The Ghost Of Bill Walsh: Is The Past Hurting The 49ers Present?

Andrew Garda@andrew_gardaFeatured ColumnistMay 24, 2009

STANFORD, CA - JANUARY 20:  Head coach Bill Walsh of the San Francisco 49ers enjoys a victory ride on the field after defeating the Miami Dolphins 38-16 in Super Bowl XIX at Stanford Stadium on January 20, 1985 in Stanford, California.  (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)

You cannot think about the San Francisco 49ers without several names attaching themselves to the memory.

Jerry Rice. Joe Montana. Steve Young.

Bill Walsh.

While the athletes get more facial recognition outside of football and off the playing field, a real football fan will tell you that more than anyone else, Bill Walsh shaped the 49ers success.

Walsh popularized the West Coast Offense, won early and often with the team going 102–63–1 lifetime, won 10 out of 14 postseason games along with six division titles, three NFC Championship Titles and three Super Bowls.

Guy like that? He's someone who shapes a franchise, even when he's gone.

Is that always a good thing though?

Bear with me for a second here. Walsh did incredible, miraculous, wonderful things with the 49ers. It was one of the best franchises under one of the best coaches to ever see the NFL.

But I feel like I'm hearing a lot about how Bill Walsh would be doing things now, and I can't help but wonder if that's bad.

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When Mike Lombardi at the National Football Post spends an entire column on Thursday talking about what Walsh would have done in terms of the Draft (he would have drafted Sanchez) and how the 49ers aren't who they once were (where is the West Coast Offense? he asks) I have to wonder if it is.

Again, I cannot say enough how much I respect what Walsh did, both for the organization and for football.

But he's not coaching now. Mike Singletary is.

Which makes Mr. Lombardi's paragraph saying 'I often ask myself, what would Bill want for the 49ers? What would Bill do if he were back with the 49ers?' completely irrelevant.

This is not Walsh's 49ers. However, unlike the way Lombardi's column feels, I think that's not a huge crisis.

Have they lost any sense of identity? Absolutely and I have pointed it out more than once the last few weeks.

But intimating that the way to succeed is for Singletary to do what Walsh would do is wrongheaded at best and could be damaging to the franchise.

Singletary is very much working to bring an identity to this team. Bringing in Jimmy Raye as an offensive coordinator who can get the run going consistently, and quarterback/coach Mike Johnson to fix the position are both steps towards that.

If it's not exactly how Walsh might have done it, fine. It shouldn't be.

Or more to my point it shouldn't HAVE to be.

In my mind, there isn't just one way to do things and even a way that was successful once isn't guaranteed to be so again.

We need to give Singletary time to fix this. I really think he can.

However, the only way to do that is to let Mike be Mike - not force him to be Bill Walsh as played by Mike Singletary.

In fact, I would say that if Singletary were to adhere to what Walsh would have done - or what was once 'the 49er way' - it could be a good way to slow a resurgence down and perhaps even crush it altogether.

It's not that it couldn't work -- it's just that it's not necessarily Singletary's way.

A round hole is only going to get beat up by forcing a square peg into it, even if the peg is a good peg. It just doesn't fit the hole and complaining that the hole used to be square isn't a solution.

Don't get me wrong, I respect and enjoy what Lombardi says and read him constantly at the Post. But the column highlights a dangerous trap, one which has us dwelling too much on 'the way things were' rather than see the possibilities of what could be today.

Singletary's way might not be Walsh's way or what the 49ers way was once upon a time. But that's not to say it couldn't be the way of the future.

We cannot forget the incredible dedication and success that Bill Walsh showed while with the 49ers.

At the same time, we must not let that love and respect cloud our vision of Singletary is trying to do today.

We must not judge one by the success of the other.


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