Bill Walsh: A legendon and off the field

The family of “his men” mourned Monday the death of “The Genius,” Bill Walsh. Former players, bosses and fellow coaches described a man in life who could see the future — the potential in a person before the man could see it in himself. And then the coach would set the man on a path to achieve it at his highest level.

The legendary coach who led the 49ers to three Super Bowl championships died at his Woodside home Monday morning, surrounded by his family after a long fight with leukemia that he only disclosed in November. He was 75.

Walsh is survived by wife Geri, son Craig, daughter Elizabeth, sister Maureen, brother-in-law Ed, daughter-in-law Kim and grandchildren Samantha and Nathan.

His peers recalled a man who sensed the end was near. In the last several months, he reportedly ended conversations with “I love you.”

On Sunday, former Stanford football coach Tyrone Willingham and prominent Silicon Valley businessman John Arrillaga presented him with the Stagg Award from the American Football Coaches Association for outstanding achievement.

Football analyst and former coach John Madden and Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis visited Walsh on Saturday, and former quarterback Joe Montana and former safety Ronnie Lott paid a call to their former coach last week.

Walsh, whose former assistants have gone on to flood and dominate today’s head-coaching positions in the NFL, was a master motivator who knew when to apply pressure with a honest comment and release pressure with joke, his former players and friends said.

Innovator of the West Coast offense with its precise receiving patterns and timed passes, Walsh changed the way a team operated from his cerebral and deliberate practices to workout regimens and diets.

Montana said Walsh used to draw up a play for a specific situation against a specific defense and theplay would never work during the week of practice leading up to that week’s game. But “inevitably, it’d be wide open” during the game, Montana said.

“He had a vision and a foresight that was beyond most people,” Montana said.

But more than that, many spoke of him as a father figure.

“I was the 16th player taken in the first round and it was all because of Bill Walsh and what he stood for,” Jerry Rice, the Hall of Fame wide receiver, said of his 1985 selection by the Niners out of tiny and unknown Mississippi Valley State. “I came to San Francisco and found another father because I never wanted to disappoint him.”

Hall of Fame quarterback and current football analyst Steve Young remembered a coach who would break up cliques in the locker room and in the lunchroom because everyone needed to rely on one another.

“He knew me well before I knew myself,” Young said. “I’m trying not to miss him today; I’m trying to remember what to live like.”

Funeral services are pending. The family asked that contributions be made in Walsh’s honor to the Santa Clara Family Health Foundation at (408) 874-1999.


View “Remembering Bill Walsh,” a photo gallery, in Examiner.com's San Francisco in Pictures blog.


Walsh’s footprints

RÉSUMÉ

Assistant coach

» Raiders (1966)

» Cincinnati Bengals (1968-75)

» San Diego Chargers (1976)

Head coach

» Stanford (1977-78, 1992-94), with a combined record of 34-24-1

» 49ers (1979-1989), with a record of 102-63-1

ACHIEVEMENTS

» Three Super Bowl victories (1982, 1985 and 1989)

» Six NFC West Division titles

HONORS

» NFL Coach of the Year in 1981

» NFC Coach of the Year in 1984

» NFL 1980s All-Decade team

» Elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993

dsmith@examiner.com


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