Bill Walsh, arguably the greatest professional football coach of the last quarter century, has succumbed to leukemia at the age of 75.
As a die-hard Redskins fan, I know very well how good a coach Walsh was. He and Joe Gibbs battled throughout the 1980s, their teams amassing impressive records and winning Super Bowls left and right. Walsh ended up with three rings in his ten years as a professional coach. His quarterbacks, Joe Montana and Steve Young, will be remembered as among the very best who ever played the game.
More impressive, though, is the coaching legacy Walsh left the league when he retired from the sidelines. ESPN sums it up very well:
Walsh twice served as the 49ers’ general manager, and George Seifert [Walsh's former assistant] led San Francisco to two more Super Bowl titles after Walsh left the sideline. Walsh also coached Stanford during two terms over five seasons.
Even a short list of Walsh’s adherents is stunning. Seifert, Mike Holmgren, Dennis Green, Sam Wyche, Ray Rhodes and Bruce Coslet all became NFL head coaches after serving on Walsh’s San Francisco staffs, and Tony Dungy played for him. Most of his former assistants passed on Walsh’s structures and strategies to a new generation of coaches, including Mike Shanahan, Jon Gruden, Brian Billick, Andy Reid, Pete Carroll, Gary Kubiak, Steve Mariucci and Jeff Fisher.
Walsh created the Minority Coaching Fellowship program in 1987, helping minority coaches get a foothold in a previously white-dominated profession. Willingham and Marvin Lewis were among those who went through the program, later adopted as a league-wide initiative.
Bill Walsh was far more than a mere football coach. He was a mentor, a teacher, a builder of programs, and a man who fostered excellence in the people around him. There may not be a team in the NFL that hasn’t been directly influenced by Walsh.
He was a priceless asset to the NFL and the league is, no doubt, very grateful he was a part of it.