Walsh Won’t Say What Lies Ahead : 49ers’ Coach May Retire at the Top, Or Try to Win a Fourth Super Bowl

Times Staff Writer

His brilliance certified, his stature elevated beyond the reach of mere 2-time Super Bowl champions, San Francisco 49ers Coach Bill Walsh pondered retirement once more Monday.

What might his options be?

Could he become president of Stanford?

President of the United States?


Secretary-general of the United Nations?

Just kidding.

Walsh, of course, was kidding for all he was worth, too, his gibes directed at his personal nemeses--"our local media"--which he feels doubted his team for so long.

Walsh has few peers as a coach or general manager but he is such an artist, anything less than unconditional acceptance wounds him, an attitude that seems to have become contagious.

After a San Francisco Chronicle reporter picked the Chicago Bears before the teams’ Monday night meeting in November, which was then hardly a radical choice, owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. upbraided the man in the (losing) 49er dressing room and offered to beat him up. Eddie Jr., it might be noted, stands all of 5 feet 4 inches.

Walsh entered his news conference Monday to applause from some of the advertisers in the audience.

“None of our local press were clapping,” Walsh noted, grinning.

How about DeBartolo’s reported dissatisfaction in mid-November, when the 49ers were 6-5 and trailed the division-leading New Orleans Saints by 2 games?

“I really didn’t (give it any credence),” Walsh said. “I knew there were a lot of people in our local press that were rooting for it.

“Eddie was really frustrated after those 2 losses. We lost to Phoenix where we’d had a big (23-0) lead. Blew it. Terrible experience. We were so flat after that one, we couldn’t even play a game against the Raiders. The Raiders weren’t playing that great this year and they beat us.

“Eddie was terribly upset, and so was I--but never at each other.”

Actually, it was about that time that the Edelstein Pro Football Letter suggested that DeBartolo was going to take a hard look at Walsh. The letter is published by Fred Edelstein, an intimate of DeBartolo, and there is even speculation that DeBartolo has backed it financially.

And perhaps significantly, although he formally denied that DeBartolo was upset with him, Walsh later brought up the “ownership press” as one of the hardships a modern coach faces.

Said Walsh: "(It) puts tremendous pressure on a coach, because he has nowhere to go. The owner is upset and frustrated, and the coach is isolated, with nowhere to go, really, other than his family.”

After the loss to the Raiders, Walsh and DeBartolo had several long talks. Among Walsh’s problems is that Edward DeBartolo Sr., patriarch of the family back home in Youngstown, Ohio, is said to be down on him.

However, Walsh is described as having emerged from the meetings looking far more relaxed than he had been, leading to speculation that a deal had been struck, that whatever else happened, DeBartolo told Walsh he could remain with the team in a front-office capacity and continue drawing his $1.3-million salary.

Then the 49ers turned around, climbed to the top of the football world again, and Walsh finds himself in great demand as a coach once more.

Now, what does he want to do?

Stay around and try to match Chuck Noll’s 4 Super Bowl victories?

“Well, it’s not (a goal) for me,” Walsh said. “That’s star wars.”

Retire on this triumphant note to the front office?

“It would be easier to do it now, that’s for sure. I just don’t want to leave and come back in 9 days and say, ‘I’m coming back again.’

“Ira (Miller, who covers the 49ers for the Chronicle) would really have fun with that one.”

So what will he do?

“I’m going to sit down with Eddie,” Walsh said. “We really don’t know. From week to week after the Raider game, I could have told you. In fact, our reporters told me what (my plans) were.

“We just want to have some continuity with the 49ers, continue to be at or near the top of NFL football. We want a formula that works. There’s not necessarily the importance that I be the coach, but we’ll see.

“I don’t think, personally, I have any more goals, other than I love my work. Even though, at times, some of these gentlemen (the press) don’t.

“But I love it. It’s part of my life. That’ll be tough to leave, even brutal. But on the other hand, it’s been 31 years--and 31 great years.”

Let’s see what kind of a raise DeBartolo can come up with this time.

Super Bowl Notes

Jerry Rice got Sport magazine’s most-valuable-player award, a Subaru automobile. “I’ve got so many cars, I don’t know what I’ll do with a Subaru,” Rice said, breaking the room up. “Maybe I’ll give it to my mom as a present.” What did Rice drive as a collegian at tiny Mississippi Valley State? “A (Nissan) 300SX,” said Rice, breaking up the room again. How could he afford it? “I was working during the springtime.”

More jokes: Bill Walsh, asked about the owners’ intentions of implementing a new free-agency plan on Feb. 1, replied, “Of course, (union head) Gene Upshaw is busy today taking the trophy to Minnesota. Of course, you heard that he said (the Vikings) are the best team, regardless. He’ll be up there at their parade today.”

Toughest call of Sunday’s game: Why did Bengal Coach Sam Wyche, with third and 11 at the San Francisco 25 in the closing minutes, spurn the pass and run Stanford Jennings straight ahead? Jennings gained 3 yards, which was handy for kicker Jim Breech, whose range only goes out to about 45 yards. Breech kicked the 40-yard field goal to put the Bengals ahead, 16-13, but it wasn’t enough when Joe Montana drove the 49ers 92 yards for the game-winning touchdown. Said Boomer Esiason, who obviously would have preferred to throw for the first down: “I felt good throwing the ball (he was then 6 for 10 in the second half). I felt strong. But I guess (Wyche) felt if we did drop back, we were right at that place in the field where we couldn’t take a sack or we’d be out of field-goal range.”

Bengal receiver Cris Collinsworth: “Joe Montana is not human. I don’t want to call him a god, but he’s definitely somewhere in between. I have never seen a guy . . . that every single time he’s had the chips down and people are counting him out . . . he’s come back. We had (the 49ers) on their 10-yard line (8-yard line, actually) with 3 minutes to go and somebody came up to me and said, ‘We got ‘em now.’ I said, ‘Have you taken a look at who’s quarterbacking the San Francisco 49ers?’ That’s what it comes down to. He’s maybe the greatest player who has ever played the game.”

Montana’s 357 yards passing are a Super Bowl record, surpassing Doug Williams’ 340 last year. . . . Collinsworth on Rice: “Jerry Rice hasn’t been playing long enough to be called the greatest receiver ever to play the game but maybe by some time next week, he will have earned that.”