To hear Patrick Willis tell it, the former 49ers All-Pro linebacker isn’t up to much since his retirement after the 2014 season. While he’s taken up some entrepreneurial opportunities, including an ambassadorship with an online athlete training tool CoachTube, he’s still getting into a groove outside of the game he played his entire life until hanging up his pads at Age 29.
“Most of the time when people ask I joke with them and I tell them, ‘I positively do nothing all day long.’ And they look at me like, ‘what?’ And I’m like ‘I absolutely, positively do nothing all day long,” Willis said in an interview on the Candlestick Chronicles podcast. “But I say that jokingly. The game ended, but life goes on. And so just trying to find my rhythm. I just try to take it in stride. It ebbs and flows but I can’t complain too, too much. I’m blessed to be where I am at this moment.”
Willis, 36, is now seven years removed from retiring and doesn’t look back and consider he might’ve walked away too soon. His dedication to the sport had consumed him for his entire adult life and his retirement came once that mindset shifted.
“It wasn’t that I could not absolutely go,” Willis said. “That was never the thing. The thing was me truly being honest to my heart and my soul. I once heard Bob Marley say when I was younger … ‘don’t gain the world, but lose your soul in the process.’ I don’t want to get too technical on it, but at one point in time the innocence of me playing the game was — you could’ve told me anything outside of football and I wouldn’t care. I was all about ball. Life outside didn’t matter, then all the sudden that had began to change in a way.”
Toe injuries were the first thing that made Willis consider walking away. He was dealing with issues on each foot, so fixing one was still going to impact him physically and mentally with the other foot still unhealthy. Playing with bandaged up hands is one thing, but playing linebacker at a high level in an increasingly pass-happy NFL that required more from the linebacker position without the benefit of healthy feet made Willis reconsider playing into his 30s.
“It was never about me not being able to continue to go. It was just knowing how I play the game and I played the game with passion and with heart and with joy,” Willis said. “And I told myself when I no longer have the passion to play, when I no longer have the energy to give my teammates everything I have, and most importantly when these feet went out I knew it would be time to step to the side.”
Now that he’s stepped away from the game, Willis is sorting out where to aim the energy he used to expend on the gridiron. Among those opportunities is a service called CoachTube.com. He’s part of the brains behind this digital platform that offers online coaching courses in sports. CoachTube takes current and former coaches and players from the NFL, NBA, MLB and hockey and soccer world and allows them to share their expertise with a wider audience of athletes.
Willis went on to a sterling career without the benefit of online coaching, but he explained that a service like this would’ve been something he gravitated to growing up without the benefit of affording a personal coach.
Even without additional training, Willis went on to earn seven Pro Bowl nods and five First-Team All-Pro honors in eight seasons. He twice led the NFL in tackles, hauled in eight interceptions, broke up 53 passes, notched 20.5 sacks and racked up 60 tackles for loss. There’s a chance he winds up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame despite only playing for eight years.
You won’t find Willis campaigning for a gold jacket or vying for a position on an NFL sideline or front office. He’s content focusing his energy on businesses outside of the game now that he’s removed from it. Next on his list? A fitness park in his hometown of Bruceton, Tenn.
“The entrepreneurial world I got in was philanthropy and humanitarian work. I’m doing my first The Whinkers Mind Youth Foundation project. And hopefully December 3rd we’ll be having the ribbon cutting for that,” Willis said. “I’m partnering with Greenwood to do a park. So do weights in the park and what not, free weights we’re putting in the park. It’ll be like a workout facility. It’s gonna be called P. Willie Fit Zone 42. 42 is my high school number and we’re doing it back in my hometown. So I’m looking forward to completing that.”