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Jerry Rice

Mike Holmgren with Joe Montana

Larry Roberts (91) and Charles Haley

Tom Rathman

Tim McKyer

John Taylor

Steve Wallace

Kevin Fagan

Don Griffin

Bill Walsh - X
After the 49ers' victory in Super Bowl XIX, the talk in the Bay Area was that Bill Walsh was retiring.
  • However, owner Eddie DeBartolo ended that speculation by replacing the two years left on Bill's contract with a new four-year deal that would pay him almost $1 million a year.
  • That doubled his salary and made him the highest paid coach in the NFL.
Not one to stand pat, Walsh looked for ways to improve his Super Bowl champions.
  • He focused on WR Freddie Solomon, who had been plagued by injuries the past two seasons. When he was out of the lineup, the 49er offense had no deep threat, and defenders could press the other receivers and thwart the horizontal passing game.
  • The college receiver who caught Bill's eye played for tiny Mississippi Valley State - Jerry Rice. The problem was that the 49ers picked 28th in the first round, and Walsh feared his hidden gem would be off the board by then.
  • So he worked a deal with the Patriots to exchange the Niners' 1st-, 2nd-, and 3rd-round picks for New England's #16 spot in the first round. This was done against the vociferous objections of Bill's Scouting Director, who rated Rice only #5 among WRs.
  • Sure enough, Jerry was available, and Bill selected him. Jerry, of course, would turn out to be one of Bill's great draft picks, right up there with Joe Montana and Ronnie Lott.
    Walsh became aware of Rice's prowess by luck. When the 49ers were in Houston to play the Oilers, the local sports news showed highlights of Rice. Bill recalled: He was sensational. People would argue that the level of competition wasn't high because it wasn't Division One, but what I saw was just a sensational player, regardless of the competition. I vividly remember thinking, "Damn, we're going to have to play against that guy."

1985 showed once again that it's harder to defend a championship than to win one in the first place.

  • After starting the 1985 season 5-5, the 49ers finished 10-6, but that wasn't enough to win the NFC West because the Los Angeles Rams finished 11-5.
  • Rice got off to a poor start. He kept dropping passes thrown right to him. He also missed several games with a shoulder injury. Jerry finally started playing up to his ability the last six games, helping the Niners to win five of them.
    Walsh: He was just anxious catching the ball, wanting to run with it before he caught it. The fans weren't very nice to him when he started dropping balls and that hurt him a lot more than I thought it would, made him anxious. I had to work at keeping his confidence up. I'd talk to him personally. I gave him examples of people who had disappointed themselves and others initially and then became great players. I sort of embellished it a bit but I knew he'd work through it.
  • The Niners made the playoffs as a wild card. However, the season had taken a heavy toll and, with many walking wounded, SF lost in the first round to the Giants 17-3 at the Meadowlands.
    After holding the 49ers to three points, Giants head coach Bill Parcells asked, What do you think of that West Coast offense now? Unintentionally, Bill gave Walsh's offense the name it has been known by ever since.

    Leonard Marshall sacks Montana in the 1985 Wild Card game.
Walsh had only four new players on his roster in 1985. He would have many more than that the following season.
  • Perhaps the most significant change occurred on the coaching staff. QB coach Paul Hackett left to become the Cowboys' O-coordinator and was replaced by Mike Holmgren, who had coached QBs at Brigham Young the last four years. Believing that BYU had "the most sophisticated passing offense in college football," Walsh hired Holmgren over several well-regarded candidates who had NFL experience.
  • Not convinced that the college players mentioned as first round possibilities were that outstanding, Bill traded down to collect as many draft choices as possible. That strategy produced DE Larry Roberts, RB Tom Rathman, DB Tim McKyer, WR John Taylor, DE Charles Haley, OT Steve Wallace, DE Kevin Fagan, and DB Don Griffin. Even though his director of scouting told Bill the draft had been a disaster, all eight would become starters, with five playing in the Pro Bowl.

The changes did not result in immediate success - at least not the success that 49er fans had come to expect.

  • The 1986 49ers returned to the top of the NFC West with a 10-5-1 record despite the fact that Montana suffered a ruptured disk in his back in the first game and underwent surgery. He returned for the last seven regular season games.
  • With the worst record among the three NFC division champs, they got a first-round bye but had to hit the road for round two.
  • As luck would have it, the opponent was the 14-2 New York Giants in the Meadowlands again. This time the result was not just disappointing but humiliating - a 49-3 thumping by the eventual Super Bowl champs.
    It was the second worse playoff loss in NFL history behind only the 73-0 thrashing of the Washington Redskins by the Chicago Bears in 1940.
  • Walsh summarized the game succinctly afterward. We were shattered by a great team, They just shattered us.
  • Bill took all defeats hard, but this one was particularly devastating. He had failed miserably for the second year in a row.

  • 1986 playoff game 49ers @ Giants
To be continued ...

References: Building a Champion, Bill Walsh with Glenn Dickey (1990)
The Genius
, David Harris (2016)

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Football Profiles Archives - I

John Heisman
Sammy Baugh
Glenn Presnell
Mac Speedie
Wahoo McDaniel
Stephen Neal
Chris Cagle
Brad Van Pelt
Jake Delhomme

Football Profiles Archives - II

Paul Brown

Football Profiles Archives - III

Earl Blaik

Football Profiles Archives - IV

Ernie Nevers
Riley Skinner
Brian Kelly
Alex Karras
Merlin Olsen
Ryan Who?
Joe Bellino
Chris Long

Football Profiles Archives - V

Don Shula
Joe Don Looney
Charlie Justice
Jimmy Taylor
Jesse Harper

Football Profiles Archives - VI

Dak Prescott
Bill Walsh - I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII

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