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Remembering the Genius Part 2: An Interview About Bill Walsh

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In case you missed it the first time, Remembering the Genius is a temporary segment that we're running on Wednesdays. Arne Christensen, who posts here as arnec, interviewed David Harris about Bill Walsh, and we're running the interview here, while it lasts. You can read part one here.

I'd like to just take a minute to reintroduce Arne and David Harris, as well as to point you to some of the things they've done in the past. If you want to get the meat of the interview, it's right after the jump.

Arne Christensen is the author of several e-books describing the Bill Walsh 49er teams, from 1979 through 1988, with a focus on the three Super Bowl winners. These e-books are available for purchase online. Arne also runs a blog about the 49ers' history, which can be viewed here. A few months ago he spoke with David Harris, author of The Genius (also available on Amazon), a biography of Walsh focused on his 10 years coaching the 49ers.

Arne: I know Walsh had some real issues with the press.

David: He could hold grudges, especially in the last few years. The newspapers were challenging him, and at times he thought it was intentional. He was enormously resentful of the columnists for taking him apart on the Young vs. Montana issue. He felt he knew far more about the quarterback position than they did, so they had no right to criticize his decisions.

Arne: It's funny, because there was a similar situation with Montana vs. DeBerg in Walsh's first years as coach.

David: Walsh picked Montana from the start, he knew Montana would be the quarterback. Definitely there was a plan on how to develop and use him. He put Montana only in situations guaranteed to have success, near the goal line. During the week he'd practice only two or three plays and then come in Sunday and run them. It would build up his confidence in those situations. Walsh was trying to bolster Montana, have him adjust to the game slowly. It was certainly an issue though, during the 1980 season. First the 49ers had DeBerg, then Montana had a couple really bad games, DeBerg came back, he didn't do well, and finally Montana came in permanently.

Arne: How did Walsh take the pressure of losses?

David: He couldn't forget the losses. It limited the length of his career. He was constantly putting pressure on himself for a bad play call. Walsh took great pride in building the team, but he could also see how much more could have happened [for the 49ers] if certain things had gone right, if decisions were made differently.

Arne: One of the things I've read about Walsh is his emphasis on the quickness of his players.

David: He felt footwork was essential to playing the position of quarterback. He said Montana had the best footwork of any quarterback he'd ever seen. He had that mantra of "hit the other guy before he hits you"; Walsh certainly emphasized defensive quickness.

Arne: The defense-how much responsibility did he take for it?

David: He understood the defense quite well; there were certain things he wanted from it. He took that coordinator-Studley-out in 1982 because of a dispute between their two visions for the defense.

Arne: After leaving the Stanford coaching job, Walsh hopped around, went to the 49ers as GM, President, went back to Stanford, did some academic things there. It looks like he wanted to still be involved in football, but he didn't settle on a specific role.

David: It was the world he was comfortable in, and he wanted to be in that same element. He hovered around it, took the GM job with San Francisco. He became a consultant to the athletic department at Stanford. He wanted to keep doing something there until the last part of his illness. Walsh had an office at Stanford , kept going to it until a month before he died; until the last month of his life.

Arne: The whole "renaissance" aspect of his personality, where Walsh socialized with people in the arts, in business, etc.: was that maybe a release from the pressure of coaching?

David: It wasn't so much a release or a way to get away from coaching. It satisfied part of him that coaching couldn't. It was just part of being a full-bodied human being. He wasn't just about the Xs and Os. Winning the three Super Bowls was his entrée to that world of course, he circulated among those people because of his success in football.

Arne: He didn't apologize for being a football coach, didn't feel it was a trivial thing to do?

David: He wasn't ashamed to be a football coach.  You don't know if he had the insecurities about his status down deep, but certainly he never showed it. His successes impressed a lot of people, not just in the football world.

Stay tuned next week to read part three.