The latest 49ers Museum Longform Series article reviews how Dr. Harry Edwards and Bill Walsh impacted the social fabric of American sports and, ultimately, American values.
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.