Walsh Out, but Still Calls Plays : 49ers Name His Choice, Seifert, as New Head Coach

Associated Press

Bill Walsh went out a winner Thursday when he resigned as coach of the San Francisco 49ers, and his hand-picked choice was named to succeed him.

Walsh joined Vince Lombardi as the only head coaches to step down after winning a Super Bowl.

He won a power struggle with 49er owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr., when the 49ers announced that defensive coordinator George Seifert would be the new head coach. DeBartolo reportedly had wanted a high-profile coach; Walsh had lobbied for Seifert.


Walsh, 57, will stay on with the 49ers as executive vice president for football operations.

At a news conference to announce the changes, DeBartolo called Walsh “the greatest coach ever.”

Walsh coached the 49ers to their third Super Bowl championship of the 1980s last Sunday, when San Francisco beat the Cincinnati Bengals, 20-16, in Miami.

Lombardi led the Green Bay Packers to victories in the first two Super Bowls (1967-68) and then retired to the Packers’ front office. He later returned as coach of the Washington Redskins.

As part of the 49ers’ reorganization, General Manager John McVay will take on the title of vice president of football administration. But DeBartolo said that Walsh will be in charge of the draft, trades and roster cuts.

DeBartolo said he didn’t try to talk Walsh out of his decision because the coach had already made up his mind.

The decision was reached after what DeBartolo said was an “emotional meeting” with Walsh Wednesday in Pebble Beach.

“It got emotional a little bit because I don’t think anybody wants to change something that has gone so well and so right for so long,” DeBartolo said.

Walsh said he had more or less made up his mind to retire during the season but wanted to wait until it ended before making the decision final.

“I look forward to my new career,” Walsh said. “It’s been 10 great years . . . It was a 31-year (coaching) career, and there’s a time for everybody at some point to step aside.

“It’s an uplift to me to step aside on a most positive note. This is the way most coaches would like to leave the game.”

Relations between Walsh and DeBartolo have frequently been cool. Last season, after the 49ers lost to the Minnesota Vikings in the first round of the National Football Conference playoffs after compiling the league’s best regular-season record, Walsh lost his title as team president.

But DeBartolo denied that there was a serious rift between the two.

Earlier this month, he told reporters: “That’s the furthest thing from the truth that I could imagine. Bill and I are friends, good friends.”

Walsh, who held the 49ers’ coaching position longer than anyone else and is only the team’s fourth coach with a winning record, strongly endorsed Seifert, a 49-year-old San Francisco native, who has been a 49er defensive aide since 1980 and before that assisted Walsh at Stanford.

A report in Thursday’s New York Daily News said DeBartolo wanted University of Miami Coach Jimmy Johnson to take the 49er job.

Walsh, who ended his career with an overall record of 102-63-1, including playoff games, joined the 49ers in 1979 after 2 seasons as head coach at Stanford, where he compiled a 17-7 record and won bowls at the end of both seasons.

“A very lofty standard has been established in this organization by Bill Walsh, one I look forward to maintaining,” Seifert said. “I believe we can continue to produce the type of team that San Francisco will be proud of.”

In Walsh’s first season, the stumbling 49ers matched their 1978 record of 2-14. The next year, they were 6-10.

In 1981, the 49ers, with Joe Montana out of Notre Dame at quarterback, went 13-3 and defeated the Cincinnati Bengals, 26-21, in the Super Bowl.

In strike-shortened 1982, the 49ers went 3-6. But they bounced back to 10-6 in 1983 and in 1984 went 15-1, winning their second Super Bowl with a 38-16 victory over the Miami Dolphins.

They went 10-6 in 1985, 10-5-1 in 1986 and 13-2 in 1987--but seeds of dissent between Walsh and DeBartolo were sown when San Francisco lost at the start of the playoffs all 3 seasons.

The 1988 season looked to be more of the same, and the 49ers at one point were just 6-5, embroiled in a quarterback controversy and all but written off for the playoffs.

But Montana returned to form, sending Steve Young to the bench, and the team won 4 of its last 5 to go 10-6 in the regular season, then swept aside the Vikings and the Chicago Bearsen route to last Sunday’s dramatic last-minute victory.

That victory was credited in great part to Seifert, who prepared the defense so well that Cincinnati’s controversial “no-huddle” offense played no part in the game. And his shifting zone, which followed Bengal quarterback Boomer Esiason as he moved, helped keep Cincinnati’s top-rated offense from scoring a touchdown.

Cornerback Eric Wright said before the Super Bowl that he feared that if Walsh quit, the 49ers would hire “a regiment-type coach” instead of a players’ coach. Asked which kind of coach Seifert would be, Wright hesitated and said, “I know one thing: Guys will stay in meetings longer.”

Walsh and Seifert followed different paths in their careers. While Walsh had varied experience in the pros, including stints as an assistant with the Oakland Raiders, Bengals and San Diego Chargers, Seifert’s only pro experience has been as an assistant to Walsh.

Walsh coached at San Jose State, at California and at Stanford before moving to the pros; Seifert worked at Utah, was head coach at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, assisted at Iowa and Oregon, and was head coach at Cornell.

“Bill Walsh is the one who built this dynasty,” running back Roger Craig said. “We’ll all miss Bill, he’s the innovator, turned this whole club into winners. But I’m sure he’ll still be around.”


Year W L T Pct. 1979 2 14 0 .125 1980 6 10 0 .375 1981 13 3 0 .813 1982 3 6 0 .333 1983 10 6 0 .625 1984 15 1 0 .938 1985 10 6 0 .625 1986 10 5 1 .656 1987 13 2 0 .867 1988 10 6 0 .625 Totals 92 59 1 .609 Overall 102 63 1 .618


Year W L Pct. Last Result 1979 0 0 .000 Did not make playoffs 1980 0 0 .000 Did not make playoffs 1981 3 0 1.000 Beat Cincinnati, 26-21, in Super Bowl 1982 0 0 .000 Did not make playoffs 1983 1 1 .500 Lost to Washington, 24-21 in conf. final 1984 3 0 1.000 Beat Miami, 38-16, in Super Bowl 1985 0 1 .000 Lost to NY Giants, 17-3, in wild card game 1986 0 1 .000 Lost to NY Giants, 49-3, in conf. semifinal 1987 0 1 .000 Lost to Minnesota, 36-24, in conf. semifinal 1988 3 0 1.000 Beat Cincinnati, 20-16, in Super Bowl Totals 10 4 .714