Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Bill Walsh Was a Contender at a Young Age

Bill Walsh, the man who would coach the San Francisco 49ers to three championships in the 1980s,  was athletic and smitten with football at an early. He attended a talent-laden Washington High School in Inglewood, California as a skinny kid with aspirations to play quarterback.  Before he had the chance, the Walsh family moved to Oregon for a short time where his father opened up a body shop.  The family came back to California when the business failed, but the economy was improving in post World War II California.  The family relocated to Hayward, an East Bay town in an area around San Francisco that was especially fertile and surrounded by beautiful farms.  It was a time before California housing would spread from city to city creating an endless chain of population centers.  Bill’s father went to work at a nearby Chrysler plant and the family was able to settle in on firmer financial ground.  Bill settled in as a senior at Hayward High School in 1949 and played halfback for the Fighting Farmers.  In addition to displaying some talent on the football field, he was known to be good with his fists. 

Walsh enrolled at San Mateo Community College in 1950 and he was All Conference at quarterback his second year under coach Herb Hudson. Walsh transferred to San Jose State College in 1952 where he played end on the 1952 and 1953 football teams coached by Bob Bronzan.  He received some scholarship money, but would sometimes live out of his car or at friends when money ran out.  He developed a close group of like-minded athletic friends that he would maintain the rest of his life.  

Like many young men of his generation, Walsh’s early life was marked by insecurity, struggle, and a perceived lack of affection and approval by his father.  Under these influences, it’s not surprising that Walsh would display great enthusiasm for his work one minute and then face gut-wrenching doubts about his own abilities the next.  Millions of football fans remember the handsome distinguished coach on the sidelines, but few understand the anxieties that also defined him.  Yet, he was a great advocate of advancing confidence in his own players and understood the importance of maintaining confidence in one’s work. 

San Jose State Football coach Bob Bronzan greatly influenced Walsh’s life.  Bronzan was a tough, disciplined coach who ardently developed his players’ skills in a superbly organized program.  At the same time, he taught an expanded understanding of the game, which was scientific and detailed.  Bronzan’s approach opened up possibilities for Walsh and others who were intrigued by strategies and planning.  Many coaches at the time, and some today, define football as a contest of brute force.  Coach Bronzan’s expanded vision of the game was passed on to his players, many of whom went on to coach themselves.
The 6-foot-2, 205 pound Walsh also boxed at San Jose State.  He was intramural heavyweight champion in 1952 at a time when boxing was extremely popular. After graduation from San Jose State, Walsh served in the U.S. Army at Fort Ord on Monterey Bay for 2 years.  In the service, he would box for extra income, but ultimately, he decided against pursuing a boxing career. 
Copyright 2014, Sporting Chance Press

Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Pillars of the NFL: Coaches Who Have Won Three or More Championships and other fine book including Maddie Takes the Ice;  The 10 Commandments of Baseball: An Affectionate Look at Joe McCarthy's Principles for Success in Baseball (and Life);  Public Bonehead, Private Hero: The Real Legacy of Baseball's Fred Merkle; and Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout.  Seen here.