I just returned from an event called "A Private Equity Breakfast Honoring Coach Bill Walsh" held at the Julia Morgan Ballroom on the 15th Floor of 465 California St.
The idea of the "first of it's kind" function -- hosted by former San Francisco 49ers Harris Barton and Ronnie Lott -- was to install Coach Walsh as the first "Titan" in what will be an annual "Salute to The Titans" fund-raising event. Of course, the person of honor was to be former Stanford and San Francisco 49ers Coach Bill Walsh.
I was excited to attend the event, and even took my camcorder to do a short video interview of Coach Walsh. But after the news I and others were given, I just didn't have it in me to activate my camera. It didn't feel right to do it.
The room was chocked ful of 49er greats, from Barton and Lott, to Bill Ring, Guy McIntyre, Dave Fiori, Esson Ramson, Eric Wright, and Steve Bono. San Francisco Giants Vice President Larry Baer was there, as were former 49ers Steve Kenney and Jeff Baer, who was the team photographer. There were representitives of various private equity funds and investment bankers like George Roberts of Kohlberg, Kravis, and Roberts.
I was originally assigned to "Table 6" and with former Stanford Cardinal Running Back Darren Nelson, and what seemed to be an entire table of Stanford alumns; just the place for a Cal grad like me. Then, to my surprise Carmen Policy, Former President of The San Francisco 49ers and of The New Cleveland Browns, and now living in the Bay Area, came to the table to sit down. I was sitting next to a good friend of his -- "R.J." -- when Carmen leaned over and said "Bill's not attending the event. This thing he's got's just knocked him on his ass."
So R.J. and I looked at each other and realized we'd just been given very bad news. Few could believe what Carmen has said, so sad it was. Later, one of Carmen's business associates came in, and as our table was crowded had no place to sit. So since I was really "the new guy" I offered my seat to him, even though Carmen asked me to stay. I just went over to sit with my friends Beth and Allison.
When I delivered the news to them and the rest of the table, everyone thought it was a joke. That ended when Barton took the podium and after welcoming the estimated 100 people, explained that two days ago, Coach Walsh called Barton and Lott to explain that he would not be able to attend the breakfast. "His health's taken a turn for the worst," Barton said.
At that point, the function took on the feel of a memorial. Four people came up to share stories about Coach Walsh: Darren Nelson, Bill Ring, Ronnie Lott, Carmen Policy, and Sharon Williams, the Executive Director of Opportunities
Industrialization Center West (OICW), a non-profit in East Palo Alto Coach Walsh has played a key role in helping over the years.
Each speech was moving. Darren Nelson explained that Coach Walsh was "The Mad Scientist" and saw in Nelson at Stanford a pass-catching halfback, even though Nelson never caught a pass in high school. There was former 49ers Running Back "Number "30" Bill Ring talking about how Coach Walsh would make the players stay longer for practice in search of perfection in how his players ran a play. "He was like a conductor waving his batton," Ring said, "and we players were the musicians making music."
Carmen Policy talked about how he and now Former 49ers Owner Eddie DeBartolo waited in DeBartolo's apartment as then-Stanford Coach Walsh used the back elevator to escape the media and to come up for an interview. "You could see it then," Policy said, "His stature. The silver hair. He could fill a room with his presence. Right then you knew a decision had been made. We found our coach."
Carmen said that Coach Walsh gave the San Francisco Bay Area something by contributing to its soul. By forming a team and an organization that everyone stopped doing everything to see on Sundays. Lott talked about how Coach Walsh did truly love his players. Sharon Williams talked about how Coach Walsh enlisted the help of very player and athlete he could get his hands on to donate to OICW.
After the speeches a seven-minute NFL films video was shown, featuring NFL Films' Steve Sabol talking with Coach Walsh about how he came to lead the Niners, the intial discredit Walsh received for his "intellectual and technical" approach to the game, the organization's eventual success, and how much Bill really loved his players. It was moving.
The event closed with Barton asking all of the attendess to stand and accept the "Titans" award for Coach Walsh. We all did.
Later I said to Carmen that one good way to honor Coach Walsh is for the media to start calling the "West Coast Offense" the "Walsh Offense." Policy agreed, because Coach Walsh did create it, and should be honored for his work. The approach changed how offense is played in the NFL.
Here's to Coach Walsh and the Walsh Offense. I don't know how bad off Coach Walsh is, but I do ask that all reading this honor him in my requested way.
The video below was in part shown today; I include it here to demonstrate Coach Walsh's attention to detail and teaching talent.