Tuesday, August 21, 2007

In Memory of Bill Walsh

It is not every day that I get to share the stage and a few precious hours of my life with a genius, idol, and celebrity all in one. As an honoree to the worldwide prestigious CIO100 Award last year, I got to hear Bill Walsh's keynote on innovation and leadership. More on this in a few moments......

Bill Walsh, known in football circles as "The Genius" for coaching the San Francisco 49ers to three NFL championships and designing the "West Coast offense" that has attracted countless devotees in the college and pro ranks, died at his Woodside, Calif., home Monday morning on July 31st. He was 75.

Diagnosed with leukemia in 2004, Mr. Walsh had been in failing health for several months, according to officials at Stanford, where he coached for five seasons (1977 to 1978 and 1992 through 1994) and served as special assistant to the athletic director from early 2004 until his death.

Cerebral, introspective and innovative, Mr. Walsh had an uncanny eye for scouting players and designing refined game plans. His offensive scheme — predicated on short, timing passes — fueled a dynasty in San Francisco with Super Bowl victories after the 1981, '84 and '88 seasons.

Mr. Walsh retired from NFL coaching in 1989, after leading the 49ers to victory over Cincinnati in Super Bowl XXIII. Including playoffs, his pro record was 102-63-1. He is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

.....As Mr. Walsh addressed the attendees of the CIO100 in 2006, he went on to share his philosophy and framework for innovation and leadership. Mr. Walsh talked about how he turned around the San Francisco 49ers from the worst team in the NFL to the best in 10 years. And how you might ask, did he do that? Simply stated by him, "you must have a standard of performance and open participation. Build a culture of openness and respect. Always push the envelope, but be aware of pushing too far. Don't count on getting lucky. Focus on what you can influence. Develop a plan and a contingency plan. Prepare for the worst and execute for the best. Planning, planning and more planning is the key. Also remember that success is dangerous and that people get changed by success. More success required more authority and focus on the plan. Focus on the job. Do role playing for every important part of the plan. And cross train your team members to do multiples jobs. In the end, it is the standard of performance what defines you and builds your success. And of course, make your contingency plans anyway.

I was very fortunate to have shared with Mr. Walsh that keynote and a few hours after it. His candor, humbleness, and curiosity made you feel that you knew him all your life. What precious moments to remember. What a great source of wisdom. I tip my hat to the Football genius and fabulous human being that Bill Walsh was.

Thank you Coach for all the wisdom and thrills. We will miss you!

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