Poetry in motion!! |
Walsh regarded football as something of an art.
“If I have any talent, it’s in the artistic end of football,” he once told Lowell Cohn of The San Francisco Chronicle. “The variation of movement of 11 players and the orchestration of that facet of football is beautiful to me.”
Except for high school coaching, Walsh did not become a head coach until Stanford University hired him when he was 45 years old. And he spent 11 seasons as an assistant coach in the N.F.L.
But his long apprenticeship — too long, the way he saw it — served him well. He honed his creativity and became known as "the genius," a silver-haired, almost professorial presence orchestrating the 49ers’ brilliant offensive schemes as head coach from 1979 to 1988.
Walsh’s 49er teams won Super Bowl titles in 1982, 1985 (after losing only one game all season) and 1989. They captured six National Football Conference West championships.
Walsh had a regular-season record of 92-59-1 with the 49ers, serving as offensive coordinator in addition to head coach and, at varying times, as the general manager and club president. His lineups featured the future Hall of Fame players Joe Montana at quarterback, Jerry Rice at wide receiver and Ronnie Lott at defensive back. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993.
Walsh’s playbooks bulged, focusing on a passing game that became known as the West Coast offense. It featured mostly short or medium-range passes designed to work against all types of defenses, and it included trick plays. A horizontal scheme, in contrast to the vertical strategy that depended on long passes that were low-percentage plays, Walsh’s offense became the aerial equivalent of a ball-control strategy previously associated with a running game.
“When we go over the game plan during the week, it doesn’t look like it will work,” Montana told Dave Anderson of The New York Times shortly after the 49ers defeated the Cincinnati Bengals to win a Super Bowl for the first time. “But when we get into the game and use it, it seems that the plan always works.”
Walsh’s pass patterns generally succeeded in getting at least one, and sometimes as many as three receivers, wide open. He cited several factors for his extraordinary success.
“I think we’re willing to settle for a little less yardage on passes than some teams are,” he said following that first Super Bowl triumph. “Two, our willingness to throw to the second and third receivers. And three, to look downfield for the great individual play.”
William Ernest Walsh, a native of Los Angeles, played end and boxed at San Jose State. After coaching in high school, he became an assistant coach at the University of California and Stanford, then embarked on his pro career in 1966 as an assistant with the Oakland Raiders.
He moved to the expansion Cincinnati Bengals in 1968 as an assistant to the head coach and owner Paul Brown, and developed Ken Anderson into an outstanding quarterback. When Brown retired and passed him over for the head-coaching spot in 1976, Walsh joined the San Diego Chargers as offensive coordinator and tutored quarterback Dan Fouts.
Walsh returned to the college ranks as Stanford’s head coach in 1977 and 1978, taking the team to bowl games each season and developing Guy Benjamin and Steve Dils into star passers.
When Walsh became the 49ers’ head coach in 1979, he took over a team that had gone 2-14 the previous season. The 49ers were 2-14 again in Walsh’s first year, but he gradually built a championship squad. A signature play came in the 1982 National Football Conference championship game against the Dallas Cowboys, when Montana rolled out and threw a game-winning 6-yard touchdown pass to Dwight Clark at the back of the end zone in the final minute.
Shortly after the 49ers won the 1989 Super Bowl, Walsh stepped down as coach and became the team’s executive vice president for football operations. But in July ‘89, he left to become a football broadcaster for NBC. His successor, George Seifert, who had been the 49er defensive coordinator, went on to win two Super Bowls with San Francisco.
Walsh had a second tenure as Stanford’s coach, from 1992 to 1994. He returned to the 49ers as vice president and general manager from 1999 to 2001, was later a consultant to the team, and served as Stanford’s interim athletic director in 2005 and ’06.
He proved influential on matters beyond his passing game. He was an early advocate of minority hiring for coaching positions, many of his assistants became head coaches, and his procedures in organizing a team and developing practice routines were copied.
By RICHARD GOLDSTEIN, N Y Times