49ers Head Coach Search: Jim Harbaugh and the Bill Walsh Factor

Editor's Note: Thanks to Cam Inman for his article in the Merc, where I found some of this great info.

For most 49ers fans, Bill Walsh represents the epitome of the "Dynasty Years" - where the team won three Super Bowls in a decade...among other accomplishments.  Walsh was also the innovator of the West Coast Offense (WCO), which changed the NFL passing game forever and is being used in some form all over the league, even now.

Walsh obviously was a "Stanford guy", coaching there before and after his time with the 49ers.  Walsh also returned to Stanford's athletic department in 2004 to advise new AD Bob Bowlsby on hiring a new head coach.  Walsh and Bowlsby selected a gentleman by the name of Jim Harbaugh and the rest, as they say, is history.

"I'd walk over to [Walsh's] office and sit sometimes for 2½ hours," Harbaugh said. "If he was being interviewed by a reporter or if players were visiting, I wouldn't say anything. I'd sit up against a wall and listen."

He would have breakfast with Walsh, watch film with the legendary coach, and even got to the point where he'd not only take notes, but also recorded audio from their sessions together.

When Andrew Luck was brought in to "The Farm" (Stanford's campus) as a QB prospect, he first met with, guess who?  Yep, Walsh.

Make the jump for more on Walsh's influence on the rest of the current Stanford staff, as well.

Stanford's offensive coordinator under Harbaugh, David Shaw, played wide receiver for the school under Walsh in the early 1990's.  Shaw remembers the weeks leading up to the Blockbuster Bowl in 1992:

"The biggest thing is the way Bill prepared us mentally, physically and emotionally to go down there, (to) think of it as a business trip and show who we are to the nation."

When Shaw was brought in as OC at Stanford he had another chance to be around Walsh and take some more of the wisdom with him as he coached the Cardinal offense.

Walsh lost his battle with Leukemia in 2007, before Harbaugh and his staff coached in their first game at Stanford.  The off-season prior will always be valuable to everyone who had the chance to absorb what Walsh was freely giving at the time.  Bowlsby recalls just how much Walsh gave:

"As he got ill, he gave away stuff," Bowlsby said. "One day he came in with a stack of books, mostly leadership and consulting books. One was 'The Essential Wooden.' I opened the dust jacket, and it was personally signed to Bill from John Wooden: 'Thank you for the impact you had on football and the difference you made on the world of sports.' Bill knew it was something I would treasure."

Former Stanford QB Tavita Pritchard said Walsh was "a tremendous resource for Coach [Harbaugh] his first year."

Shaw says there is a picture of Walsh in the football office and that, "Every day, I pass by it, and I miss him.  The influence he had on the offense is great.  The influence he hda on my life is great.  The meetings I had one-on-one with him were priceless."

To me, Jim Harbaugh (and any of his current staff who could potentially come with him) to the 49ers would represent a great opportunity to "Re-Walsh" the franchise.

Although no one can compare to the man himself, Harbaugh and staff spent time learning Walsh's vision for a football operation.  Practices, coaching staffs, traveling, game-management...Walsh was a tactician and perfectionist at every aspect.  Harbaugh and his staff seem to have recognized this and studied Walsh like a preacher studies the Bible.

One can watch Stanford play and see how prepared they are, how well they execute, how they play mind-games with the opposition...Walsh's fingerprints are all over this team.  College or Pros, the principles work and with that foundation I believe Harbaugh and any of his assistants would be a great influence on the franchise.

Thanks again to Cam Inman for his article in the Merc, where I found this great info.  If you want to read another great piece on John and Jim Harbaugh's growing up, football and coaching careers, and loving competitiveness with one another...I highly recommend the piece "Beat, Play, Love" by Michael Rosenberg of Sports Illustrated.

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