Hall Of Fame 49ers Icon Bill Walsh Dies At 75
WOODSIDE, Calif., Jul. 30, 2007 (KGO) (KGO) -- It's rare to use the word genius when you're talking about sports, but in the case of Bill Walsh, the word genius did indeed fit the man. He was an innovator who left a mark that will forever be imprinted on the game of football.
Bill Walsh, Hall of Fame 49ers Coach: "It means a lot to me. It means your life was worthwhile. It means touched peoples' lives. I haven't thought that much about it, but to be honest with you, it's a wonderful feeling to know that you somehow impacted peoples' lives in a positive way"
His impact was felt the greatest in the Bay Area. Born in Fremont in 1931, Walsh attended San Jose State. After graduating, he began coaching at Washington High in Fremont, and later served as an assistant coach at both Cal and Stanford.
ABC7 Video Extra:
Watch Monday's (7/30) press conference on the death of Bill Walsh. In attendance: Steve Young, Jerry Rice, Keena Turner, Joe Montana on conference call and Jim Harbaugh.
Walsh began his professional coaching career in 1966 with the Oakland Raiders. After assistant coaching stints at Cincinnati and San Diego, Walsh became head coach at Stanford in 1977. In 1979, he got his first head coaching job in the pros as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. It was there that he would turn the franchise around and lead the team to Super Bowl championships in 1981, 1984 and 1988. It was that first Super Bowl team that made him the proudest.
Walsh: "That was the very unique experience all of us had to take that young team, and go all the way through and win a big time Super Bowl."
Walsh had a delightful sense of humor, and it was on display during the first Super Bowl. He donned a bellman's uniform to greet the team arriving in Detroit.
Walsh: "It was just spontaneous sort of sophomoric trick. Think if I had done that and we lost the game?"
That team was led by the third round pick out of Notre Dame, Joe Montana. Walsh noticed something special about this young man.
Walsh: "You knew he had great instincts, you knew that. And you knew he was a terrific competitor. And he had good touch on the ball and get it there. His passes were easy to catch because a lot of times he didn't have great velocity on them. How would you ever know he would become the great quarterback of all time?"
Walsh had an uncanny eye for talent, and it showed up again in the 1985 draft. Walsh traded up to take a raw diamond in the rough receiver out of Mississippi Valley State named Jerry Rice.
Walsh: "It was difficult to maneuver in a position to draft him. We had a make a trade, these kinds of things. But once we drafted him, and he took the field for the first time, it was evident this wasn't your usual receiver. There is something going on with this guy. It didn't take long for him to be the best receiver in football."
Jerry Rice, Legendary 49ers Wide Receiver: "The guy really gave me a chance by coming in to this predominate black school, Mississippi Valley State, making me their number one draft choice."
Walsh's legacy went beyond the x's and o's. Besides the great teams he put together, Walsh saw the inequities in sports and actively mentored and promoted black coaches. Ray Rhodes, Sherman Lewis, Tony Dungy and Dennis Green all were greatly helped by Walsh.
Walsh: "I'm also proud of the assistant coaches, who have become head coaches. Somebody told me there are fourteen right now."
Nearly five years ago, Walsh lost son Steve to leukemia. In November of 2006, Walsh revealed that he too had the disease, and faced the news with the dignity and good humor he demonstrated throughout his career.
Walsh: "One of the battles is, if you're in a terminal situation, it sort of prays on you a little bit. You're not fearful of it, but you don't go down and buy a new car."
Bill Walsh has left a lasting impression, a legacy that forever changed the way the game of football is played.
Eddie DeBartolo, Former 49ers Owner: "His legacy is going to live on. It's going to live on with the players that he coached. It's going to live on with the championships that he won, and the hearts that he touched over the year. It'll always be there."
Rice: "Bill is going to go down as the genius. One of the best coaches to ever coach the game."
ABC7 Video Extra:
Watch Mike Shumann's unedited one-on-one interview with Bill Walsh from December of 2006:
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