“..the type of guy who made your life better because you got be around him and know him.”
General Douglas MacArthur famously said that “old soldiers never die, they just fade away” and in the case of old coaches, particularly ones who have been loyal and largely anonymous assistants, that is certainly true. Bill Walsh passed away the other day and had been retired for over 10 years. He had the additional misfortune of being confused with another Bill Walsh, yes, the one who is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and who had the distinction of many Super Bowl wins with the San Francisco 49ers.
The Bill Walsh whose death was noted last week was a veteran of 37 seasons in the AFL/NFL both as a player and as an assistant, most notably for our purposes, with the Dallas Texans and then Kansas City Chiefs on Hank Strams’ staffs.
Walsh’s pro coaching career spanned more than three decades and only concluded in the early ‘90s. A look at his grown-up children’s residences in his obituary gives you some indication of the life of an assistant coach with kids living in Pennsylvania, Kansas, and Georgia. It often sounds like an exciting life but it can sometimes be a tough one for family and Bill’s wife of 63 years, Shirley, must have been a “gamer” with all the moves. Chris Burford, who played on Texans and Chiefs teams when Walsh coached, could agree remembering him as “a good family man and someone I enjoyed being around.
“Well-liked” and “relatively low key,” he had an “acerbic wit,” Burford recalls. “He knew the game and was good at conveying what he wanted done.” Apparently so, since on his watch he helped in the development of Ed Budde, Jim Tyrer and Dave Hill – all members of the franchise’s Hall of Fame and two who are on the AFL’s all-time team.
Fred Arbanas, another all-AFLer with the Chiefs, first met him with Hank Stram when they both were recruiting him to Notre Dame. Stram and Walsh were on the Fighting Irish staff at the time. “He was the type of guy that made your life better because you got to be around him and know him.
“No yeller or screamer,” Arbanas continued, “he was a great guy for teaching technique.”
Walsh started coaching for the club when it was known as the Dallas Texans way back in 1960 when he signed on after holding jobs at Notre Dame and Kansas State. He came to the area when the Texans moved to Kansas City in 1963 and continued as the team’s offensive line coach until 1974 when he left after Hank Stram was released. He had the distinction of serving on staffs that could boast three AFL championships and two appearances in the Super Bowl. He went on to work as an offensive line coach at Atlanta, Houston and finally Philadelphia.
It’s likely only the most avid fan even recalls the name of this Bill Walsh. It’s a gypsy life but being with the same team for 14 years made him truly unique.