The Genius: How Bill Walsh Reinvented Football and Created an NFL Dynasty Paperback – Sep 8 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
When Bill Walsh took over coaching duties for the San Francisco 49ers in the late 1970s, the team was arguably the worst in the NFL—and he was stuck trying to shake a rep that he lacked what it took to lead a pro team. Within two years, the 49ers had won the Super Bowl (against Walsh's former employers, the Cincinnati Bengals, no less) and were well on their way to becoming the team of the '80s. Harris's biography is grounded by extensive interviews with Walsh, but the players and others who were there bring nuance to the portrait, revealing that the Genius who was admired for his confident demeanor on game day could also be a brittle, insecure personality off the field. While game highlights do appear, equal attention is paid to Walsh's team-building skills, with lengthy analyses of his selections from the college draft pool—including Joe Montana, an underappreciated college quarterback who became one of the game's all-time greats. Harris clearly knows his football, but the personal drama of Walsh's career is told with such verve that even nonfans will be riveted. (Sept. 2)
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“Exemplary . . . the rare biography that lives up to its subtitle’s lavish claims.”—New York Times Book Review
“[David] Harris illustrates [Bill] Walsh’s incredible passion for the game, his competitive drive, and even his whimsical sense of humor. Walsh was one of the NFL’s greatest coaches, and Harris’s book does him justice.”—Booklist
“The personal drama of Walsh’s career is told with such verve that even nonfans will be riveted.”—Publishers Weekly
“Because of [Harris’s] exhaustive reporting, the reader feels in good hands.”—Wall Street Journal
“Recommended.”—Library Journal, starred review
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Top Customer Reviews
What was it about Joe Montana that made Walsh take him when others passed on him? And I would have liked a lot more insight into the relationship between these two men, one arguably the greatest quarterback ever and the other one of the most successful coaches ever to grace the NFL.
Walsh had a couple of drafts that were phenomenally successful and are still talked about decades later but there is little here to tell us how the decisions were made on the players, what kind of grading system Walsh used, how that may have differed from the rest of the league, who had input and how Walsh used scouts. From these perspectives, there are very slim pickings in Genius.
One interesting sidelight to me was the number of times Walsh cried - not that men shouldn't cry nor that Walsh is any the less for having done so, but it was a surprise to me nevertheless because I don't remember hearing anything about this trait until I read Genius. The biography would have been much stronger if the author had revealed more of these facts about Walsh and had offered some explanation of how it shaped his approach to coaching and to life.
This is an easy read and for people who were 49er fans, and who consider Walsh one of the best coaches to have coached in the NFL, this will bring back happy memories. But this is by no means the definitive Walsh biography. That awaits much more research and a more critical analysis.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
While I think the book offers a lot more for the 49er fan than the general NFL fan, the story of Walsh's rise, the development of his philosophy, his early NFL career as an assistant, his college work, his unlikely rise to Head Coach and GM of the 49ers without an NFL win on his resume and the circumstances that saw him bring together the talent and oversee the Montana/Craig/Lott/Rice 49ers run of Super Bowls are all interesting enough to hold interest.
There is a lot of Walsh's own voice coming through in the book, and that makes you wonder about the author's motives in book entitled "The Genius," where there was clearly a lot of reliance on subject-generated info.
Also, Harris has a habit of not identifying other sources -- even quoted sources -- by name. He'll call someone "a 49er lineman" or "one of Walsh's teammates," and it just seems a little strange.
Like "Patriot Reign," or the library of Yankee books out there, this book is probably a real winner for fans of the team. All in all, I don't think there is enough other info on Walsh or NFL/football philosophy here to merit much more than a so-so rating.
In other words, I don't think this is football's "Moneyball," a book that takes any fan of the sport behind the curtain to get a look at the industry, and which tells a personal story in a compelling enough story to hold interest.
The author takes readers through Walsh's early years and describes his days as a frustrated high school and college quarterback. He then moves on to show Walsh's road to coaching in the NFL. The most crucial bump in that road occurred in Cincinnati, where Walsh had worked for several years as a sort of assistant head coach under Paul Brown. When Brown retired, he chose someone else to assuming his head coaching duties, delivering a electrifying jolt to Walsh. Brown then told Walsh he was staying on as an assistant, like it or not, and that he'd never be a head coach in the NFL (Walsh's contract was up and he left quickly). The shock nearly ended Walsh's coaching career, but probably also provided some of the drive that resulted in his rise to Genius status. How fitting that two of Walsh's Super Bowl victories would come against the Bengals.
This book is very well-written and difficult to put down if you were a fan of Walsh and/or the 49ers during the 1980s. The author makes use of interviews with players and coaches and uses many secondary books, newspaper clippings, etc. Although we hear that Walsh was a diverse fellow with significant interests and connections outside football, the book never quite proves that point. My guess, only a guess, is those details were cut to keep the focus primarily on football and how Walsh truly did reinvent how teams coach and deal with players. The book truly shines in this area, although it depicts Bill Walsh as a moody and insecure genius. The man was certainly conflicted in his relationships with many players and also with then-49er owner, Eddie DeBartolo.
One interesting tidbit. The book shows that Walsh and quarterback Joe Montana were not always on the same page as coach and player. Their friendship truly bloomed after both were retired from the game, talking and playing golf regularly. Montana was one of two who spoke at Walsh's memorial service. Curious, then, that Montana does not appear to have been interviewed for the book...although many of his contemporaries, including Ronnie Lott, Dwight Clark, etc., were. I thought that was strange. Still a great book and recommended.
This book is far more about Bill Walsh than it is about football, whereas the actual on the field summaries of the games are rather vague, and often gloss over details from in games, Harris does a great job showing how each game affected Walsh and his players in varying ways. It dives very deeply into the relationships that Walsh had with his family, his players, other coaches, and his owner, Eddie DeBartolo.
One aspect I did not expect was how motivating the book was while explaining how Walsh approached the game. More so than other bios I have read, Walsh's strong work ethic is really evident.
I'm a die hard football fan, but Bill Walsh was such an interesting and complex person, that despite any shortcomings on technical football detail, I thoroughly enjoyed it and would highly recommend it. Additionally, it is a very quick read.