Bill Walsh: 1931 - 2007


Simply put, it has certainly been a rough day for 49ers fans past and present.  Frank Gore's broken hand is an issue best left for another day.

I will not even begin to think I can appropriately discuss the non-football life of Bill Walsh.  Not knowing the man, and having never even met him, that is best left for national and regional columnists.  Any time someone dies from anything other than "natural causes," you feel for the family.  For a family to lose a father and a son to leukemia is just heart breaking.

I spent my childhood in Las Vegas in the 1980s, as Bill Walsh was running the team of 80s.  My media outlets were the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the USA Today and due to no cable, the local news.  Thus my knowledge of Bill Walsh was rather limited.  

With that in mind, rather than mourn the passing of a true legend of the game, I think it's best to celebrate a revolutionary force in the game of football.  Obviously he was a father, husband and son, but for those of us who did not have the opportunity to know him beyond the television screen and newspaper and magazine columns, Bill Walsh was one of the greatest minds the sport of football has ever seen.  Maybe he didn't invent the game of football or the forward pass, but he certainly took things to a whole new level on the field of play and on the sidelines.

Much of Bill Walsh's fame comes from his introduction of the West Coast offense and turning the 49ers from a laughingstock of a franchise into the team of the 80s and one of the greatest dynasties the NFL has ever seen.  However, there are two areas (which in some way intersect) that I think are his most impressive legacies:

  1. The famed Bill Walsh coaching tree
  2. The Coaching Minority Fellowship Program
As far as the tree is concerned...well this says it all (Thanks to The Sports Guru for finding the coaching tree):

As much as I love the 49ers and only care about the 49ers, that's just amazing how far the Walsh philosophy has carried.  While obviously there are teams that don't run the West Coast offense in this chain, the length and breadth of it is staggering.  I stumbled across an article at espn.com from a few years ago that has a sidebar from Steve Young regarding the proliferation of the West Coast offense and variations of said offense:

...the West Coast offense as it originated with Bill Walsh is any play or set of plays that tie the quarterback's feet to the receiver's route so there is a sense of timing...

My definition might include a number of teams that aren't generally thought of as West Coast offense teams. In fact, most of the league uses some of the West Coast philosophy and perhaps even the Walsh tree of plays...

But there are tons of ways to design West Coast plays, even if they didn't originate with Walsh.

A second aspect that is sometimes discussed, but not as much as it ought to be is the Minority Coaching Fellowship program that Coach Walsh established in 1987.  This program was helping minorities get a foot in the door of coaching long before the Rooney Rule came into effect.  Three of the most prominent beneficiaries of this rule are Herman Edwards, Marvin Lewis and Tyrone Willingham.  That's not to say they would not have gotten a chance in coaching otherwise, but credit Bill Walsh for having the foresight to understand the value of this kind of program.

In looking at this man I certainly don't won't to ignore his contributions outside of the NFL and outside of football in general.  I'll continue to post articles as I see them, for I feel they are the best way to get an understanding and true appreciation of Bill Walsh the man.  While the NFL, 49er fans and Stanford Cardinal fans everywhere have lost a great man, his legacy will most certainly live on.

Rest in Peace Coach Walsh.  Let's hope the 49ers kick some ass for Coach Walsh this year!

I just want to close this by thanking the rest of SB Nation for the kind thoughts and words expressed at their various sites and in the comments on this site.  I emailed everyone a thanks but just want Niners Nation to understand the appreciation.  As I told my fellow bloggers, up until this point I'd considered us colleagues.  However, the response to Coach Walsh's death has shown the class of everyone involved with SB Nation, which I certainly appreciate.  I'll continue to post links, but for now, here are some of the words from around SB Nation:

Sunday Morning Quarterback

Bruins Nation

Mile High Report - Shanahan thoughts on Walsh

Waggle Room

A diary at McCovey Chronicles - A moment of silence

An Athletics Nation Diary

Field Gulls

Restrictor Plate This - Taking a Moment to Remember

SB Nation Featured Video
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