Bill Walsh (American football coach)

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Bill Walsh (American football coach) : biography

November 30, 1931 – July 30, 2007

William Ernest "Bill" Walsh (November 30, 1931 – July 30, 2007) was the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers and the Stanford Cardinal football team, during which time he popularized the West Coast offense. After retiring from the 49ers, Walsh returned as head coach at Stanford and later served as Cardinal athletic director.

Walsh went 102–63–1 with the 49ers, winning ten of his 14 postseason games along with six division titles, three NFC Championship titles, and three Super Bowls. He was named the NFL’s Coach of the Year in 1981 and 1984. In 1993, he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Professional football career

Walsh began his pro coaching career in 1966 as an assistant with the AFL’s Oakland Raiders. As a Raider assistant, Walsh was trained in the vertical passing offense favored by Al Davis, putting Walsh in Davis’s mentor Sid Gillman’s coaching tree.

In 1968, Walsh moved to the AFL expansion Cincinnati Bengals, joining the staff of legendary coach Paul Brown. It was there that Walsh developed the philosophy now known as the "West Coast Offense", as a matter of necessity. Cincinnati’s new quarterback, Virgil Carter, was known for his great mobility and accuracy but lacked a strong arm necessary to throw deep passes. Thus, Walsh modified the vertical passing scheme he had learned during his time with the Raiders, designing a horizontal passing system that relied on quick, short throws – often spreading the ball across the entire width of the field. The new offense was much better suited to Carter’s physical abilities; he led the league in pass completion percentage in 1971.

Walsh spent eight seasons as an assistant with the Bengals. Ken Anderson eventually replaced Carter as starting quarterback, and together with star wide receiver Isaac Curtis, produced a consistent, effective offensive attack. Initially, Walsh started out as the wide receivers coach from 1968-1970 before also coaching the quarterbacks from 1971-1975.

When Brown retired as head coach following the 1975 season and appointed Bill "Tiger" Johnson as his successor, Walsh resigned and served as an assistant coach for Tommy Prothro with the San Diego Chargers in 1976. In a 2006 interview, Walsh claimed that during his tenure with the Bengals, Brown "worked against my candidacy" to be a head coach anywhere in the league. "All the way through I had opportunities, and I never knew about them," Walsh said. "And then when I left him, he called whoever he thought was necessary to keep me out of the NFL."

In 1977, Walsh was hired as the head coach at Stanford where he stayed for two seasons. His two Stanford teams went 9–3 in 1977 with a win in the Sun Bowl, and 8–4 in 1978 with a win in the Bluebonnet Bowl; his notable players at Stanford included quarterbacks Guy Benjamin and Steve Dils, wide receivers James Lofton and Ken Margerum, linebacker Gordy Ceresino, in addition to running back Darrin Nelson. Walsh was the Pac-8 Conference Coach of the Year in 1977.

In 1979, Walsh was hired as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. The long-suffering 49ers went 2–14 in 1978, the season before Walsh’s arrival and repeated the same dismal record in his first season. Walsh doubted his abilities to turn around such a miserable situation—but earlier in 1979, Walsh drafted quarterback Joe Montana from Notre Dame in the third round.

Walsh turned over the starting job to Montana in 1980, when the 49ers improved to 6–10. San Francisco won its first championship in 1981, just two years after winning two games.

Under Walsh the 49ers won Super Bowl championships in 1981, 1984 and 1988. Walsh served as 49ers head coach for ten years, and during his tenure he and his coaching staff perfected the style of play known popularly as the West Coast offense. Walsh was nicknamed "The Genius" for both his innovative play calling and design. Walsh would regularly script the first 10-15 offensive plays before the start of each game. In the ten years during which Walsh was the 49ers’ head coach, San Francisco scored 3,714 points (24.4 per game), the most of any team in the league during that span.