Edward DeBartolo Jr. hired Walsh to his first NFL head coaching job in 1979 and he quickly revealed his unconventional nature. While searching for assistants, Walsh steered clear of the league's "old boys" coaching network. At a time when the 49ers staff consisted of just seven full-time coaches, Walsh hired two Black men who were newcomers to the NFL coaching ranks: Dennis Green and Billie Matthews. 

"Bill Walsh just wanted the best people," Edwards said. "It didn't matter if they were polka-dot or purple."

Within three years, he also provided Ray Rhodes, Milt Jackson and Sherman Lewis with their first NFL jobs. It was the stepping stone each man needed to begin a long and fruitful NFL coaching career.

"I believe coaching, in a sense, represents the participants," Walsh later said in a USA TODAY interview. "The racial-ethnic balance in football has turned over very rapidly in recent years, as has the interest and the involvement of so many men for the coaching profession. But we're not seeing the upward mobility that we should be seeing."

By 1986, Walsh was ready to offer a more formalized approach to his coaching clinics and The Bill Walsh NFL Minority Coaching Fellowship was born. It began as a collaborative effort between Walsh, Edwards and public relations executive Rodney Knox. They also had the unfettered support of team owner Edward DeBartolo Jr. and vice president John McVay.

The primary goal of Walsh's fellowship was to provide talented minority coaches the opportunity to work alongside the 49ers staff and expose them to NFL practice methods, training techniques and offensive and defensive philosophies. Graduates of the program would receive formal evaluations and letters of recommendation. 

Since its inception, the program has tutored more than 2,000 minority coaches and has grown to the point that now every NFL team participates during training camp.

Check out some of the talented and accomplished minority coaches from Walsh's coaching universe.

Dennis Green

Years Coaching with the 49ers: 1979, 1986-1988

NFL Head Coaching Positions

  • 1992-2001: Minnesota Vikings
  • 2004-2006: Arizona Cardinals

Green first coached under Walsh as special teams coordinator in 1979. He later served as Walsh's offensive coordinator at Stanford University and also for the 49ers as the wide receivers coach. As a head coach, Green took his teams to the playoffs eight times. In 1998, his Vikings team broke the record for most points scored in a season. Green is the second African-American head coach in the modern era of the NFL.

Ray Rhodes

Years Coaching with the 49ers: 1981-1991, 1994

NFL Head Coaching Positions

  • 1995-1998: Philadelphia Eagles
  • 1999: Green Bay Packers

Rhodes began his career under Walsh as their defensive backs coach, then returned to the 49ers as the defensive coordinator. During his time in San Francisco, Rhodes was a part of all five Super Bowl winning seasons. As a head coach, Rhodes led the Eagles to 10 regular season wins and the playoffs in each of his first two seasons.

Tony Dungy

Years Playing with the 49ers: 1979

NFL Head Coaching Positions

  • 1996-2001: Tampa Bay Buccaneers 
  • 2002-2008: Indianapolis Colts 

Dungy played for the 49ers in 1979, Walsh's first season as head coach. He went on to serve as the Vikings defensive coordinator under Dennis Green. As a head coach, Dungy's Colts emerged victorious at Super Bowl XLI, the highlight of seven-consecutive playoff appearances. Dungy also led the Buccaneers into the postseason four times during his tenure in Tampa Bay.

Mike Singletary

Years Coaching with the 49ers: 2005-2010

NFL Head Coaching Positions

  • 2009-2010: San Francisco 49ers

Singletary assumed the 49ers head coaching position midway through 2008 and the club won five of its final nine games. In 2009, Singletary's 49ers finished 8-8.

Leslie Frazier

Bill Walsh Coaching Fellowship Graduate

NFL Head Coaching Positions

  • 2010-2013: Minnesota Vikings

Frazier served as the assistant head coach and defensive backs coach for the Indianapolis Colts in 2006 during their Super Bowl XLI team under head coach Tony Dungy.

Herman Edwards

NFL Head Coaching Positions

  • 2001-2005: New York Jets
  • 2006-2008: Kansas City Chiefs

As head coach, Edwards reached the playoffs three times with the Jets and once with the Chiefs. From 1996 to 2000, Edwards served on Dungy's staff in Tampa Bay. In 2003, the two head coaches faced off in the playoffs, marking the first time in NFL history that teams coached by African American head coaches met in the postseason.

Hue Jackson

Bill Walsh Coaching Fellowship Graduate

NFL Head Coaching Positions

  • 2011: Oakland Raiders
  • 2016-2018: Cleveland Browns

Jackson was named the PFWA NFL Assistant Coach of the Year in 2015.

Marvin Lewis

Bill Walsh Coaching Fellowship Graduate

NFL Head Coaching Positions

  • 2003-2018: Cincinnati Bengals

Lewis served as the defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens under Brian Billick during the Super Bowl XXXV championship. As head coach for the Bengals, Lewis registered a 131–122–3 record, first in total wins for the franchise, was named AP Coach of the Year in 2009 and reached the postseason seven times.

Raheem Morris

Bill Walsh Coaching Fellowship Graduate

NFL Head Coaching Positions

  • 2009-2011: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • 2020: Atlanta Falcons (Interim)

During his time as the Buccaneers defensive backs and head coach, Tampa Bay allowed the second-fewest passing yards per game in the NFL (170.5) and also ranked among the league leaders with 22 interceptions. Morris was the youngest head coach in the NFL in 2009. In 2010, Tampa Bay finished 10-6, marking the best turnaround in franchise history after going 3-13 the previous season.

Art Shell

NFL Head Coaching Positions

  • 1989-1994: Los Angeles Raiders
  • 2006: Oakland Raiders

Shell became the second African-American head coach in the history of the NFL and first in the modern era when he accepted the position with the Raiders. The following season, Shell was named the 1990 NFL Coach of Year.

Lovie Smith

Bill Walsh Coaching Fellowship Graduate

NFL Head Coaching Positions

  • 2004-2012: Chicago Bears
  • 2014-2015: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Smith was named NFL Coach of the Year in 2005. During Super Bowl XLI, Smith and Dungy became the first Black coaches to face one another in a Super Bowl.

Mike Tomlin

Bill Walsh Coaching Fellowship Graduate

NFL Head Coaching Positions

  • 2007-Present: Pittsburgh Steelers

Tomlin became the youngest head coach to win a Super Bowl after defeating the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII. He was named NFL Coach of the Year in 2008. In 14 seasons with the Steelers, he has never recorded a losing season.

Anthony Lynn

Years Playing with the 49ers: 1995-1996

NFL Head Coaching Positions

  • 2016: Buffalo Bills (Interim)
  • 2017-2020: Los Angeles Chargers

Lynn currently serves as the Detroit Lions offensive coordinator, but spent the previous four seasons with the Chargers. Lynn began his coaching career with Denver Broncos in 2000 under head coach Mike Shanahan.

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