Friday, November 10, 2006

Coach Bill Walsh Has Leukemia - SJ Mercury News

This sheds light on what I wrote about after the Titans Breakfast just over a month ago, when I reported that Coach Walsh was not well.

Bill Walsh tells selected media members that he has leukemia
By Daniel Brown

San Jose Mercury News


Bill Walsh kept his illness from the public as long as he could. But his players all knew. They called and wrote and showed up at his doorstep, doing whatever they could to help the former 49ers coach battle leukemia.

Roger Craig, a star running back in Walsh's innovative offense, visited the coach's home three weeks ago.

"He was laughing, cracking jokes. That's Bill. He's upbeat," Craig said Friday. "This is a serious thing he has, but he's been dealing with it. He's a fighter."

Walsh, who turns 75 on Nov. 30, disclosed his fight to the rest of the world Friday, not with a news conference but with the more personal touch of calling two sportswriters, Ira Miller and Lowell Cohn, who had covered him for decades. The Hall of Fame coach told them that treatment has helped him bounce back from a recent stretch in which his condition looked grave.

"When it was life-threatening, I had a lot of considerations about my wife, Geri," Walsh told Miller, a contributor to, in comments posted Friday. "It appears I've gone through that threshold and it may turn out OK, at least for a while."

Walsh coached the 49ers from 1979 to 1988, winning their first three Super Bowl championships and leaving behind a framework for two more titles.

He last worked for the team in an official capacity in 2003 but has kept his hand in the organization with behind-the-scenes support for Coach Mike Nolan.

The two talk frequently by phone, since Walsh's leukemia has kept him at his Woodside home for long stretches. The coach's treatment has included a series of blood transfusions, which left him exhausted.

"Bill means a lot to me," Nolan said after the team's practice Friday. "He's a huge supporter of what we're doing here.

"But it's not just us. Everybody across the NFL - everybody - has been affected by Bill Walsh and the things he created. You're talking right down to the practice schedules and your everyday itinerary. When I worked in Baltimore, everything Brian Billick did there as coach was because he learned it while working for Bill Walsh."

Last week, though, there was no phone call with Nolan.

Walsh has been increasingly elusive as rumors about his condition spread, staying away from his office at Stanford, where he is a special assistant to the athletic director, and leaving messages unreturned.

"News about me has been circulating," Walsh said. "The media has been aware of the possibility of this and has refrained from writing. There are too many people following the progress of this. I felt it was appropriate to confirm what's happening."

Walsh said the first indication of the disease came in 2004, when doctors wanted to see why he was anemic. A test of his bone marrow revealed leukemia, a cancer of the blood cells that weakens the body's ability to fight off infections. It was unclear Friday what form of the disease Walsh is battling.

Walsh was absent Sunday at Monster Park for Alumni Day, which featured Joe Montana and Clark's recreation of "The Catch." But a friend of Walsh told the San Jose Mercury News this week that the coach plans to be on hand for Jerry Rice's retirement ceremony Nov.19.

"The worst phase was three to four weeks ago," Walsh said. "I've come back dramatically since, and I'm better."

In fact, he was feeling well enough this weekend to plan on attending a volleyball game at Stanford.

"He taught me all those years to be an optimist, and he'll beat it," said Ken Margerum, a San Jose State assistant coach whom Walsh recruited to play at Stanford in 1977.

Tom Williams, the Spartans co-defensive coordinator, said: "Certainly when you find out a giant...has an illness, you are touched with your own mortality because he is larger than life. He's a giant."

Walsh had two coaching stints at Stanford and recently spent seven months as the Cardinal's acting athletic director.

But his greatest fame came with the 49ers, where his West Coast offense propelled Montana, Jerry Rice and Steve Young and became the most widely copied blueprint in the history of the NFL. Walsh went 102-63-1 and won six division titles before abruptly retiring after winning the 1989 Super Bowl.

"Together, we changed the game," said Craig, who under Walsh became the first running back to have 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season. "Bill Walsh has touched not just people all over the NFL but all over the world. This man is much larger than football - trust me."

Miller wrote that more than 100 former players have called Walsh, including Montana, who recently met the coach for breakfast. Craig made the trip to Walsh's home with Arizona Cardinals Coach Denny Green and former 49ers receiver Mike Wilson.

Former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo and former president Carmen Policy came over for lunch - with DeBartolo making the trip from Tampa.

"We talked about the old times and laughed and teased each other," Walsh told Miller. "I felt flattered Eddie would come all that way to see me."

Despite the illness, Walsh has done his best to stay active. He served on the search committee at his alma mater, San Jose State, when it landed Tom Bowen as the new athletic director in 2004.

"This is something that comes unexpectedly," Bowen said, "but hopefully he will pull through this and make a full recovery."

Walsh was a member of the boxing team at San Jose State and had aspirations of becoming a professional heavyweight before choosing a career in football. Still, most of his friends used the same phrase - "He's a fighter" - when reached for reaction.

Walsh, in speaking of his prognosis, said: "I'm positive but not evangelistic. I'm pragmatically doing everything my physicians recommend, and I'm working my way through it. I always felt I'll accept my fate as it unfolds."

He added: "If we continue with the ongoing treatment, the future could look very bright."

SF 49ERS Say They're Moving To Santa Clara - An Excercize In Bad Politics and PR

Yesterday, San Francisco 49ers Owner John York shocked the football world by announcing that his organization's backup plan to build a stadium in Santa Clara. They caught San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom by suprise. They threw Santa Clara's mayor Patricia Mahan for a total loop as well. In this the 49ers showed a penchant for bad politics and terrible public relations.

First, regardless of some glaring technical issues with the stadium proposal, everyone I knew was excited about the plans for the new facility at Candlestick Point, and how it would be a key part of the San Francisco Bay Area Olympics Bid. It seemed the responsible and brave act for the 49ers to make their stadium proposal part of the Olympics Bid.

But in one fell swoop, John York has done what he seems very good at doing: upsetting both elected officials and the community. As of this moment, the 69.4 percent of the readers of "" have rated him the worst owner in the NFL. In an election, such a percentage would be called a landslide of massive proportions. York has angered fans with the way he runs the team -- cheap. He didn't initially handle the famous Videogate scandal well. And now he's pissed off the very elected officials he's supposed to work with.

This is not the way to get a stadium built.

In my experience, a normal developer woos elected officials, puts the legal amount of money in their campaign war chest, and even hosts a fund-raiser or two. But Dr. York has done none of this. Instead, he's acted like the kid who has the basketball everyone wants to play with. When things don't go his way, he gets up and walks off.

But here Dr. York's playing with grown ups, and dangerously thinking that he can just piss off elected officials. As much as politicians are put-down and picked-on, they do serve as the guardians of our government, and should not be taken lightly, but Dr. York does by his actions. He's had a number of people working on proposals and poor San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom meeting with Olympics officials and running around the World touting San Francisco as the best place for the Olympics. He's had Lennar's Kofi Bonner -- formerly a Bay Area municipal official of high regard -- negotiating with representatives of several jurisdictions which have a hand in the Candlestick Point recreation area

Now, York threatens to scuttle all of the work of these good folks. Moreover, he's got no deal with Santa Clara and is playing with the most dangerous fire of all: the Santa Clara City Council.

City Council's are where the rubber meets the road of politics in a city. They have to decide how the roads get fixed and the schools get books. Dr. York has to first create a plan and then pass the plan to the council and then make sure they pass it.

But John's done no political work down there and doesn't even know the players. He's not contributed to their campaigns or really done any wooing of them, much less meeting them. He's in a real pickle and it's one he's created for himself.

The best way out of this is for John to stop what he's doing, meet with Gavin, appologize, and get back on track. Yes, he will further upset the leaders in Santa Clara, who feel like they're being used to begin with and are currently placed in the position of indirectly spoiling the Bay Area's Olympics Bid by working with the 49ers, but let's face it. Santa Clara will not bite on that big chunk of a stadium cost when they realize they may have to be the fiscal backer of whatever "private" deal York's people come up with. That deal will almost certanly approach $1 billion.

Plus, York doens't have Kofi Bonner to help him down there.

Something bad happened behind the scenes for this to unravel and the man who best knows what happened isn't talking: Kofi Bonner. I can see the Candlestick Plan as having Kofi's signature of urban planning all over it. Knowing Kofi since 1986, my guess is that he tried to smooth over a misunderstanding and it went South.

What I mean is that it was Kofi's working with the architects and land planners in his role of Senior Vice President of Urban Land with Lennar that created the 10,000 square - foot parking lot that the 49ers complained about. But Lennar needs the land that would be used for parking for the housing. Plus, having the housing's a key part of the stadium financing plan. So I don't know why John would be so hard headed, but apparently he was not only that, but a bit angry.

John, go back to Gavin and make peace; and buy Kofi dinner and a nice Gin and Tonic. Forget Santa Clara; it's not going to work.