Three years ago, I had the privilege of appearing on a panel with Bill Walsh. Fittingly, it was during a conference on diversity at Stanford University, my alma mater. It was also the site of some of Walsh’s greatest triumphs, where he achieved greatness even before he was discovered by the NFL.
The experience prompted an epiphany, the realization that Walsh, perhaps the most influence football icon of my generation, was in fact a true civil-rights pioneer. When it was not de regieur, when there was no Rooney Rule, Walsh quietly (or not so) made a way when others would not.
When black coaches were a looooong way from the Super Bowl triumph of ’07, 2o years long ago, in fact, Walsh sought to right a wrong by inviting black coached INSIDE his sanctum. He invited hem to sit in on meetings and learn many of the innovative things he was imparting. Among the coaches who participated in what came to be called the Minority Coaching Fellowship were Tyrone Willingham, former Stanford head coach and current head coach at the University of Washington; Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, Kansas City head coach Herm Edwards and several NFL assistants. The NFL later co-opted the fellowship into a league-wide program. Dennis Green was also a pupil.
So as we mourn him, let’s recognize Bill Walsh as one of the most influential figures in sports when it comes to opening the doors for blacks. In reality, he may be the most influential white man in the history of sports.
The Bill Walsh Coaching Tree: Click here
Click here for a look at the memorial service for Bill Walsh at Stanford.