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Bill Walsh
Head Coach
Personal information
Date of birth: November 30, 1931(1931-11-30)
Los Angeles, California
Date of death: July 30, 2007 (aged 75)
Woodside, California
Career information
College: San José State
No regular season or postseason appearances
Made coaching debut in 1966 for the Oakland Raiders
Last coached in 1994 for the Stanford Cardinal
Career history
 As coach:
Career highlights and awards
Pro Football Hall of Fame

William Ernest "Bill" Walsh (November 30, 1931 – July 30, 2007) was an American head football coach of the San Francisco 49ers and Stanford University, during which time he popularized the West Coast offense. Walsh went 102–63–1 with the 49ers, winning ten of his fourteen postseason games along with six division titles, three NFC Championship titles, and three Super Bowls. He was named the NFL's Coach of the Year in 1981 and 1984. In 1993, he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.


Early career

Born in Los Angeles, Walsh started his career as a running back for Hayward High School in Hayward.[1]

Walsh attended College of San Mateo for two years as a quarterback. He then transferred to San José State University, where he played as a tight end and a defensive end. He also participated in intercollegiate boxing. Walsh graduated from San Jose State with a bachelor's degree in physical education in 1955. He served under Bob Bronzan as a graduate assistant coach on the Spartans football coaching staff and graduated with a master's degree in physical education from San Jose State in 1959.[2] His master's thesis was entitled Defensing the Pro-Set Formation.[3]

Following graduation, Walsh coached at Washington High School in Fremont, leading the football and swim teams and coached legendary swim star Cole Caracappa.

Walsh was coaching in Fremont when he interviewed for an assistant coaching position with Marv Levy, who had just been hired as the head coach at the University of California, Berkeley.

"I was very impressed, individually, by his knowledge, by his intelligence, by his personality and hired him," Levy said.

After Cal, he did a stint at Stanford as an assistant coach, before beginning his pro coaching career.

Professional football career

Walsh began his pro coaching career in 1966 as an assistant with the AFL's Oakland Raiders. As a Raider assistant, Walsh was trained in the vertical passing offense favored by Al Davis, putting Walsh in Davis' mentor Sid Gillman's coaching tree. Walsh would later modify his own offensive philosophy to favor a predominantly horizontal passing approach.

He then moved to the AFL expansion Cincinnati Bengals in 1968, serving under Paul Brown for eight seasons as one of the architects of the team's offense, built around quarterback Ken Anderson and wide receiver Isaac Curtis.

When Brown retired as head coach following the 1975 season and appointed Bill "Tiger" Johnson as his successor, Walsh resigned and served as an assistant coach for Tommy Prothro with the San Diego Chargers in 1976. In a 2006 interview[4] , Walsh claimed that during his tenure with the Bengals, Brown "worked against my candidacy" to be a head coach anywhere in the league. "All the way through I had opportunities, and I never knew about them," Walsh said. "And then when I left him, he called whoever he thought was necessary to keep me out of the NFL."

In 1977, Walsh was hired as the head coach at Stanford where he stayed for two seasons. His two Stanford teams went 9-3 in 1977 with a win in the Sun Bowl, and 8-4 in 1978 with a win in the Bluebonnet Bowl; his notable players at Stanford included quarterbacks Guy Benjamin and Steve Dils, wide receivers James Lofton and Ken Margerum, and running back Darrin Nelson. Walsh was the Pac-8 Coach of the Year in 1977.

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 doubted his abilities to turn around such a miserable situation—but earlier in 1979, Walsh drafted quarterback Joe Montana from Notre Dame in the third round.

Walsh turned over the starting job to Montana in 1980, when the 49ers improved to 6-10. San Francisco won its first championship in 1981, just two years after winning two games.

Under Walsh the 49ers won Super Bowl championships in 1981, 1984 and 1988. Walsh served as 49ers head coach for ten years, and during his tenure he and his coaching staff perfected the style of play known popularly as the West Coast offense. Walsh was nicknamed "The Genius" for both his innovative playcalling and design. Walsh would regularly script the first 10-15 plays to be run on offense before the start of each game.

In addition to drafting Joe Montana, Walsh drafted Ronnie Lott, Charles Haley, and Jerry Rice. He also traded a 2nd and 4th round pick in the 1987 draft for Steve Young. His success with the 49ers was rewarded with his election to the Professional Football Hall of Fame in 1993.


1981 championship

The 1981 season saw Walsh lead the 49ers to a Super Bowl championship; the team rose from the cellar to the top of the NFL in just two seasons. Four important wins during the 1981 season were two wins each over the Los Angeles Rams and the Dallas Cowboys. The Rams were only one year removed from a Super Bowl appearance, and had dominated the series with the 49ers for nearly a decade. The 49ers' two wins over the Rams in 1981 marked the shift of dominance in favor of the 49ers that lasted until the late 1990s.

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 famous halftime highlights. Walsh felt that this was because the Cowboys were scheduled to play the Rams the next week in a rare 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.[5]

The 49ers faced the Cowboys again that same season in the NFC title game. The game was very close, and in the fourth quarter Walsh called a series of running plays as the 49ers marched down the field against the Cowboys prevent defense, which had been expecting the 49ers to mainly pass. The 49ers came from behind to win the game on Dwight Clark's memorable TD reception (The Catch), propelling Walsh to his first Super Bowl. Walsh and the 49ers defeated Cincinnati in the Super Bowl, which was played in Pontiac, Michigan. Walsh would later write that the 49ers' two wins over the Rams showed a shift of power in their division, while the wins over the Cowboys showed a shift of power in the conference.

Prominent assistant coaches

Many of his assistant coaches went on to be head coaches, including George Seifert, Mike Holmgren, Mike Shanahan, Ray Rhodes, and Dennis Green. These coaches in turn have their own disciples who have utilized Walsh's West Coast system. Walsh was viewed as a strong advocate for African-American head coaches in the NFL and NCAA.[6] Along with Rhodes and Green, Tyrone Willingham became the head coach at Stanford, then later Notre Dame and Washington. One of Mike Shanahan's assistants, Karl Dorrell has gone on to be the head coach at UCLA. Walsh directly helped propel Dennis Green into the NFL head coaching ranks by offering to take on the head coaching job at Stanford.

Bill Walsh coaching tree

Many former and current NFL head coaches trace their lineage back to Bill Walsh on his coaching tree:[7] Walsh Coaching Tree3.GIF

Head coaching record

Team Year Regular Season Post Season
Won Lost Ties Win % Finish Won Lost Win % Result
SFO 1979 2 14 0 .125 4th in NFC West - - - -
SFO 1980 6 10 0 .375 3rd in NFC West - - - -
SFO 1981 13 3 0 .812 1st in NFC West 3 0 1.000 Super Bowl XVI Champions.
SFO 1982 3 6 0 .333 4th in NFC West - - - -
SFO 1983 10 6 0 .625 1st in NFC West 1 1 .500 Lost to Washington Redskins in NFC Championship Game.
SFO 1984 15 1 0 .938 1st in NFC West 3 0 1.000 Super Bowl XIX Champions.
SFO 1985 10 6 0 .625 2nd in NFC West 0 1 .000 Lost to New York Giants in NFC Wild-Card Game.
SFO 1986 10 5 1 .656 1st in NFC West 0 1 .000 Lost to New York Giants in NFC Divisional Game.
SFO 1987 13 2 0 .867 1st in NFC West 0 1 .000 Lost to Minnesota Vikings in NFC Divisional Game.
SFO 1988 10 6 0 .625 1st in NFC West 3 0 1.000 Super Bowl XXIII Champions.
SFO Total 92 59 1 .609 10 4 .714
Total[8] 92 59 1 .609 10 4 .714

Later career

Bill Walsh (left) with San Jose State Spartans head football coach Dick Tomey.

After leaving the coaching ranks immediately following his team's victory in Super Bowl XXIII, Walsh went to work as a broadcaster for NBC (teaming with Dick Enberg to form the lead broadcasting team). Walsh returned to Stanford in 1992 to once again serve as head coach for the school, leading the Cardinal to a 10-3 record and a Pacific-10 Conference co-championship. Stanford finished the season with an upset victory over Penn State in the Blockbuster Bowl on January 1, 1993 and a # 9 ranking in the final AP Poll. After consecutive losing seasons, Walsh left Stanford in 1994 and retired from coaching.

Walsh would also return to the 49ers, serving as Vice President and General Manager from 1999 to 2001 and was a special consultant to the team for three years afterwards. In 2004, Walsh was appointed as special assistant to the athletic director at Stanford. In 2005, after then-athletic director Ted Leland stepped down to take a position at the University of the Pacific, Walsh was named interim athletic director. He also acted as a consultant for his alma mater San Jose State University in their search for an Athletic Director and Head Football Coach in 2005.

Bill Walsh was also the author of three books, a motivational speaker, and taught classes at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.


Walsh was diagnosed with leukemia in 2004. In November 2006, he confirmed that he was undergoing treatment for the illness.


Bill Walsh died of leukemia at 10:45 am on July 30, 2007 at his home in Woodside, California.[1] Following Walsh's death, the playing field at Candlestick Park was renamed "Bill Walsh Field".[9] Additionally, the regular San Jose State vs. Stanford football game was renamed the "Bill Walsh Legacy Game".[10]


  • Bill Walsh and Glenn Dickey, Building a Champion: On Football and the Making of the 49ers. St Martin's Press, 1990. (ISBN 0-312-04969-2).
  • Bill Walsh, Brian Billick and James A. Peterson, Finding the Winning Edge. Sports Publishing, 1998. (ISBN 1-571-67172-2).
  • Bill Walsh with Steve Jamison and Craig Walsh, The Score Takes Care of Itself: My Philosophy of Leadership. Penguin Group Publishing, 2009 (ISBN 978-1-59184-266-8).


  1. ^ a b Tom Fitzgerald (2007-07-30). "Former 49er head coach Bill Walsh dies". San Francisco Chronicle.  
  2. ^ San Jose State University (July 30, 2007). "San Jose State Legend Bill Walsh Dies". Press release. Retrieved 2007-10-01.  
  3. ^ Daniel Brown, Jon Wilner and Mack Lundstrom (July 31, 2007). "Coaching legend Bill Walsh dies at 75". San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved 2007-10-01.  
  4. ^ Sam Farmer (December 22, 2006, D.1). Living Legend. Los Angeles Times.  
  5. ^ Bill Walsh (2009). "pg. 169". The Score Takes Care of Itself: My Philosophy of Leadership". Penguin Group.  
  6. ^ Glenn Dickey (2002-01-14). "It’s past time".  
  7. ^ Len Pasquarelli. "An offense by any other name ...". Retrieved 2009-03-12.  
  8. ^ Bill Walsh Record, Statistics, and Category Ranks -
  9. ^ "49ers home field to be named after Walsh". ESPN. August 10, 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-11.  
  10. ^ Michelle Smith (September 12, 2007). "Walsh's legacy all over this game". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-11-11.  

External links

Sporting positions
Preceded by
Jack Christiansen
Stanford University Head Football Coach
Succeeded by
Rod Dowhower
Preceded by
Fred O'Connor
San Francisco 49ers Head Coach
Succeeded by
George Seifert
Preceded by
Dennis Green
Stanford University Head Football Coach
Succeeded by
Tyrone Willingham
Preceded by
John McVay
San Francisco 49ers General Manager
Succeeded by
Terry Donahue
Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Tom Flores
Tom Flores
Joe Gibbs
Super Bowl Winning Head Coach
Super Bowl XVI, 1981
Super Bowl XIX, 1984
Super Bowl XXIII, 1988
Succeeded by
Joe Gibbs
Mike Ditka
George Seifert


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