by Trevor Freeman
As I was sitting on the balcony of my Opa’s (grandfather in Dutch) apartment in Hawaii he said to me, “You haven’t written an article on Bill Walsh yet.” I told him that I had been meaning to but had gotten distracted with the amount of options that Hawaii can offer a honeymooning couple. He responded, “Make sure you write something about the greatest coach the NFL has ever seen on the airplane home.”
With that, this article is born……just like the San Francisco 49ers were reborn the moment Bill Walsh accepted the job as 49er head coach. For my money, Bill Walsh ranks only behind John Wooden on the list of greatest coaches in team sports. Maybe there are a few other guys besides Wooden who won more titles than “The Genius”, but none left the imprint on a game like Bill Walsh did.
Before Bill Walsh came along with the “West Coast” or “49er” offense, everybody in the NFL used the run to set up the pass. Walsh was considered an eccentric for believing in his system which involved using the pass to set up the run. Nowadays at least 60% of all NFL and Division I-A football teams run some variation of the “West Coast” offense. There has not been a more important offensive or defensive system introduced to the NFL since Walsh introduced this style close to thirty years ago. It brought pizzazz to the game and should get a lot of the credit for football’s popularity today. Winning the “West Coast” way was to win with a certain style and grace. Nowhere was it more on display than in the Super Bowls Bill Walsh won on his watch. The 55-10 massacre of the Denver Broncos was the epitome of winning with flair. Maybe even better was the way Joe Montana flawlessly was able to get down the field in under two minutes to beat Cincinnati in the second of the 49ers two wins over the Bengals.
Because Walsh is remembered for this system, people often forget that his innovation extended past the X’s and O’s and into the NFL Draft. When Joe Montana came out of college he was thought to have a below average arm and he lasted until the third round of the draft. Jerry Rice was not considered a “sure thing” due to questions about the level of competition he saw at Mississippi Valley State. Walsh gambled on him midway through the first round and ended up getting the greatest receiver to ever play football. Steve Young, Charles Haley and John Taylor were all considered to be flawed in some way when they were chosen or traded for.
The truly great always leave something behind for future generations. That is exactly what Bill Walsh has done. The Bill Walsh coaching tree is unparalleled. Mike Holmgren, Denny Green, Andy Reid, Jon Gruden and Mike Shanahan are all linked in some way to “The Genius”. Walsh was also one of the first people to truly emphasize getting minorities involved in the football coaching process. One of the biggest names to have found their way into the top of the coaching ranks through Walsh’s persistent work in getting minorities opportunities is Tyrone Willingham.
Bill Walsh was a winner. Plain and simple. He took a San Francisco 49er franchise with some history and made it the NFL’s most successful. The 49ers were the first team to win five Super Bowls and are the only team amongst the “Five Super Bowl Club” to have never wilted under the pressure of the moment. In America’s professional leagues, the franchises considered the most storied by the media are east of the Mississippi River. Through winning games, Bill Walsh lifted the San Francisco 49er organization into the NFL’s elite circle of franchises which includes the Green Bay Packers, Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers.
Maybe it is fitting that the anticipated rejuvenation of the San Francisco 49ers coincides with the death of the last man who resuscitated life into one of the NFL’s most storied franchises. With the addition of Nate Clements, Tully Banta-Cain, Michael Lewis, Ashley Lelie, Darrell Jackson and first round picks Patrick Willis and Joe Staley to a team that was peaking in the second half of last season, the 49ers should make a run at the weak NFC’s Super Bowl slot. This 49er season now has an added weight to it as the team needs to win for its Father. Maybe if we can get to Glendale, Bill Walsh can look down from Heaven and take care of the rest…………just like he always did with the money on the table.
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to e-mail me at [email protected]