William Ernest “Bill” Walsh died on July 30, 2007 at the age of 75, he was the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers and the Stanford Cardinal football team, during which time he popularized the West Coast offense.
Born in Los Angeles on November 30, 1931, Walsh played running back in the San Francisco Bay Area for Hayward High School in Hayward.
In 1968, Walsh moved to the AFL expansion Cincinnati Bengals, joining the staff of legendary coach Paul Brown.
It was there that Walsh developed the philosophy now known as the “West Coast Offense”, as a matter of necessity.
Cincinnati’s new quarterback, Virgil Carter, was known for his great mobility and accuracy but lacked a strong arm necessary to throw deep passes.
Thus, Walsh modified the vertical passing scheme he had learned during his time with the Raiders, designing a horizontal passing system that relied on quick, short throws – often spreading the ball across the entire width of the field.
The new offense was much better suited to Carter’s physical abilities; he led the league in pass completion percentage in 1971.
In 1979, Walsh was hired as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.
The long-suffering 49ers went 2–14 in 1978, the season before Walsh’s arrival and repeated the same dismal record in his first season.
Walsh got the entire organization to buy into his philosophy and vowed to turn around a miserable situation.
Despite their second consecutive 2-14 record, the 49ers were playing more competitive football.
In 1981, the 49ers blew out the Cowboys in week 6 of the regular season.
On Monday Night Football that week, the 49ers’ win was not included in the halftime highlights.
Walsh felt that this was because the Cowboys were scheduled to play the Rams the next week in a Sunday night game and that showing the highlights of the 49ers’ win would potentially hurt the game’s ratings.
However, Walsh used this as a motivating factor for his team, who felt they were disrespected.
Another contribution was the Minority Coaching Fellowship, a program he created in 1987 to help African American coaches improve their job prospects in the NFL and Division I colleges by inviting them to an up-close look at the 49ers’ training camps.
Among those who took advantage of the program were Tyrone Willingham, former Stanford head coach and current head coach at the University of Washington; Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis and several NFL assistants.
The NFL later turned the fellowship into a league-wide program.
Fred VonAppen, who coached with him on the 49ers and at Stanford, told an interviewer in 1993, “He’s a complex man, somewhat of an enigma.
I gave up trying to understand him a long time ago. In a way he has the kind of personality that creates a love-hate relationship.
He’s not always the distinguished, patriarchal guy television viewers are used to seeing on the sidelines.
He’s a very competitive guy, and he can be scathing, especially in the heat of battle.
There have been times when I would have gladly split his skull with an ax.