Add Patrick Willis to the chorus of 49ers defensive players and coaches who will be urging Justin Smith to return for his 15th season.
“I just want him to get away,” Willis, who along with Smith was a team captain this season, said on Monday. “I said I don’t care if he gets away all the way until the first week of the season next year, he can come back then. I will be OK with that. But we’re gonna see.
“I don’t know he’s going to feel with the whole coaching change and all that,” Willis said. “I’m sure he’s got a lot to weigh on his mind. But we’ll see. I’m going to talk to his little boys. He’s got three young boys. I’m going to see if I can talk to them and see if they’ll run (Smith) a little ragged so we can get him back.”
Willis highlighted something that Trent Baalke and Jed York must consider as they begin interviewing head-coaching candidates this week. A number of players, including two titans on the squad in recent years – Smith and running back Frank Gore – will be closely be watching what changes are made for 2015.
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Smith, who was one of the 49ers who used the team’s former locker room throughout the work week this season, avoided the media in the team’s Levi’s Stadium locker room on Monday. He previously said that he hasn’t decided whether to return for a 15th season. Smith dealt with a torn triceps at the end of the 2012 season, had a shoulder injury in 2013 that required surgery after that season and dealt with a back issue in the second half of the most recent season.
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, whom the 49ers will consider for head coach, has said he’d travel to Smith’s home in Missouri this offseason to convince Smith to return.
Smith’s position coach, Jim Tomsula, also is expected to interview for the head-coaching job. Presumably, Smith would be more interested in returning if one of those in-house candidates got the job rather than an outside coach who would bring in a new staff.
While teammates like NaVorro Bowman and Dan Skuta stumped for Fangio Monday, Willis stayed out of the fray.
“At the end of the day, I have faith in management,” he said. “My job is to play football.”
Willis was wearing a walking boot on his left foot after having surgery seven weeks ago on his injured big toe. He said he must spend three more weeks in a boot. A month after the boot comes off, he said, he can resume working out.
“I’ll be able to take the training wheels off and burn rubber again,” he said.
Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.