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on September 13, 2008
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.
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VINE VOICEon November 12, 2008
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.
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on August 16, 2011
David Harris has written a very nice and balanced biography of Bill Walsh. He provides the ups, downs, genius and flaws of a man involved in one of the most mentally and emotionally demanding professions - NFL Head Coach. We see Bill achieving fame/sucess later in life, relative to the typical high perfomer, after age 45. He takes a an organization that was bad during its best years and turns it into a dynasty that lasted through the 80's and most of the 90's. He is credited with creating an offensive scheme that changed the NFL and continues to be used today. Most remarkably he was able to see greatness that broke with conventional wisdom by drafting Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott, Jerry Rice and Steve Young. All four made it into the Hall of Fame and the first three are considered to be the best ever at their position. He finished with 3 Super Bowls and most likely he would have won several more had he not retired after the 1989 Super Bowl win.

But all of the above also caused much pain,anxiety and personal destruction. He took each loss personally and could not handle criticism from the media, ownership and from anywhere else for that matter. His most critical players such as Montana and Lott grew to play for him as their coach but seemed to have lost respect during their time together. Some of this was due to Bill's overiding philosophy of Team over Individual - even the All Time greats. In his final years Bill made a goal to go back and mend many of his failed relationships including his family and Montana. It was touching to read in the final Chapter that Montana was chosen by Bill to make the final speech at his funeral. Montana closes with "He wanted people to know that he loved you"..."So I'm saying that now. And in closing, as I say goodbye to my friend and my coach, I just want to say, 'We love you too. ' "
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on October 31, 2008
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.
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on March 24, 2013
A very interesting account of the Bill Walsh and the 49ner after living though the lean years of the 49ners in the early 70's. To see Walsh’ impact on today’s NFL’s strategy 25 years later is a testimony to his genius. However, if your teams were the Giants, the Cowboys, Rams, Bengals and Dan Marino’s Dolphins, during Walsh’s tenure, you might find the book boring or worst painful if you were a Brown’s fan. To understand Walsh’s greatness with less pain, I would suggest reading Chapter 4 on Bill Wash in Ron Jaworski’s book “Games that Changed the Game to understand how Walsh’s impact still is felt today. Even Raider fans could see what was happening across the bay.
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on January 12, 2013
This was a fun and informative look at coach Walsh and his philosophy on coaching. The writing is simple, but not plain, it reads like you were having a conversation with people that new the coach, or maybe even watching an insightful documentary on the man. I really enjoyed the book. A fun read, but there aren't too many groundbreaking insights in here that are not also available in other similar books about coach Walsh.
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on September 12, 2012
I got this book because I always found what Walsh did to football strategy fascinating. I'm young enough that I grew up in the 1990s, well after Walsh retired from coaching, and for someone as profound as him, there seemed to be a lack of material on him.

This book is far more about Bill Walsh than it is about football, whereas the actual on the field summaries of the games are rather vague, and often gloss over details from in games, Harris does a great job showing how each game affected Walsh and his players in varying ways. It dives very deeply into the relationships that Walsh had with his family, his players, other coaches, and his owner, Eddie DeBartolo.

One aspect I did not expect was how motivating the book was while explaining how Walsh approached the game. More so than other bios I have read, Walsh's strong work ethic is really evident.

I'm a die hard football fan, but Bill Walsh was such an interesting and complex person, that despite any shortcomings on technical football detail, I thoroughly enjoyed it and would highly recommend it. Additionally, it is a very quick read.
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on June 27, 2011
There may not be a better book for understanding the modern NFL than this one. Harris' look at Bill Walsh's career history and creation of the 49er dynasty is wonderful reading. One comes away with the idea that it is not easy -- even for a genius -- to succeed without patience and trials.
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on August 8, 2015
When I was following football many years ago, I really didn't like the 49ers. They were too perfect, and I viewed Bill Walsh as a cold and calculating coach (too much of an intellectual). But reading about him so many years later, I found that he was indeed an exceptional coach and an exceptional man. I am a third grade teacher and I am trying to teach and train my students to become the future leaders of our country. I want them to have good work ethic, practice the Golden Rule, and live their lives with integrity. I will bring what I am learning about Bill Walsh through reading this book and implement his ways into my classroom to make my students, my team, into champions.
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on December 16, 2008
The book focuses on the blow-by-blow of the 49er seasons Walsh coached. It gives little insight as to how he developed his revolutionary offensive concepts or to how he molded three teams into Super Bowl champions. There is a lot of repetition -- every loss is devastating, owner Eddie DeBartolo raged after each defeat, there are nine counties in the Bay Area. The author neglects to name names in a way that makes me wonder if he's researched his stories about drafts and games (he credits an interception in the 49ers crushing 49-3 defeat to the Giants to "a linebacker." That nameless linebacker was Lawrence Taylor.)

More insight into Walsh's personnel tactics, game plan concepts, and coaching day strategies would make this a much better book.
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