The Internet can be a great source of information, but unfortunately, there’s a lot of garbage out there, too. In that category is an assessment of Bill Walsh, sent by a reader.
“Bill Walsh had a very acrimonious relationship with the media. He did not like them, and he did not trust them. Press conferences were few and as short as possible and were often cold, curt and tense affairs.
“Walsh had a habit of banning the media — especially the local media — from camps and practices. Moratoriums on players interviews with the media, especially in weeks leading up to critical games, were commonplace.”
All of this is false. I know because I was close to Walsh for 30 years, from the time he was hired as Stanford’s head coach until he died in 2007. We even collaborated on a book together, “Building a Champion.”
I’ve also been close to the 49ers since I first started writing a column in 1971. In addition to my columns, I’ve written four books on them, including “San Francisco 49ers: The First 50 Years.”
The writer of the garbage quoted above probably never met Walsh and, if he’s around at practices or games, I haven’t noticed him — and I’m still at both.
Walsh held regular weekly news conferences, which were often lightened by his sense of humor. The media was never banned from practice or training camp, and the locker room was always open.
Sometimes individual players wouldn’t talk to writers — Joe Montana didn’t talk to me after 1986 — but that was never at Walsh’s directive. Ronnie Lott was often quite critical of Walsh with reporters, but Walsh didn’t silence him.
Walsh admitted when we did the book together that he tried to get on the good side of writers by asking them about their favorite topics; with Lowell Cohn, for instance, it was boxing. I had noticed that pattern before, because in our frequent one-on-one sessions, he always started by asking me about the Cal Bears.
He also used the national and even international media to make his points.
Two examples spring to mind. The first was early in the 1981 season when he publicly challenged Howard Cosell and ABC-TV because the Niners hadn’t been on “Monday Night Football.” He knew why, of course: The 49ers had been atrocious for most of the previous four years. He was using that as motivation for his team.
The second example came before the 1988 season when the 49ers played an exhibition in London. At a news conference during the week, Walsh said, “We may have a quarterback controversy.” He later said he misspoke, but in fact, he was trying to prepare the 49er fan base in case he had to replace Montana with Steve Young.
But overall, Walsh was very good with the media and enjoyed his relationship.
In my 47 years of covering Bay Area sports, I’ve known several coaches and managers who have had problems with the media, going back to Jack Christiansen with the 49ers in the ’60s.
Bill Walsh was not among them. He was a delight to work with and a joy to watch. We will never see his like again.