Tony DeMeo

The Genius by David Harris

The word “genius” is one of our society’s most over used term. Anyone with a new idea or thought is dubbed a “genius”. However, in some cases it is a well deserved title. In Bill Walsh’s case the term fits, despite his strong objection.

The book The Genius by David Harris gives a great view of the man and the coach behind the title. Harris takes you on a journey with Walsh from the days he took over the NFL clowns called the 49ers and turned them into three time Super Bowl Champs. Walsh was 45 when he left the NFL to take over the Stanford University program with immediate success, and two years later the hapless 49ers looked for him to resurrect their franchise.

We all know the result of the Walsh era but how did he do it? Was it the West Coast Offense? Was it the drafting of great players? Was it his leadership ability? The answer: all of the above.

In the first part of the book, Harris deals with Walsh’s mentors including John Ralston who hired Bill as an assistant at Stanford and then took him with him to Oakland where he met Sid Gillman (The Father of the West Coast Pass Game).

But the real key to Walsh’s career was when another genius Paul Brown hired him at Cincinnati. Brown gave him control of the “O” and Walsh made the most of it. He developed the modern 3 step pass attack to control the ball and the clock. He developed every minute detail of the offense. But while Walsh developed the Offense, Brown took all the credit. The two parted their ways after 8 years but Walsh’s work, though not recognized, was the basis of “The Walsh Offense”.

The second part of the book deals with the 49er years. How to rebuild the 49ers? The first order of business was a good staff and the second was to use the draft to get good players.

The section on 49er Football is worth the price of the book. It describes the total system that Walsh put in place. This is the real secret to Walsh’s genius. The unbelievable attention to the smallest detail was a huge part of the program. The essential building blocks of a team’s character were carefully laid out for every person in the organization. I believe this was a big Paul Brown influence. Walsh believed “everyone has a role and each role is essential to success.” Be precise in all things. Repetition and preparation are the keys to winning football. Football requires endless adaptation so your players must be able to adapt to every circumstance and situation. You must always play through setbacks. You become a 49er when you make a teammate better. Walsh also popularized scripting the first 15-25 plays of the game. His rhythm pass game allowed a less talented team to control the ball. This was revolutionary in 1980. However, Walsh was 8-24 in his first 2 seasons! Would he have lasted to coach a third in today’s NFL?

Some key events happened in Walsh’s third year. He cut his starting left tackle for having a bad attitude. This sent a powerful message that attitude trumps talent. The other key event was the development of Joe Montana. Montana became the starting QB in late 1980 but became Joe Cool in 1981! The 49ers won the Super Bowl and Bill Walsh became a Genius.

There is a lot more to the book: the battles with Eddie DiBartello, the battle to continue to evolve as an organization and many other facets of the Walsh career.

I had the tremendous opportunity to spend a couple of days with Bill Walsh and I believe he was a true genius. I learned a ton about the passing game from him. He was very patient & loved to talk football. His knowledge was very detailed and one huge thing I learned from him was master a handful of things rather than trying to do everything. This book is an excellent read and gives great insight into the ups and downs of a football coach – even one who was a genius.