William Ernest Walsh has suddenly risen to hero status in my pantheon of great football coaches. Mount Rushmore in my opinion consists of Mouse, Mike, Vince, and now Bill. Maverick, innovator, intelligent, odd, even crazy are words that have been used to describe all of them. Successful, out of the box thinkers are people I admire. People have called me most the things on that list.
Walsh is interesting to me because I really had no idea that he was a member of the crew. I just finished reading The Genius, a biography of Walsh by David Harris. The book truly opened my eyes and changed my opinion of the man called the Genius. I grew up during the dynasty of the 49ers in the eighties which obviously shaped my thoughts on Walsh.
I always thought of Walsh as an old stuffy guy, never really paying much attention to him or his team except to wish they would lose at some point. Of course, I wasn’t a football coach then. Nor did I appreciate the subtleties of leading a group all headed in a singular direction. After reading this book I have a new-found respect for Walsh, his vision, his struggles, and his place on the list of truly great football coaches.
It can be difficult for a 12-year-old to get past the white hair, professor look that Walsh was working. I just thought of him as another old guy who coached in the NFL. I have always thought that NFL coaches are all cut from the same cloth, boring and predictable, and I still do, but I digress. Turns out that is not the case here. Yes Walsh was old in the 80s, well to a 12-year-old anyway. But that was because the 49ers head coaching job was his first time in the big chair on the professional level. He didn’t even get the opportunity until he was almost 50. But when he did, he turned pro football on its collective ear.
Never before had the NFL seen a team that threw the ball that many times or with such success. He had a plan and implemented it without hesitation. He threw the ball when they said he couldn’t. He dropped players and remade the roster almost yearly until he found the right mix of talent and personalities.
Bold, brilliant, and creative.
But haunted. The dichotomy of Walsh was apparently striking. Singular of purpose, bold, and unafraid marked his life inside football. However, outside, he was troubled, hunted, scared even. Afraid of failure and disappointment he left the game to early do to the pressure finally burning him out.
An outstanding book, anyone interested in football, leadership, or biographies should read this book. I really enjoyed it and could relate to both his football/leadership philosophies and the insecurities that ultimately wore him down. This book reenforced several of my thoughts on how to build a football program. It also brought to my consciousness a man who I knew about but had never really thought about.
I’m glad I read this book. Bill Walsh is a man who I greatly admire and belongs in the group of great football minds and innovators. It appears that I am late to this party, the moniker “Genius” doesn’t just appear out of the ether. He is without a doubt included in my particular version of the coaching Mount Rushmore.
Read this book, it’s wonderful.