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Remembering the Genius Part 5: An Interview About Bill Walsh

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And at long last we arrive at the final installment of our Remembering the Genius series here on NinersNation. If you're just finding out about this segment now, Remembering the Genius is a temporary segment that we usually run on Wednesdays, but are getting up on Thursday this week largely due to my own carelessness. Arne Christensen, who posts here as arnec, interviewed David Harris about Bill Walsh, and we're running the interview here, while it lasts, which as it turns out is until today. You can read the earlier parts here.

And as before, I think it's important that you have this information and these links available every week:

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.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Arne for graciously allowing us to publish these on the website, and I'd like to thank David Harris for also supporting, and not to mention enlightening us with this interview.

Please enjoy Part 5, after the jump.

Arne: Where did Walsh's offensive philosophy come from?

David: Bob Branzan's teams at San Jose State had an elite offensive edge. Branzan had his impact on Bill, but not the biggest. There were two coaches who most influenced Walsh, Blaton Collier, who came in after Brown in Cleveland, and Sid Gillman, the guy with the Chargers in the AFL.

Arne: The '84 team doesn't get much attention paid to it. I guess they just didn't have the drama of the '81 and '88 teams, and it was maybe an easy team to coach.

David: Well, the coaches say there's never an easy season. Walsh did say the '84 team was one of the two or three best teams in NFL history, the most dominant team he ever coached.

Arne: About Walsh's military time in the early ‘50s, was that when the Korean War was going on, or just after it ended?

David: No, it was after the war. He went down to Fort Ord for training, then became a physical education teacher training enlistees there. Peacetime conscription was in effect still, so he just enrolled because otherwise he would've been ordered into Army. 

Arne: Did Walsh have any plans to become a coach?

David: He really just stumbled into it; he had a wife and kid to support, and he was just out of the Army. He started coaching after he left the Army, and that became his occupation. He said he would've been either a fighter or a coach.

Arne: Did Lott come to take on more responsibility in the defense as the ‘80s went along? I mean, of course he wasn't a coach, but did he have more authority over the defense at the end of the decade?

David: Lott was Lott, he had great force of personality, but no, he never took on that sort of responsibility. 

Arne: I've seen both Young and Rice talk about their desire to please Walsh, how that was an important motivation for their play. Did that stem from his ability to manage players, to motivate them?

David: Sure, Walsh depended on the force of his personality-absolutely, as every coach does. Players want to please their coaches, and Walsh knew how to pull those strings.

Arne: In his book, Walsh talks extensively about using training camp and practices for technical training, isolating skills that can be used in games.

David: Walsh tried to develop individual skills to exploit in certain circumstances. He'd talk to his position coaches and have a list of skills players needed to develop, drills to work on those skills.

Arne: When the 49ers got Young to replace Montana in 1987, that was right after Montana's back surgery in '86. I figure that was the primary reason, to get a more mobile, longer term quarterback.

David: Yes, that's true. He didn't know if Montana had much of anything left.

Arne: One last thing I thought I'd bring up is steroids in football. In the ‘80s, was that something Walsh had to deal with?

David: We only talked about that once-steroids, it wasn't an issue back then. There was Alzado, but he was really an isolated case. It was only in baseball at the time, so far as I know.