The San Francisco 49ers were the NFL’s Team of the 1980s, with Bill Walsh reinventing the way the game was played with NFL icons such as Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Ronnie Lott and more winning four Super Bowls and always seeming to be in contention for another in most seasons.
Walsh joined the 49ers after two seasons as head coach of Stanford, where he put together a record of 17-7, with a couple of bowl victories to show off. Walsh’s success at Stanford was no small deal. Under Walsh in 1977 and 1978 Stanford finished each season ranked in the AP Top 25, a feat that had not been done in the five previous seasons. Stanford may not have been playing in the Rose Bowl as Pac 8 or Pac 10 champions, but Walsh found a winning formula to work with by pulling from his experience as an NFL assistant with the Oakland Raiders, Cincinnati Bengals and San Diego Chargers. His quick success at Stanford caught the eye of the NFL and San Francisco hoped to see that string of success continue at the next level. Needless to say, it did.
Walsh’s success had NFL teams around the country scouring for the next big college coach to imitate the success but as the years went by it was rare to see that trend spread the way Walsh’s west coast offense did. For every Jimmy Johnson in the NFL it seems there were five Steve Spurriers.
But there have been some recent exceptions to the perceived rule that college coaches are geared for the college game and cannot make it in the NFL. Ironically enough, it is highlighted by another Stanford-49ers connection, with Jim Harbaugh.