Bill Walsh, the San Jose State graduate who went to be acknowledged as one of the National Football League’s most innovative and successful coaches of the 20th century, died at the age of 75.
"We are honored to call Bill Walsh one of our very own," said President Don W. Kassing. "He was an extraordinarily loyal and supportive alumnus. I have come to rely on Bill's counsel, and I will miss him tremendously. My heartfelt condolences go out to all who knew and loved this great man."
"Bill Walsh has been an incredible mentor and supporter of our efforts at San Jose State and we are deeply saddened at his passing. I remain honored and humbled to have known him, worked with him professionally and to have been his choice to be athletic director at his alma mater," said Tom Bowen, who came to San Jose State in December 2004 upon Walsh's recommendation. "Bill truly transcended the game of football. His style of coaching and play was revolutionary, but his principles of leadership are everlasting. We send our most sincere and heartfelt condolences to those who knew and loved this wonderful man."
Walsh came to San Jose State in 1952 as a transfer from the College of San Mateo and played end on the 1952 and 1953 football teams coached by Bob Bronzan.
“An All-conference quarterback under Herb Hudson last year at San Mateo J.C., Bill has been shifted to end and shows more native talent than any new candidate. Made exceptional progress during brief Spring practice. Also participated in track, basketball and boxing at Hayward High and San Mateo, Father is a supervisor in car factory.” According to the 1952 San Jose State media guide.
“Was all-conference at Hayward High and at San Mateo J.C. as quarterback. Converted to end at San Jose State last year. A good natural athlete who was 190-lb. intramural boxing champion last year. Fastest Spartan lineman. Father is supervisor in auto factory. Bill worked in furniture store during Summer.” According to the 1953 San Jose State media guide.
Walsh earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from San Jose State in 1955 and 1959, respectively. He was a graduate assistant on the 1956 Spartan football staff, Bronzan’s final season as San Jose State’s head coach. The ties between Bronzan and Walsh remained steadfast for another half century until Bronzan’s death in December 2006.
“I predict Bill Walsh will become the outstanding football coach in the United States,” wrote Bronzan, the only known coach who mentored two Super Bowl winning coaches in Walsh and Dick Vermeil, in 1959.
After 17 seasons as an assistant coach at the high school and college levels, he was named the head coach at Stanford in 1997 for the first of two tours of duty. In 1979, he took over as the San Francisco 49ers head coach and cemented his legacy in the game. Walsh directed the 49ers to Super Bowl XVI, XIX and XXIII victories in his 10-year career.
He is the only San Jose State graduate to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Walsh was a first-ballot inductee in 1993.
His influence extended far beyond winning games for the 49ers. A number of his assistant coaches went on to head coaching success in the National Football League. George Seifert and Mike Holmgren are two of his assistants who joined Walsh as Super Bowl winning head coaches. Walsh promoted the league’s Minority Coaching Fellowship, now in its 20th year, to help African American coaches improve their job prospects.
He patented The West Coast Offense, a staple of today’s game of football at all levels. Quarterback play in the NFL rose to new levels with his coaching genius. Dan Fouts, Joe Montana and Steve Young are three of his protégés already enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Walsh remained close to his alma mater. Honored many times by the University, the athletics department and the College of Applied Arts and Sciences the last 20 years, most recently, he was accorded Legend status in the San Jose State University Sports Hall of Fame. He served as a valued consultant to President Kassing in the 2004 searches that resulted in the hiring of Bowen and football coach Dick Tomey.
His wife, Geri, and two children, Craig and Elizabeth, survive him.