Sunday, December 05, 1999

Was Walsh ready to coach Bengals?

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        First of all, it's not the West Coast Offense. It's the Eighth Street Viaduct Offense. Bill Walsh could tell you that.

        The seeds of the 49er dynasty were sown on a patch of Spinney Field where he dropped a towel and told Bengals quarterback Kenny Anderson to hit it from 40 yards nearly 30 years ago.

        “We get in Friday night and there'll be time to see dear friends,” said Walsh, the 49ers' Hall of Fame coach and their general manager when the teams meet today at Cinergy Field, an Isaac Curtis fly pattern from Spinney.

        Yes, Walsh counts the Brown family as dear friends. Even though it's coming up on 24 years when coach Paul Brown dropped the Bicentennial Bomb on New Year's Day and named offensive line coach Tiger Johnson his successor.

        Walsh, the young, quick quarterbacks/receivers coach, was stunned. He had been with the Bengals since the beginning in 1968 and thought his time might be now. Brown wanted him to stay, but Walsh felt he had to break out on his own.

        He went to Stanford, got the 49er job in 1979, and the rest, as they say, is history. Johnson's career lasted 33 games before he resigned in 1978 with an 18-15 record. Walsh won 10 playoff games, including three Super Bowls.

        Since 1980, the Niners have been to the playoffs 16 times, won 219 regular-season games and won five Super Bowls. The Bengals' line is 4, 131, 0.

        “Who's to say what happened to Tiger wouldn't have happened to me?” Walsh asked last week. “I don't think I was quite at the maturity level yet. I can see where Paul was coming from. Bill Johnson had been an established player in the league. He'd been a coach.

        “Bill and I worked together closely and I think Paul felt it would still be the same type of situation,” Walsh said. “But I wanted to move on.”

        This is what life does. It blitzes you up the middle and takes you places you never dreamed. Anderson broke his hand in the final preseason game in the '78, the Bengals started 0-5 and Johnson was gone less than two years after finishing 10-4.

        The next year, Walsh took Joe Montana in the third round and he had a golden arm instead of a broken hand.

        “Who knows what would have happened?” Walsh asked. “I knew it worked out the best it could for me.”

        If there had been any resentment on either side, it was all gone by the time Brown died in 1991. Walsh spent a long time with his mentor before and after his interview with him for NBC.

        “Paul and I had a sentimental meeting just before he died,” Walsh said. “It was very heartfelt, very meaningful. It was emotional. There was a lot of reminiscing. I learned so much from him. I learned you have to be in control, you had to demand discipline.”

        Mike Brown, Paul's son who now runs the Bengals, credits Walsh for doing what Paul Brown did in Cleveland in the 1950s. They each built the best team of their time.

        “He impacted the game,” Mike Brown said. “My Dad respected Bill. He had a phrase for him. "He's got ideas.' For my Dad, that was about as high a compliment as you could get.”

        But Walsh and Mike Brown have no idea what would have happened if Paul Brown had picked Walsh.

        “It probably would have re-shaped things,” Brown said. “Who knows how it would have fallen out?”


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