Game Changing Management – The Bill Walsh Way

BillWalshWhile interviewing for a management position in libraries, I was asked the typical question of how did I see myself as a manager or how would I manage. My ingenious response was that I wanted to be like Bill Walsh. I had to quickly clarify because we had a Bill Walsh in the library (not that he would be a bad example). I wanted to be like Bill Walsh of the San Francisco 49ers. I described him as a risk taker, an innovator, and a true visionary/leader.

He was a risk-taker because in 1985 he drafted Jerry Rice as a wide-receiver from the little known school in Itta Bena, MS – Mississippi Valley State University. Now, we may know Jerry Rice as the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time), but then it was, “who is this guy?.” If you had the opportunity to make a hiring choice without the assistance of a search committee, would you have the courage to make an unconventional choice? He was an innovator by refining what is called the West Coast Offense. In this scheme, he used short passes as most teams would use the run. He used the pass to set-up the run. Even 20 years later, most teams run some version of this offense.

He was also an innovator in how he managed players. “A sports psychologist who later studied Walsh’s methods described them as ‘creating a positive learning environment.’ Their assumption was that ‘playing ‘correctly’ because of fear of reprisal does not describe an ideal performance state (Harris 2008, 80).’” Walsh didn’t yell at players like so many other coaches did at the time. They worked to change the behavior through positive reinforcement.

He was a visionary because he was holding coaching camps for minority coaches before the NFL enacted the Rooney Rule which “mandates that teams must interview one minority candidate for each head coaching vacancy (Corbett 2009).” Five minority coaches can trace their coaching roots back to Bill Walsh with two being winners of the Super Bowl (a total of eight head coaches with roots to Bill Walsh have won the Super Bowl). It is no coincidence that both exhibited Walsh’s calm exterior.


Figure 1: Bill Walsh Coaching Tree (Wikipedia,, Accessed July 28, 2012 )


Bill Walsh’s Coaching Tree and minority coaches legacy

Having a coaching tree like Walsh should be every manager’s goal. How are you grooming your reports to succeed and surpass you? Or, are you afraid that with too much coaching, your reports will one day take your job.

Corbett, Jim. 2009. “Dungy: Rooney Rule opened up pipeline.” USA Today, February 2.

Harris, David. 2008. The Genius: How Bill Walsh Reinvented Football and Created an NFL
Dynasty. New York: Random House.


About LaKo

I'm a sports enthusiast who looks for lessons and analogies in sports and tries to apply those lessons to my personal and work life. In May 2013 I began my life as a runner with Black Girls Run!. Now, as a member of the Atlanta Track Club, I'm continuing my journey to preserve my sexy.
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