Bill Walsh Won't Be Involved
It seems to make sense for Walsh to be involved. Nobody knows quarterbacks better, and heís the one who drafted Joe Montana when other NFL teams were skeptical about Montanaís future and traded for Steve Young, when the conventional NFL wisdom was that Young was a great athlete but would never be a good NFL quarterback.
New 49ers coach Mike Nolan has said heíll talk to Walsh, but when I saw Walsh at the workout for Stanford tight end Alex Smith last week, he told me, ďI couldnít help him much. I havenít stayed in touch with that.Ē
To get up to speed, Walsh would have to spend hours looking at videos. Heís not going to do that, and why should he? The 49ers had their chance to use his expertise earlier and blew it.
While he was still general manager, Walsh hired Terry Donahue and groomed him to be his successor. He made one fatal misjudgment: He remembered the Donahue who had been a great coach at UCLA for 20 years, earning a spot in the College Football Hall of Fame. He overlooked the interlude when Donahue worked in TV. As a coach, Donahue had worked long hours. In TV, he had a short workload, and it was that work schedule that prevailed when he came to the 49ers. To make it worse, Donahue and his wife had just bought their dream home in Newport Beach. Understandably, he didnít want to give that up, so he rented an apartment near the 49er facility and spent long weekends in Newport Beach.
Donahue and Walsh also parted philosophical company on the use of technological equipment to evaluate players. Walsh understood the value of computers but thought it was important to have solid football people making decisions. (Parenthetically, thatís the model the Oakland Aís use. They use computers to find players who fit their profile, but then they thoroughly scout those players before drafting or trading for them.)
Unfortunately, Donahueís philosophy prevailed. Though heís since been fired, the 49ers are still suffering from that because thereís a dearth of football people in the front office and a once outstanding scouting staff has withered away. Walsh and Donahue maintained a friendly personal relationship, but since his advice wasnít being taken, Walsh decided to walk away, with long-time associate John McVay, last spring.
THAT DECISION is especially important now because Walsh was a master at draft day tactics.
His best draft was probably 1986, when multiple draft-day trades gave the 49ers additional picks, which Walsh used to select defensive end Larry Roberts, fullback Tom Rathman, cornerbacks Tim McKyer and Don Griffin, wide receiver John Taylor, defensive end Charles Haley, offensive tackle Steve Wallace and defensive tackle Kevin Fagan. All eight played significant roles in two Super Bowl champions.
His best individual picks were Jerry Rice, whom he traded up to get (against the advice of his own scouting staff) in 1985, and Montana.
Since then, there have been stories that he had to be talked into drafting Montana because he had his eye on Steve Dils, his quarterback at Stanford the year before. From personal knowledge, I can tell you thatís not true.
Before the draft that year, 1979, I had asked Walsh about Dils. He told me off the record that he thought Dils would never be more than an NFL backup, which turned out to be true.
I didnít ask about Montana because he wasnít on my radar screen at the time, though heíd had a sensational comeback to lead Notre Dame to a Cotton Bowl win. Only later did I learn that Walsh had been impressed with Montana when Joe was working out with James Owens, a UCLA running back Walsh saw as an NFL wide receiver.
Former 49er quarterback John Brodie had sat next to Montana at a sports dinner and been impressed by his confidence. Brodie told me later that he called Walsh and told him he should draft Montana, and Walsh told Brodie that was his plan. On draft day, Walsh took Owens with his first pick on the second round (Joe Thomas had traded away the No. 1 pick in the infamous O. J. Simpson deal). Brodie immediately called him and Walsh told him their information was that nobody else was interested in drafting Montana high and the 49ers would be able to get Montana on the next round, as they did.
BECAUSE OF Walshís genius in drafting Montana and trading for Young, the 49ers had a 20-year run of Hall of Fame quarterbacks, which meant that they didnít have to worry about drafting a quarterback high. In 1997, they did Ė and they failed miserably.
Ever since, the story has been that Walsh recommended Jake Plummer and those in the draft room overruled him and took Jim Druckenmiller. Thatís not quite the way it happened.
Thinking the 49ers would not draft a quarterback in the first round, club president Carmen Policy had asked Walsh to look at quarterbacks who might be available in the second round. From that group (Druckenmiller was not included) Walsh picked Plummer.
Druckenmiller was expected to go in the top 10 but, as he went unpicked, 49ers scouting director Vinny Cerrato started campaigning for him in the draft room. Others started thinking that, if they wanted a quarterback, maybe they should draft Plummer Ė but at that moment, they got word that a rape charge was going to be filed against Plummer. So, they drafted Druckenmiller. The rape charge against Plummer was later dropped. Ironically, one was later filed against Druckenmiller.
In retrospect, Plummer would certainly have been a better choice than Druckenmiller, who was a dud.
THATíS ALL history and none of it will be repeated. Walsh has moved on, to a multi-faceted role at Stanford, while still maintaining his NFL ties. The 49ers have also turned the page. Itís their loss. Unfortunately, it may also turn out to be a loss for the fans. Whomever the 49ers choose as their quarterback of the future, Iím with my readers on this one: Iíd feel much better if Bill Walsh were involved in the choice.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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