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Bill Walsh, 1931-2007: A Winner and an Innovator

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Bill Walsh, 1931-2007: A Winner and an Innovator


Bill Walsh, 1931-2007: A Winner and an Innovator

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

Legendary football coach Bill Walsh has died at the age of 75, he had leukemia. Walsh led the San Francisco 49ers to three Super Bowl victories, and create the innovative passing style called West Coast offense. He helped quarterbacks reach the Hall of Fame, and he mentored championship-winning coaches.

Ben Adler of member station KAZU has this remembrance.

BEN ADLER: You can't underestimate Bill Walsh's impact, says longtime Bay Area sports columnist, Glenn Dickey.

Mr. GLENN DICKEY (Sports Columnist, San Francisco Chronicle): He revolutionized football in the NFL, there's no question about that. And his effects are still felt today.

ADLER: In 1979, Walsh took over a franchise that was a complete disaster. A mere three years later, he would lead the 49ers to the first of three NFL championships. The key to Walsh's dominating offense was simple enough - quick precise short passes even on first down when most teams normally ran the ball. They'd rack at first downs to keep the ball moving, and most of all, keep the other team's offense on the sidelines.

Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young, one of Walsh's protegees, told ESPN today, that Walsh's West Coast offense spread throughout the league.

Mr. STEVE YOUNG (Football Quarterback): All the offensives, no matter what anyone says about whether they've accepted it or not, they used the techniques, they use the concepts that were introduced on third down especially, first down passing game, the short passing game, replacing your running game in many ways. Things that are, you know, just - it was new.

ADLER: Walsh's wisdom went far beyond X's and O's, Young says he had a tremendous eye for talent.

Mr. YOUNG: He would put different people on different places, and he could see what they could become. I guess the ultimate thing you could about a coach is to have that God-given ability, that special ability, that's so rare that he can see people and their potential and what they could become before they could - that person ever has a chance to understand it.

ADLER: Young would know. He's one of several quarterbacks - Joe Montana is another - who's careers flourished under Walsh. The same happened to more than a handful of coaches who went on to lead their own teams after getting their start with Walsh in San Francisco.

In a decade at the helm of the 49ers, Walsh went over a hundred games - six division titles and three Super Bowls. Then, after his third championship following the 1988 season, he retired.

(Soundbite of archived interview)

Mr. BILL WALSH (Coach, San Francisco 49ers): I think I could be here as long as I wanted. I think the key for me, personally, would be what I want to do with my life at this point. Having coached for 30 years and been through this many, many times, is there a time when you step away?

ADLER: Even after he left, Walsh's legacy lived on. San Francisco won two more Super Bowls including one the very next year. Walsh also coached in the college ranks with two stints at Stanford. He started a program to help minority coaches improve their job prospects, and he spent some of his later years in the 40ers front office.

But to football fans everywhere, he will forever be linked with Joe Montana, Steve Young, Jerry Rice, and winning.

For NPR News, I'm Ben Adler.

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