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Posts Tagged ‘Bill Walsh’
In February I talked with long-time 49ers reporter Kevin Lynch, now with the San Francisco Chronicle, about the 49ers’ dynasty, especially the 1988 49ers. The full interview is in the appendix to my e-book about the ’88 49ers. You can buy that e-book through Lulu.com here. In these excerpts, we talked about Bill Walsh and George Seifert:
Arne: Seifert was hired to replace Walsh very soon after that Super Bowl against the Bengals.
Kevin: He was flying to an interview in Cleveland, they caught him in Dallas waiting for his connecting flight. The record of coaches succeeding Super Bowl coaches is very poor, and Seifert doesn’t get as much credit as he deserves. His teams had something like a 75% winning percentage. One of the big reasons Seifert was successful right away was that he told the players they were the reason for the wins. He didn’t have the personality of Walsh, he was quieter, low-key, very humble. He always thought it was the players’ team. Seifert felt a lot of people were trying to undermine him as coach. Later on, in ’94, when Young was screaming at him on the sidelines during the Eagles game, he liked that. Seifert said it showed how much the team had developed, for Young to be so passionate about the team.
Arne: Walsh has that whole image of “The Genius,” but do you think he made some mistakes as a coach, had some weaknesses?
Kevin: He was often very, very unpopular. He had a huge ego. But as a coach he was pretty flawless. Mostly his style worked. That thing he’d say about trying to get rid of players before they hit their downside, it did work, usually. Of course it created a lot of insecurity. But with Montana in ’88, he was motivated, wanted to prove he could fill that starting role still. He’d won the two Super Bowls, but he still had motivation. The flaw in Walsh maybe was that he really believed his system was so good, he could throw in almost any player and it would work. He didn’t give the players their due. He could be distant. Toward the end of his life he really connected with the players, he reversed all that distance.
I figure that anyone who’s arrived here will already know some things about Coach Walsh, but here are some items that might be new. At one awards banquet in Rocklin, at the Rocklin Bar and Eatery, some time in the mid ’80s, Joe Montana, John Ayers and Randy Cross were eating fried chicken with cold beer when three strangers came into the bar. One of them was a biker with nightshade sunglasses and question mark sideburns. A second looked like a bearded mule skinner. The third was an old prospector with wire rims and shabby clothes. After a little bit, with the bar employees deciding who would throw them out, either Ayers, Montana, or Cross yelled: “Hey, those guys are our coaches!”
Sherm Lewis, the running backs coach, was dressed as the biker, Bobb McKittrick, the offensive line line, was dressed as the mule skinner, and Walsh was dressed as the prospector. Walsh had had a Sacramento make-up artist dress the three coaches up for the banquet. It was a reprise of his famous gag of dressing up as a bellhop to greet the 49ers players in their Detroit hotel for Super Bowl XVI against the Bengals. Walsh explained: “Humor is just another way to communicate with other human beings. I’ve never seen anything accomplished without communication. Players must work in an atmosphere where they feel free to exchange ideas with their coaches. Players have to be able to communicate what they are trying to accomplish with each other and their coaches.”
Back in the mid-’50s, when Walsh was a graduate assistant to Bob Bronzan at San Jose State, Bronzan wrote this in his placement file: “I predict Bill Walsh will become the outstanding football coach in the United States.”
He went on to coach Washington Union High School to a conference championship in 1957 with a 9-1 mark, then served as defensive coordinator to for Marv Levy at UC-Berkeley from 1960 to 1962. From there it was south to Stanford in 1963 as administrative assistant, recruiting coordinator, and defensive backfield coach. Walsh was offensive backfield coach for the Raiders in 1966, then went east to Cincinnati to be quarterbacks and receivers coach for the Bengals and Paul Brown.
Walsh spent eight years there in Cincinnati, but was homesick for California. He said, “We used to go over to a neighbor’s house that had pine trees in the front yard and smell the needles.” After being denied the Bengals coaching job when Paul Brown retired, Walsh went west again to coach Stanford, and from there on to Candlestick to coach the 49ers starting in early January of 1979. You can read much more about Walsh in one of his own books or the book about his term with the 49ers that came out this fall.
The just-retired Mike Holmgren, a 49ers assistant coach from 1986 to 1991, first as quarterbacks coach, then, starting in 1989, as offensive coordinator, once said of Bill Walsh: “I always said he was an artist and all the rest of us were kind of blacksmiths, pounding the anvil where he was painting the picture.”
Ramson started out his career with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1978, went on to the 49ers in 1979, and played tight end at Candlestick from 1979 to 1983. He started using cocaine as a rookie, and even before he’d won a Super Bowl, Ramson was using often: in fact, he’s said to have celebrated victories by using, and even used right before the 1982 Super Bowl. He went on to the Bills, then went back to his hometown of Sacramento in 1986 after his NFL career ended. In the state capitol, Ramson drifted downward: his wife left with their two kids, he was beaten and shot. In 1991 he landed in a drug counseling program after a conviction for robbing ATM users. He’d been convicted of three previous felonies when, in 1993, he got a 31-month prison term term in Vacaville for shoplifting rum and whiskey. He hadn’t sold his Super Bowl ring though, giving it to a friend for safekeeping.
In 1996, after getting out of jail, he said he was a reformed man, using religion and a rigorous workout regime to re-establish his life. Ramson said Bill Walsh had contacted him in jail to try to help him recover: “Walsh started writing to me. I was shocked. Here I am in the state penitentiary, and they slide this letter under the door. I picked it up and read Bill Walsh. I didn’t believe it. Bill Walsh could have overlooked me, but he gave me a lot of encouragement and inspiration. He showed more concern than my own brother, who didn’t talk to me for years because he was embarrassed by me.”
Walsh explained: “Part of it, no doubt, was that my conscience was bothering me, because I wasn’t able to help him earlier. The problem was that back then none of us understood much about cocaine or could identify the warning signs. And, of course, you get caught up in the winning….”
But the reformed Ramson of 1996 didn’t last: he started mixing cocaine, alcohol, and food, using petty theft and old NFL compensation checks to stay afloat, living in rented hotels. When Ramson got arrested in 1999 he was facing the three strikes law, which meant 35 to life for his shoplifting charge. Looking back in 2003, he said: “I called Bubba Paris, a close friend of mine. He told me to go back to my cell and pray for a miracle. A miracle started to happen. People who believed in me — I don’t even know what they believed in about me — came forward.
“Bubba came to the court and talked to the judge for 45 minutes at one of my hearings. People like Bill Walsh, Keena Turner, Eric Wright wrote letters saying this guy was worth saving and to give him another chance. The DA and the judge decided to give me one last chance. They took away the three strikes and gave me 28 months with half (off for good behavior).
“With all those people coming forward for me, I felt all that care. A light came on for me. I said, ‘There’s something in me. I’ve got to find it.’ So I decided I was going into treatment when I got out of prison. Walden House of San Francisco took me in.”
As of 2003, he described his occupations like this: “I’m the project administrator at Ella Hill Hutch Community Center in the Western Addition of San Francisco. I have two projects: a truancy component throughout the San Francisco School District, and an after-school program positioned at four church sites in San Francisco.
And I started an organization called Pros and Cons for Kids. I take pro athletes and ex-convicts to speak to groups and to schools about drug and alcohol issues, anger management, and making healthy choices.”
You can read a bit more about Ramson here.
This game on January 4, 1987 was, and is, the worst playoff loss in 49er history, and at the time, only a 56-7 loss to the Rams in 1958 had surpassed it for margin of defeat in the Niners’ history. Montana left the game shortly before halftime on this hit from Jim Burt:
After getting back to 49er headquarters in Redwood City, Bill Walsh said: “The Giants are obviously a great team, the best in the NFL, but everything went right for them. And we didn’t play well at all. On defense, we couldn’t get away from blocks; on offense, we couldn’t sustain blocks. Our quarterbacking was terrible, right from the start. Neither (Joe) Montana nor (Jeff) Kemp reacted well to the pressure.”
He added, in reference to the quarterback situation: “No matter how well Montana has played for us and how well Kemp played in some games this year, we have to be realistic and prepare for the future.”
A San Francisco Chronicle writer said presciently: “It’s unlikely the 49ers will have a shot at Vinny Testaverde because Tampa Bay almost certainly will take him No. 1. But that could make Steve Young available, and Young would be a good fit in Walsh’s offense.”
Immediately after the 1986 draft, on May 1, the Chronicle’s Lowell Cohn wrote an interesting column on the ramifications of trading away Matt Cavanaugh and replacing him with Jeff Kemp as the backup to Montana. Of course, Montana’s back injury early in the ’86 season made some of Cohn’s comments sound like prophecy. Some good lines: “The 49ers could be in for big quarterback trouble. Tuesday they traded backup Matt Cavanaugh to the Eagles for attractive draft choices. On the face of it, the deal seems clever – crafty Bill Walsh outsmarting the rest of the league yet again. But it is a risky maneuver.
And: “If Montana were to get hurt, the 49ers would suffer. They are a team that depends upon their quarterback’s sheer brilliance to save them several times a game.”
Talking about Montana in 1985, Cohn said he “was often earthbound and uninspired. Opposing defenses finally figured out that he would throw on the run while going exclusively to his right, and they sent gangs of tacklers to cut him off.
He didn’t seem nearly as brilliant with his escape route taken away, and by the end of the season, he was as battered as a demolition-derby jalopy. In the playoff game against the Giants, his ribs were so sore he could have used a rope and pulley to help him lift his arm.”
Cohn added that before, Montana “played quarterback with a sense of joy and wonder, and he was open with the press. But he got married and had a baby, and it was as though his focus became diluted. All of a sudden, playing quarterback for the 49ers did not seem as urgent to him.
Bill Walsh noticed the change, and publicly criticized Montana for not running the offense the way he was supposed to. Montana, who rarely had been criticized before, became grumpy and snapped at the press. After several good performances, he made writers wait while he dried his hair or just killed time in the trainer’s room. He had become a different person.”
Summarizing the issue of bringing in Kemp, Cohn said: “The 49ers exchanged a starter-as-backup for a backup-as-backup, and in so doing made a Montana injury or mood shift all the more dangerous.
Jeff Kemp is supposed to be a fine and decent man, but the 49ers never will win with him at quarterback, as they did with Cavanaugh. This is the guy who could not beat out Dieter Brock for the Rams’ starting job.”