San Francisco 49ers

Head Coach Mike Singletary

Opening Comments:

"Needless to say we are very excited, as an organization, as a team, to have [LB] Patrick Willis until 2016. It's a great day for the 49ers organization. I'm very excited [Vice President of Football Operations] Paraag [Marathe] was able to negotiate a good deal and very excited that management could see the value, the ownership could see the value in a young man like Patrick Willis, who embodies everything on the field and off the field. He is a guy that I could stand up here and talk for a very long time about what he means to this team and what he means to the organization. We are very excited about him. We are excited about his coaches, continuing to help do everything they can, put him in position to make plays and just very thankful for him. As a coach, he makes my job and everybody else's a lot easier."

LB Patrick Willis

Opening Comments:

"Wow. Let me start first by thanking God. Without him, there was no telling where I would be at. It's been a long journey. It's not over yet, by far. I feel like it's just getting started. I'd also like to thank, most of all, management. I would like to thank [Owner/CEO] John and [Owner/President/CEO] Jed York and Paraag for getting this done. It meant a lot to me to be here for the last three years. Going into my fourth season now, you've seen a lot in this business and you never know what to expect, but now, the last three years have been amazing and to wake up now and finally know that this is my home and this is where the good Lord wants me to be at and the fans and my coaches, I'm truly thankful. I'd also like to thank my defensive coordinator, Coach [Greg] Manusky for allowing me to be a part of his defense. I'd like to thank Coach Singletary. It's not over yet. I can hear it like it was yesterday, saying, ‘Pat, that's not it,' but I said, ‘Coach, I made the play,' and he said ‘You crossed over, you are too high.' I'm grateful for that because no matter how many plays I've made, if it wasn't the right technique, he's still on me and he's still on me today. Even when we are out there he says, ‘Pat, you have to get your head on him good.' I can remember [inside linebackers] coach Vantz [Singletary] helping me with all that he brings. I know a lot people think this day is about me, it's about the money and stuff like that, but I couldn't have done it without my teammates. I've had some tremendous guys and we still have them now and there's not a day that goes by that I'm not honored to be a part of them, to be on their team as well. Together we'll get it done. We will bring the sixth championship back here and I'm just thankful today to know that I still be able to be here to do that."

On what point he felt an eagerness to get this extension done:

"Honestly, I really didn't know. All I knew was that if I continue to play, do the right things and carry myself in the right way, when it was time for something to happen, it would, and today was that day and I'm thankful."

On whether he had a hint that it would happen today or anytime soon:

"I didn't. My agent Ben Dogra - Let me give a shout out to him. Ben is a tremendous guy. He's a guy that not too many people get to see his face. You hear his name sometimes, but he doesn't get a lot of recognition. That guy is one of the hardest working men in the business. Just the other day I was talking to him and he was sick, as sick as could be. He was still on the phone and I said, ‘Man, you need to get some sleep,' and he said, ‘I can't stop working right now. I have to continue it.' As it goes, hard work pays off. He's a tremendous guy."

On what it means for the 49ers to extend his contract with two years left on his deal:

"It means a lot. It shows that they really wanted me here. It shows what they want and what I want are the same things and that's to win, to embody a great organization, to get this organization back to where it used to be and even better. For them to do the deal as early as they have, it means a lot to me. Each morning I wake up, I love to play this game of football and to know that there are people out there that care enough for me to make sure that my family is taken care of. I first said it when I was coming out of the draft, ‘I love this game enough to where, if the money is good, but I love this game enough, if I had to practice or if I had to play a game one day and I had to go work hours afterwards, I would do that if that meant taking care of my family.' Fortunately, I get to play the game I love to play. It pays me so I'm able to take care of myself and my family, so I'm grateful for that."

On whether this extension is a reward for what he's done or is it an advance of what he's going to do:

"I think both. I feel like what I've done the last three years is only the tip of the iceberg. People think they've seen the best I've had to offer and they haven't by far. We can go in there right now and put on film and coach can show you and I can see myself where, ‘Pat, you need to get better in this area, you have to get better in this. You have to be able to see that dig route when you see one route come in front of you this way.' There so much more improvement in my game that I have to get to and I'm willing to work every day to get to that point, but the best is yet to be seen, by myself or my teammates or this team in general."

On whether his improvement is watching more film or is it physical as well:

"I think both. I think you can never just be great. Every day is a work in progress. I think physically and mentally, I can get a lot better and I will. I talked to [Baltimore Ravens LB] Ray Lewis from time to time and other guys and they'll say, ‘In this game, you must always continue to work because the game is always steadily improving each year,' and that's my mindset. Each day I'm able to go out there and practice. I want to practice, I want to get better, and each game I want to go out there and showcase that."

On whether playing for Coach Singletary is a reason he wants to stay in San Francisco:

"Of course, I love Coach Singletary and he says time in and time out about how happy he is to coach me. I'm even more happy to be a player of his. For me to come in and for him to coach me the way that he did and the way that he has, it meant a lot for my game because I know for me in high school and college, not to take anything away from my coaches there, I love them as well, but I got away with a lot. I don't care if I had to run around the field 100 times and made that same play, it was OK as long as I made the play. But when I got here, it was more than that. It was about doing it the right way. It was about not crossing over. It was about not being too high. It was about doing it just right. I remember when coach used to tell me all the time, he would say, ‘Why are you doing all this moving? You are using wasted energy. Just pump your feet and go straight downhill. That's all it takes.' I'm thankful to of had that so now I know - anything you take when it's small and you mold it, as it grows, it knows the right way. I feel like that's been a blessing for me."

On whether this extension makes him feel like he should be the vocal leader of this team:

"I feel like a lot of people lead in different ways. There's a lot of different leaders, whether it's vocal, whether it's physical, but I've always been the type of person - I won't ask you to do something that I can't do. I won't get on you for something that I won't do myself. I will speak at times, when it's necessary, but I don't believe in talking just because you can. I believe in doing it the right way. I respect them as I want those guys to respect me. If it's necessary, then yes, I will. And Vice versa, if I'm not doing my part, then I want - if somebody overlooks him as a leader, if I'm doing my part I want him to say, ‘Hey, Patrick, that's not it. You have to do it the right way,' so I'm held accountable to myself and to them. I want us to lead together, that's what it's all about."

On how good this team could be:

"This team can be as great as we want it to be. I feel like all the pieces are in place. I think it's just a matter of doing it. I'm really excited about what's to come, where we are going. I know somebody asked me the other day, ‘Are you happy seeing the team get better each year?' and I said, ‘That's OK, but it's not good enough. The ultimate goal is to improve. The ultimate goal is to win and bring home a Championship. It's not just about winning one more game than you did the year before. It's about bringing it all home.' That's the goal here."

On the status of his knee and when he sees himself getting back on the practice field:

"My knee is doing great. I'm feeling well. [Head athletic trainer Jeff] Ferguson does an exceptional job of getting guys ready when they are injured and I feel great and I'll be back soon and I'll be ready to go."

On what he thought of the draft class:

"Our draft class was wonderful. You sit back and eat popcorn and I loved it. I know our offensive guys - I think in this game, you need all three phases. It makes the game a lot easier. To be able to go out there and get a stop and know that the offense is going to come on the field, run the ball, throw the ball and put up points and give you a chance to rest. I think this draft class made us a lot better as well."

On how important he thinks the role of linebacker is in today's NFL:

"I enjoy it. It's one of those things, I know for me, when I was coming out, I didn't want NFL analysts to say this guys is just a middle linebacker. A lot of times they think a middle linebacker is only big and only stop the run and what not. I didn't want to be that type of guy. I wanted to be an all-around athlete, so if I was asked to cover, I would cover. If I was asked to blitz, I could blitz. If I was asked to stop the run, I could stop the run. I just wanted to a complete guy."

On Coach Singletary saying you could go down as one of the best to play the position:

"It's deep, but I know it's something that I'm willing to accomplish. I know there will always be opinions on who will be the best here and who will be the best there. When I'm done playing, I want to leave a legacy that says, ‘this guy gave everything he has and he's one of the best players to ever play at that position or as a defensive player, period.' A long time ago, I was doing this survey and the question was whether I would rather be in the Hall of Fame or whether I'd rather be rich. I said to myself, being rich is OK for the time being, but people will easily forget about the money because somebody always comes back a year after that and makes more. That's just the way the world works and the economy grows. But, nobody can take that Hall of Fame ballot. When you're dead and gone, Uncle Sam takes your money, your family takes your money, but nobody can take that from you. That's what I want and what I want to go for."

On whether the 49ers are currently a playoff team:

"Of course. This is a Championship team right now, it's bigger than just a playoff team. I think we're a Championship caliber team. Do I think if we went out and played right now, 16 games, that we'd be ready? No, we wouldn't, but I think with the time we have and the way the guys are committed, without a certainty that we can be and we will be."

On whether there is more pressure on you now with a new contract:

"No, I don't. I feel like if you prepare well, which I do my best to every week, then there should be no pressure at all. I feel like pressure is what you make of it a lot of times. Do I know there is a lot riding on my shoulders? Yes, I do. But ever since I was a kid, there has been a lot riding on my shoulders. If I was able to get this far, then I won't let anything else stop me from getting farther."

Head Coach Mike Singletary

On how important it was for him to lock up Willis two years before his contract was up:

"I think it was huge. Pat is one of those guys that when you look at our league, I think ownership, coaches and players realize what we have in a guy like Pat. This is one of the most unique individuals I've ever been around. If you didn't know who he was, you'd think he was just this special teams player. He's a guy that's very unassuming. He goes out every day and gives 150 percent. He doesn't complain about anything and always has a smile on his face. I think that is just a tremendous combination and that everybody saw that, and we can get this guy done because he's not going to do anything but get better. That was a great decision and I'm just thankful it worked out for everybody."

On what he expects from Willis in the next seven years:

"The same thing I've been getting. There is no one harder on Pat than himself. Every challenge that I've given him or any of the defensive coaches have given him, he has met and superseded. Sometimes you sign a guy to a contract and you're thinking, ‘Wow, I hope when he gets the money, he doesn't change. I hope that we get our value out of this guy.' A guy like Patrick Willis, this guy is nothing but class through and through. So, I'm very excited about him. That is something that never enters anyone's mind about Pat."

On the point in which you realized Willis was special:

"I didn't realize Pat was special until I heard his story. I remember talking to Scot (McCloughan) several times and saying, ‘Scot, I don't see it. I'm looking at it and he's not knocking anybody out and he's not doing this, and we're talking about picking him with the 11th pick?' But, then I heard his story. I had a chance to sit down and look at his story. To me, it changed my whole mindset because I'm looking at a guy who had gone through a lot of things. He was injured, didn't miss games, had family issues, he was the oldest taking care of his younger siblings and was responsible for them, he lost his younger brother right before the season started. When I heard all of that, I told Scot before the draft, I said, ‘You know what, we got to get this guy. I'm praying that we get this guy because he has something in him that is deeper than anybody could really understand.' There is a ton of character there and it shows until this day."

On whether he knew Willis' story at the Senior Bowl:

"I did not. I did not."

On whether Willis is already at a Ray Lewis level of play:

"I think this. Ray did it one way and Pat is going to do it another. He's going to do things that no other inside linebacker has ever done. He just has to continue to get better. He's a guy that I tell people it's just his third year in the league and he's made some plays that are just kind of mind boggling, but he's still working on his technique. It's amazing to be saying this because it sounds a little ridiculous, but this guy can get so much better. I know he's going to work at it to get there, but he can get so much better."

On whether Willis could be better than him:

"Oh yeah, I hope so."

On how Willis is different than Ray Lewis:

"I'll put it this way, he can do exactly what Ray is doing, but Ray is a different kind of guy. Ray gains energy from talking and all of the other things. Pat's already wired up. When he gets on the field, he's already wired. He doesn't have to say one thing. He's just going to play. From that standpoint, Ray does it one way and he gets himself going and he gets the team going. Pat does it another way and he's already going and everybody gets excited about the plays that he makes. So, that is what I mean when I say they are two different guys and they're doing it two different ways."

On whether Willis' leadership has to grow on people:

"I think for Pat, Pat is just going to continue to be more verbal as he sees fit. I'm going to talk to him shortly after this conference and tell him, ‘Don't all of a sudden try to be something else. Just be who you are and that is going to be enough, and we'll be just fine."

On whether he sees some of himself in Willis:

"No. I will say this. Once again, I think we're two totally different kinds of guys. The thing that I see in him is what all great linebackers have, and that is the passion to make every play. That is the one common denominator in any great linebacker. They practice with a passion and they play with a passion. That's the one thing he has that Ray has. Ray wants to make every play. There were times that I had to sit Ray down and just say, ‘Just do your job.' He's down because he didn't make this play. ‘It's OK because you made 20 others. It's OK.' That is the same with Pat. I just have to remind him, ‘It's OK, you're not going to make every play.' ‘But I was supposed to make that play.' But that passion is there. That's key. That is the main thing of great linebackers."

On when he envisions other extensions for 49ers players:

"In all honesty, I'm just so thankful that Pat got done. We'll just continue to go down the road and do what we do. I think the most important message that management sent today is for those guys that go out there and perform, we're going to take care of our guys. Pat is a tremendous example of that."

On whether he believes this a Championship caliber team:

"I said last year that I thought we were a playoff team. We missed it. Do I think we're a Championship team? I agree with Pat. If you put us on the field today, no, but when it's all said and done, we're going to do OK. I'll put it that way. We'll do OK."

On his take on the importance of the linebacker role:

"For me, playing linebacker was kind of a way of life to me. It's a different breed of a guy. You look at an offensive lineman, most offensive linemen you can spot them. They are totally different than defensive linemen. Offensive linemen are a little more quiet. Joe Staley is an exception. Most offensive linemen are a little more quiet and just kind of to themselves. Defensive linemen are more loud. They're talking loud. They're reckless. They play reckless. When you look at a linebacker, a linebacker sort of has to be the mixture of both because he needs to know where everybody is on the field. He needs to know in a split second if it is a run or if it's a pass, because if it's a run, he's got to get to a place really fast. He's got to get to a certain hole at a particular time on defense or he's going to miss the play. And he has to diagnose it really fast because he also has a place to be on the pass. So, for Pat, the best thing about him, and as I've said before, that common denominator and that passion to make every play, he is really good at knowing where everybody else is going to be because that really helps determine for him where he has to be in order to make a play and be at just the right angle. The middle linebacker or linebacker is a cerebral guy, but at the same time, there is a rage that is there that allows him to get where he needs to be."

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