Former San Francisco head coach Bill Walsh, architect of the West Coast Offense and a 3 time Super Bowl winner during the Niners’ dominant run in the 1980’s, has passed away at the age of 75 following a long battle with leukemia.
Though I’d recommend you read all of it, here’s an excerpt from Tom Fitzgerald’s obit in Monday’s SF Chronicle.
After losing their first two games in 1981, the 49ers would win 15 of their next 16 games in a methodical yet astonishing march. Behind Montana and wide receivers Dwight Clark and Freddy Solomon and a defense led by linebacker Jack “Hacksaw” Reynolds, pass rushing whiz Fred Dean and a secondary that started three rookies — Ronnie Lott, Eric Wright and Carlton Williamson — they became the first NFL team in 34 years to go from the worst record to the best in just three seasons.
To do it, they had to shock the Dallas Cowboys 28-27 in the NFC Championship Game. They won it on Montana’s scrambling 6-yard pass to a leaping Clark with 51 seconds left. The play, dubbed “The Catch,” is the most celebrated moment in Bay Area sports history.
“That was a practiced play,” Walsh said. “Now, we didn’t expect three guys right down his throat. That was Joe who got the pass off in that situation, putting it where only Clark could come up with it.”
Walsh showed his zany side two weeks later in Pontiac, Mich. Arriving before the team, he borrowed a bellman’s uniform at the hotel and collected the players’ bags at the curb, even holding out his hand for tips. His players didn’t immediately recognize him, including Montana, who got into a brief tug-of-war with him when Walsh tried to grab his briefcase.
He was named the “Coach of the ’80s” by the selection committee of the Hall of Fame. His impact on the NFL was evident in the number of his assistants who went on to head coaching jobs, including Seifert, Dennis Green, Mike Holmgren, Ray Rhodes, Sam Wyche, Bruce Coslet, Mike White and Paul Hackett. Those coaches in turn spawned a host of other coaches, all imbued with Walsh’s distinctive offensive schemes.
In 1966 he took his first pro job with the Raiders and made the switch from defense to offense, coaching the backfield. Although John Rauch was the head coach, Walsh later called owner Al Davis one of his mentors. Another was Paul Brown, who was awarded an expansion franchise in Cincinnati and hired Walsh as quarterbacks and receivers coach for the first Bengals team in 1968.
Brown gave Walsh free rein to refine his sophisticated passing game, but when Brown retired in 1976, he named offensive line coach Bill Johnson as his successor. Had Brown named Walsh, it’s conceivable that the Bengals, rather than the 49ers, would have been the Team of the ’80s.
Walsh, who had turned down several promising jobs because he was sure he was Brown’s heir apparent, was devastated. Miffed that “nobody would take me seriously,” he considered leaving football. “It was beginning to look as if I would never make it as a head coach,” he said.