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February 6, 2007 > Bill Walsh

Bill Walsh

Many may be unaware of coaching great, Bill Walsh's local roots, but only the least sports-oriented among us don't know of his supreme Super Bowl successes.

By Steve Michel

The man credited with bringing great football glory to the Bay Area during the 1980s didn't start out with much distinction as a player at Hayward High School, Class of '49. Los Angeles native, William Ernest "Bill" Walsh, caught his share of passes at split end for the Farmers, but he also caught plenty of time standing on the sidelines. Unlike most high school football players who get angry at not being a full time starter, Walsh found watching his teammates go head-to-head with the opposition was just as exciting as being out on the field playing. This is where his coaching career started.

After graduating from Hayward High, Walsh continued his football and academic career at San Jose State University. Although he played four years of football there, Walsh again saw only limited action at split end. He did excel in boxing, however, winning a championship for the school. Through it all, he kept learning, on the field and off, eventually receiving a Masters in Education. With a teaching certificate in hand, the studious athlete took a job at Fremont's Washington Union High School as their head football coach. It was the beginning days of a future Hall of Fame coaching legend.

His winning ways attracted the attention of college coachs, particularly a fellow named Marv Levy who hired Walsh as an assistant at UC Berkeley. From there, Walsh transferred to Stanford University on the staff of another coaching great, John Ralston. Walsh would later come back to Stanford as head coach immediately before his Super Bowl championship days with the San Francisco 49ers; he then returned to Stanford for another two years as head coach after retiring from the Niners.

Even when he jumped to the pros, Walsh retained his Bay Area connections for awhile, going to work for the Oakland Raiders of the old American Football League in 1966. It was here that Walsh learned the so-called vertical passing game of Head Coach Sid Gilman. It's what owner Al Davis still thinks of as the key to pro football success: recruit very swift runners and send them long.

The man who came to be known as a "coaching genius" didn't fully commit to the Davis/Gilman theories. Instead, he began developing a more horizontal form of a passing game that emphasized high-percentage short passes. When an expansion team was added in 1968, Walsh moved to Cincinnati as one of Coach Paul Brown's offensive gurus. Working with Ken Anderson at quarterback and receiver Issac Curtis, the Bay Area phenom invested seven years with the Bengals, only to be passed over for head coach in 1975.

Before he left the Bengals to become offensive coordinator for Tommy Prothro and the San Diego Chargers, Walsh had the opportunity to coach two notable quarterbacks. The first, Greg Cook, earned AFL Rookie of the Year honors in 1969. Then, in 1971, the Bengals drafted a guy named Ken Andersen, who went on to a distinguished career as the first practioner of what's known today as the "West Coast offense," Coach Walsh's most significant contribution to the game of offensive football. It was in Cincinnati that Walsh first established his reputation as a quartback's best friend. Before retiring from pro ball in 1989, Walsh was credited with enhancing the careers of Cook, Andersen, Dan Fouts, and a luminary by the name of Joe Montana, among numerous others.

Fouts was only a third-round draft pick when he came to the Chargers. Under Walsh's tutelage, he went on to All Pro honors, playoff appearances, and enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

From the chargers, Walsh returned to Stanford as head coach for two years. Both were winning seasons and included bowl appearances. Then, the woe-begone San Francisco 49ers came calling in 1979. They offered Walsh a lot of money, and more importantly, full control of football operations. He never looked back.

The rookie pro head coach went a lowly 2 - 14 that first season and only slightly improved to 6 - 10 the following year. But that horizontal passing game, the nascent West Coast offense was being perfected by one of the greats at quarterback, Joe Montana, and the big wins were soon knocking on the door.

Walsh led the team to a 10 - 6 regular season and then took the Niners to Super Bowl XIV. In an ironic twist, Walsh and the Niners were facing that same Ken Andersen and the Cincinnati Bengals, the team who wouldn't hire him as head coach because he was too progressive in his offensive philopophies. Walsh protˇgˇ, Andersen, played well, but newest protˇgˇ, Montana played better and secured game MVP distinction. With primary receivers Dwight Clark and Freddie Solomon, the San Francisco 49ers claimed a decisive victory, the first of their three Super Bowl triumphs in the '80s.

In the ten seasons Walsh was head coach of the 49ers (1979 - 1988), he won 102 games, lost 63, and tied one. His other Super Bowl wins came in 1982 and again in 1989. Walsh was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993, his first year of eligibility.

Most teams in pro football today incorporate some version to the West Coast offense in their play books. It's a brilliant concept, with roots reaching all the way back to Chatham Glenwood High School in Los Angeles and then our own Hayward High, where a somewhat modestly talented split end began to study the art of the game. William Ernest Walsh: coaching legend.

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