On Football: "The Genius" truly was one Print
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Monday, 30 July 2007 14:36
NFL Headline News

 Bill Walsh might have been the first football coach given the label ``genius.'' He deserved it - and not just with Xs and Os.
Yes, Walsh designed the ``West Coast offense'' - used by dozens of NFL teams, imitated by dozens of coaches the last 25 years and credited for San Francisco's five Super Bowls victories. But the man who died Monday at age 75 was as well-rounded a football man as there has ever been - on and off the field.
Not only did he take an offense taught to him by Sid Gilman when he was an assistant in Cincinnati, but he innovated within that offense.
``The Drive,'' which culminated with the Joe Montana to Dwight Clark TD pass that put the 49ers in their first Super Bowl in January 1982 was a masterpiece of playcalling that featured more runs than passes as the Dallas team expected Montana to throw, throw, throw.
``He had everything broken down into real refined detail, the ways guys did things,'' said Howard Mudd, the Colts' offensive line coach, who as a fledgling coach when Walsh was an assistant in San Diego developing Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts. ``And yet, he didn't make them real mechanical men. He'd take quarterbacks who could run and let them run. He'd take quarterbacks that couldn't run and let them sit in the pocket. ``
But for Walsh, there was always so much more than football.
He was one of the first to realize the importance of getting black players into coaching.
``He was just a very socially conscious guy,'' said Tony Dungy, the first black coach to win a Super Bowl. Dungy, who played one year for Walsh, was traded to the New York Giants for Ray Rhodes, whom Walsh later added to his coaching staff and eventually became one of the NFL's first black coaches.
Another strength, perhaps Walsh's greatest, was judging talent.
Even his failures succeeded.
By several accounts, he had to be convinced by chief scout Tony Razzano to take Montana with a third-round pick in his first draft in 1979 over Steve Bono, whom he had coached at Stanford.
But in 1985, he jumped up from 28th, last in the first round, to 16 to take a receiver named Jerry Rice, whose stock had fallen because he had run the 40-yard dash in a mediocre 4.6 seconds in workouts.
A year later, he had what many people consider the best draft ever - John Taylor, Tom Rathman, Tim McKyer, Larry Roberts, Steve Wallace, Kevin Fagan, Don Griffin and Charles Haley. All major contributors, their teams won two Super Bowls. Haley, later traded to Dallas, won three more titles with the Cowboys.
Walsh had an equally good eye for coaching talent.
He knew where to look - such as Brigham Young, which during Walsh's early years with the 49ers had perhaps the most sophisticated passing game in college football.
In 1979, he hired former BYU tight end Brian Billick, who impressed him in an interview. Walsh didn't have a slot on his coaching staff so he put Billick on the public relations payroll - though reporters who covered the team in those days remember Billick as a coaching intern rather than a PR man.
But Walsh's most important BYU hire (unless you count the trade in which he stole Steve Young from Tampa) was Mike Holmgren, a former San Francisco high school coach whom Walsh hired in 1986. Holmgren became the 49ers offensive coordinator, replaced by Mike Shanahan. As head coach in Green Bay and Seattle, Holmgren spun off Jon Gruden, Steve Mariucci, Rhodes and Andy Reid, another BYU grad.
Dungy's not part of that coaching tree but playing for Walsh in 1979 certainly left a mark.
``He never focused on what guys couldn't do, and if you weren't good at one thing, it didn't really matter because he was not afraid to substitute and use all 22 or 23 players on offense,'' Dungy said Monday. ``He was very much under control and professorial, and that's something I really appreciated. I learned an awful lot in one year.''
That's the ultimate legacy.
Almost every coach and player who had contact with Walsh considers him a teacher.
So does the commissioner.
``If you gave him a blackboard and a piece of chalk, he would become a whirlwind of wisdom,'' Roger Goodell said. ``He taught all of us not only about football but also about life and how it takes teamwork for any of us to succeed as individuals.''
 

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