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The Genius: How Bill Walsh Reinvented Football and Created an NFL Dynasty [Paperback]

David Harris
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 8 2009
The Genius is the gripping account of Bill Walsh’s career and how, through tactical and organizational skill, he transformed the San Francisco Forty Niners from a fallen franchise into a football dynasty. Along with his right-hand man John McVay, Walsh built the foundation for this success by drafting or trading for a durable core of stars, including Joe Montana, Fred Dean, and Hacksaw Reynolds. (Walsh would later restock the team with such players as Jerry Rice, Steve Young, and Charles Haley.) The key to Walsh’s genius perhaps lay in his keen understanding of his athletes’ psyches–he knew what brought out the best in each of them. With unmatched access to players, fellow coaches, executives, beat reporters, and Walsh himself, David Harris recounts the whole story–including Walsh’s pre-Niners odyssey, the demons that pushed him throughout his career, and the scope of his impact on the game beyond the field and locker room. In the end, Harris reveals the brilliant man behind the coaching legend.

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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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

“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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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome March 27 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I know the pain it took to BUILD something and the difficulty to maintain the level of excellence, the people change when you reach the top, now everyone has a say and they forget how they get they got there, need change again to regain the hunger, and passion to get it done...but being a GENIUS is lots of pressure to reinvent what you do. BILL WALSH was a great and innovative coach. that ate away at him and drove him out of the game before his time was up.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Genius light on substance, long on reminiscing Oct. 18 2009
Format:Paperback
An interesting biography but light on details of exactly how Walsh achieved his rank of genius. Football fans looking for an explanation of what the West Coast Offense is and how it was different from the approach of other teams and coaches, will look in vain here. Similarly, those looking for details on how Walsh organized his practices, organized the locker room and training room, how he recruited etc, again will look in vain. All of these topics are touched on but not in enough detail for those hoping to learn from Walsh's approach.

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.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  25 reviews
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Coach of the Decade (the 1980's) Sept. 13 2008
By C. Hutton - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Bill Walsh was the brilliant, insecure coach who won immortality with the the San Francisco 49ers in the 1980's. Mr. Harris follows his career from the Bengals of Paul Brown to Stanford (and other stops in-between) to the 49ers. He perfected an air attack that became known as the West Coast Offense and drafted the players to carry it out (Joe Montana, Dwight Clark, Jerry Rice, etc). The book is heavy on football and light on his personal life which is a pity -- he was eccentric enough that his personal life merits a deeper look. Having died a year ago of leukemia, Walsh won three Super Bowls (1982, 1985, 1989) in his tenure as coach before retiring on his own terms. Mr. Harris interviewed the coach extensively before his death and got the details right.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Behind the Scenes Look with Some Irritating Quirks Nov. 12 2008
By J. A. Walsh - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Harris does a really nice job of telling how Walsh's timing passing game and West Coast offense - the corrollaries and descendants of which are on display in every game every weekend in the NFL of today - "reinvented" football and created the 49ers 80's dynasty.

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.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well written account of Walsh's football life Oct. 31 2008
By P. Dunlop - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I grew up a 49ers fan and was in hog heaven during the Walsh era. The Genius is a well-told story of how Bill Walsh came to direct the 49ers to four Super Bowl victories from 1979-1989.

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.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent biography March 11 2011
By Robert Beattie - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Over the past year I've read and then re-read six books about two coaches, Vince Lombardi and Bill Walsh: Building a Champion by Bill Walsh with Glenn Dickey, The Genius by David Harris, The Score Takes Care of Itself by Bill Walsh with Steve Jamison and Craig Walsh, Run to Daylight by Vince Lombardi and W. C. Heinz, When Pride Still Mattered by David Maraniss, and That First Season by John Eisenberg.

For what they were, and what they were supposed to be, I judge each to be excellent. I applaud each of these books.

I was fascinated by coaches Walsh and Lombardi taking their teams from "worst to first" in only three NFL seasons stories, the comparisons and contrasts in their professional coaching and general manager methods, and by the surprising parallels in their personal journeys.

Harris's The Genius keeps me returning to it. I've read a LOT of biographies in the course of my six decades of reading, comparatively few about sports figures. The Genius is not only excellent as a football book, it is excellent as a biography. The author worked with what he had to work with and did a marvelous job. Highly recommended.

Bravo, David Harris. Well done.

Robert Beattie
New York Times bestselling author
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Read Nov. 2 2013
By Paul Eide - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Awesome insight to a coach and man who didn't get enough credit while he was alive for being such a deep, creative thinker.
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