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Bill Walsh (American football coach)

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Title: Bill Walsh (American football coach)  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: San Francisco 49ers, Super Bowl XXIII, Super Bowl XIX, Super Bowl XVI, National Football League Coach of the Year Award
Collection: 1931 Births, 2007 Deaths, American Memoirists, American Motivational Writers, American People of Irish Descent, California Golden Bears Football Coaches, Cancer Deaths in California, Cincinnati Bengals Coaches, College Football Announcers, Deaths from Leukemia, High School Football Coaches in the United States, National Football League Announcers, National Football League General Managers, Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football Broadcasters, Oakland Raiders Coaches, Pro Football Hall of Fame Inductees, San Diego Chargers Coaches, San Francisco 49Ers Executives, San Francisco 49Ers Head Coaches, San Jose State Spartans Football Coaches, San Jose State Spartans Football Players, San Mateo Bulldogs Football Players, Sportspeople from Hayward, California, Sportspeople from Los Angeles, California, Stanford Cardinal Football Coaches
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Bill Walsh (American football coach)

Bill Walsh
Walsh (left) with Dick Tomey at San Jose State in 2007
Position: Head coach
Personal information
Date of birth: (1931-11-30)November 30, 1931
Place of birth: Los Angeles, California
Date of death: July 30, 2007(2007-07-30) (aged 75)
Place of death: Woodside, California
Career information
College: San Jose State
Career history
As coach:
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
Win–Loss Record: 92–59–1
Winning %: .609
Games: 152
Coaching stats at
Pro Football Hall of Fame

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 worked as a sports broadcaster for several years and then returned as head coach at Stanford for three seasons.

Walsh went 102–63–1 with the 49ers, winning 10 of his 14 postseason games along with six division titles, three NFC Championship titles, and three Super Bowls. He was named NFL Coach of the Year in 1981 and 1984. In 1993, he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.


  • Early career 1
  • Professional football career 2
    • 1981 championship 2.1
    • Prominent assistant coaches 2.2
    • Bill Walsh coaching tree 2.3
  • Later career 3
  • Leukemia 4
    • Death 4.1
  • Family 5
  • Head coaching record 6
    • College 6.1
    • NFL 6.2
  • Books 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10

Early career

Born in Los Angeles, Walsh played running back in the San Francisco Bay Area for Hayward High School in Hayward.[1]

Walsh played quarterback at the College of San Mateo for two seasons. Both John Madden and Walsh played and coached at the College of San Mateo early in their careers. After playing at the College of San Mateo, Walsh transferred to San Jose State University, where he played tight end and defensive end. He also participated in intercollegiate boxing. Walsh graduated from San Jose State with a bachelor's degree in physical education in 1955. He served under Bob Bronzan as a graduate assistant coach on the Spartans football coaching staff and graduated with a master's degree in physical education from San Jose State in 1959.[2] His master's thesis was entitled Flank Formation Football -- Stress:: Defense. Thesis 796.W228f[3]

Following graduation, Walsh coached the football and swim teams at Washington High School in Fremont, California.

Walsh was coaching in Fremont when he interviewed for an assistant coaching position with Marv Levy, who had just been hired as the head coach at the University of California, Berkeley.

"I was very impressed, individually, by his knowledge, by his intelligence, by his personality, and hired him," Levy said. Levy and Walsh, two future NFL Hall of Famers, would never produce a winning season at Cal.

After Cal, Walsh did a stint at Stanford as an assistant coach, before beginning his pro coaching career.

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.[4] 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 to 1970 before also coaching the quarterbacks from 1971 to 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,[5] 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 were successful, posting a 9–3 record 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 got the entire organization to buy into his philosophy and vowed to turn around a miserable situation. Despite their second consecutive 2-14 record, the 49ers were playing more competitive football.

In 1979, Walsh drafted quarterback Joe Montana from Notre Dame in the third round. After a 59-14 blowout loss to Dallas in week 6 of the 1980 season, Walsh promoted Montana to starting QB. In a Sunday game, December 7, 1980, vs. the New Orleans Saints, Montana brought the 49ers back from a 35-7 halftime deficit to win 38-35 in overtime. The 49ers improved in 1980 to 6–10, but more importantly, Walsh had the 49ers making great strides and they were getting better every week. San Francisco won its first championship in Super Bowl XVI vs the Cincinnati Bengals 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.[6]

In addition to drafting Joe Montana, Walsh drafted Ronnie Lott, Charles Haley, and Jerry Rice. He also traded a 2nd and 4th round pick in the 1987 draft for Steve Young. His success with the 49ers was rewarded with his election to the Professional Football Hall of Fame in 1993.

1981 championship

The 1981 season saw Walsh lead the 49ers to a Super Bowl championship; the team rose from the cellar to the top of the NFL in just two seasons. Four important wins during the 1981 season were two wins each over the Los Angeles Rams and the Dallas Cowboys. The Rams were only one year removed from a Super Bowl appearance, and had dominated the series with the 49ers since 1967 winning 23, losing 3 and tying 1. The 49ers' two wins over the Rams in 1981 marked the shift of dominance in favor of the 49ers that lasted until 1998 with 30 wins (including 17 consecutively) against only 6 defeats.

In 1981, the 49ers blew out the Cowboys in week 6 of the regular season. On Monday Night Football that week, the 49ers' win was not included in the halftime highlights. Walsh felt that this was because the Cowboys were scheduled to play the Rams the next week in a Sunday night game and that showing the highlights of the 49ers' win would potentially hurt the game's ratings. However, Walsh used this as a motivating factor for his team, who felt they were disrespected.[7]

The 49ers faced the Cowboys again that same season in the NFC title game. The game was very close, and in the fourth quarter Walsh called a series of running plays as the 49ers marched down the field against the Cowboys prevent defense, which had been expecting the 49ers to mainly pass. The 49ers came from behind to win the game on Dwight Clark's TD reception (The Catch), propelling Walsh to his first Super Bowl. Walsh and the 49ers defeated Cincinnati in the Super Bowl, which was played in Pontiac, Michigan. Walsh would later write that the 49ers' two wins over the Rams showed a shift of power in their division, while the wins over the Cowboys showed a shift of power in the conference.

Prominent assistant coaches

Many of Bill Walsh's assistant coaches went on to be head coaches themselves, including Super Bowl XXXII and Super Bowl XXXIII during his time as head coach of the Denver Broncos. Kubiak was first a quarterback coach with the 49ers, then offensive coordinator for Shanahan with the Denver Broncos. Dennis Green trained Tony Dungy, who won a Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts, and Brian Billick with his brother-in law and linebackers coach Mike Smith. Billick won a Super Bowl as head coach of the Baltimore Ravens. Mike Holmgren trained many of his assistants to become head coaches, including Jon Gruden and Andy Reid. Gruden won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Reid served as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles from 1999-2012, and guided the Eagles to multiple winning seasons and numerous playoff appearances. In addition to this, Marc Trestman, former head coach of the Chicago Bears, served as Offensive Coordinator under Seifert in the 90's. Gruden himself would train Mike Tomlin, who led the Pittsburgh Steelers to their sixth Super Bowl championship, and Jim Harbaugh, whose 49ers would face his brother, John Harbaugh, whom Reid himself trained, and the Baltimore Ravens at Super Bowl XLVII, which marked the Ravens' second World Championship.

Bill Walsh was viewed as a strong advocate for African-American head coaches in the NFL and NCAA.[8] Thus, the impact of Walsh also changed the NFL into an equal opportunity for African-American coaches. Along with Ray Rhodes and Dennis Green, Tyrone Willingham became the head coach at Stanford, then later Notre Dame and Washington. One of Mike Shanahan's assistants, Karl Dorrell went on to be the head coach at UCLA. Walsh directly helped propel Dennis Green into the NFL head coaching ranks by offering to take on the head coaching job at Stanford.

Bill Walsh coaching tree

Many former and current NFL head coaches trace their lineage back to Bill Walsh on his coaching tree, shown below.[9] Walsh, in turn, belonged to the coaching tree of American Football League great and Hall of Fame coach Sid Gillman of the AFL's Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers and Hall of Fame coach Paul Brown.

Later career

After leaving the coaching ranks immediately following his team's victory in Super Bowl XXIII, Walsh went to work as a broadcaster for NBC, teaming with Dick Enberg to form the lead broadcasting team, replacing Merlin Olsen). Walsh returned to Stanford as head coach in 1992, leading the Cardinal to a 10-3 record and a Pacific-10 Conference co-championship. Stanford finished the season with an upset victory over Penn State in the Blockbuster Bowl on January 1, 1993 and a # 9 ranking in the final AP Poll. In 1994, after consecutive losing seasons, Walsh left Stanford and retired from coaching. In 1996 Walsh returned to the 49ers as an administrative aide [10]

Walsh was the Vice President and General Manager for the 49ers from 1999 to 2001 and was a special consultant to the team for three years afterwards. In 2004, Walsh was appointed as special assistant to the athletic director at Stanford. In 2005, after then-athletic director Ted Leland stepped down, Walsh was named interim athletic director. He also acted as a consultant for his alma mater San Jose State University in their search for an Athletic Director and Head Football Coach in 2005.

Bill Walsh was also the author of three books, a motivational speaker, and taught classes at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Walsh was a Board Member for the Lott IMPACT Trophy, which is named after Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive back Ronnie Lott, and is awarded annually to college football's Defensive IMPACT Player of the Year. Walsh served as a keynote speaker at the award's banquet.[11]



Bill Walsh died of leukemia at 10:45 am on July 30, 2007, at his home in Woodside, California.[1] Following Walsh's death, the playing field at (the now-defunct) Candlestick Park was renamed "Bill Walsh Field".[12] Additionally, the regular San Jose State versus Stanford football game was renamed the "Bill Walsh Legacy Game".[13]


Walsh is survived by his wife Geri, his son Craig and his daughter Elizabeth. Walsh also lost a son, Steve, in 2002. Craig Walsh flipped the coin at Super Bowl XLII in Glendale, Arizona, accompanied by his sister, their mother and several ex-49ers.

Head coaching record


Year Team Overall Conference Standing Bowl/playoffs Coaches# AP°
Stanford Cardinal (Pacific-8/Pacific-10 Conference) (1977–1978)
1977 Stanford 9–3 5–2 T–2nd W Sun 15 15
1978 Stanford 8–4 4–3 T–4th W Bluebonnet 16 17
Stanford Cardinal (Pacific 10 Conference) (1992–1994)
1992 Stanford 10–3 6–2 T–1st W Blockbuster 9 9
1993 Stanford 4–7 2–6 T–8th
1994 Stanford 3–7–1 2–6 T–8th
Stanford: 34–24–1 19–19
Total: 34–24–1
      National championship         Conference title         Conference division title
Indicates Bowl Coalition, Bowl Alliance, BCS, or CFP / New Years' Six bowl.
#Rankings from final Coaches Poll.
°Rankings from final AP Poll.


Team Year Regular Season Post Season
Won Lost Ties Win % Finish Won Lost Win % Result
SF 1979 2 14 0 .125 4th in NFC West - - - -
SF 1980 6 10 0 .375 3rd in NFC West - - - -
SF 1981 13 3 0 .812 1st in NFC West 3 0 1.000 Super Bowl XVI Champions.
SF 1982 3 6 0 .333 11th in NFC - - - -
SF 1983 10 6 0 .625 1st in NFC West 1 1 .500 Lost to Washington Redskins in NFC Championship Game.
SF 1984 15 1 0 .938 1st in NFC West 3 0 1.000 Super Bowl XIX Champions.
SF 1985 10 6 0 .625 2nd in NFC West 0 1 .000 Lost to New York Giants in NFC Wild-Card Game.
SF 1986 10 5 1 .656 1st in NFC West 0 1 .000 Lost to New York Giants in NFC Divisional Game.
SF 1987 13 2 0 .867 1st in NFC West 0 1 .000 Lost to Minnesota Vikings in NFC Divisional Game.
SF 1988 10 6 0 .625 1st in NFC West 3 0 1.000 Super Bowl XXIII Champions.
SF Total 92 59 1 .609 10 4 .714
Total[14] 92 59 1 .609 10 4 .714


  • Bill Walsh and Glenn Dickey, Building a Champion: On Football and the Making of the 49ers. St Martin's Press, 1990. (ISBN 0-312-04969-2).
  • Bill Walsh, Brian Billick and James A. Peterson, Finding the Winning Edge. Sports Publishing, 1998. (ISBN 1-571-67172-2).
  • Bill Walsh with Steve Jamison and Craig Walsh, The Score Takes Care of Itself: My Philosophy of Leadership. Penguin Group Publishing, 2009 (ISBN 978-1-59184-266-8).

See also


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Mile High Report: Bill Walsh....
  5. ^
  6. ^ In multiple seasons, from 1979 to 1988, in the Regular Season, requiring Underdog By >= 0, sorted by descending Points For.
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ Bill Walsh Record, Statistics, and Category Ranks -

External links

Preceded by
Merlin Olsen
NFL on NBC lead analyst
Succeeded by
Bob Trumpy
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