Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Remembering Bill Walsh

I've admired Walsh since the 80s. He changed the game with the precision passing strategy, which led to a bunch of rings. He made a lot of players look great, who never looked as good with other programs. He didn't talk trash, but worked with consistent class. And he stayed faithful to his wife, in her health and sickness. Here's Nick Carfado:
LOS ANGELES -- There were hundreds of people closer to Bill Walsh than this reporter, but in our many conversations over a four- or five-year stretch it was evident how much Walsh loved baseball.

"How are those Red Sox doing?" the legendary coach of the 49ers asked me a couple of years ago. "I like Terry Francona's style. Does a good job with the players doesn't he? They really respond to him. That's what coaching and managing is all about. Do your players listen to you? Do they respond to what you're trying to do? You can tell how a team responds to a leader even from afar."

So Walsh, who died yesterday at age 75 after a long battle with leukemia, would have loved today, and what it could mean for the sport.

In his later years, when he worked at Stanford and took care of his wife, Geri, who was ill, Walsh was interested in all sports.

He loved to watch great players in any sport and he admired excellent coaching or managing, though I remember being chastised for referring to him as a genius. "That's Einstein, not a football coach," he said. "A football coach isn't a genius. He's just a football coach."

Because there weren't often trades in football, Walsh was always fascinated by the art of the deal. He was a big Red Auerbach fan for that reason.

Walsh was a great coach. "The Genius" would have enjoyed this day in baseball.

UPDATE: Additional quotes:
"In the recent or modern history of the NFL," said Baltimore Ravens Coach Brian Billick, "no coach has been more influential and innovative than Bill Walsh."

"The offensive philosophy that he installed in those great 49er teams more than 25 years ago will remain his legacy," said another Hall of Fame coach, Don Shula.

"People use the word genius and we usually scoff at that," John Madden, the Hall of Fame coach with the Oakland Raiders and longtime NFL broadcaster and analyst, said yesterday. "In his case, I don't think you can scoff at it."
Allen Barra has more:
It was as a teacher, though, that Mr. Walsh had his greatest and most lasting influence on football. Unlike Lombardi, who left worshippers but no disciples, Mr. Walsh spawned an entire generation of acolytes. His defensive coordinator George Seifert won two Super Bowls with San Francisco; his offensive coordinator Mike Holmgren won one with Green Bay. Mr. Seifert's pupil Mike Shanahan, schooled in Mr. Walsh's methods, won two more with Denver.

Mr. Walsh's influence on football today is so pervasive that nearly 20 years after his final game, the Super Bowl has practically become an annual showcase for his adherents. This past February, Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy, a former player under Mr. Walsh, squared off against the Chicago Bears' Lovie Smith, who trained as an assistant to Dennis Green, once a Walsh receiver's coach.

That Messrs. Dungy and Smith were the first African-American coaches to reach the Super Bowl highlights perhaps Mr. Walsh's greatest legacy: In 1987, he helped create the Minority Coaching Fellowship Program. "I can tell you this," says Mr. Dungy, "his life was about much more than just X's and O's."

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