The program was his idea. Now it will be named after him.
The NFL has announced that it will re-name its Minority Coaching Fellowship Program that has brought more than 1,300 minority coaches into NFL training camps -- and produced four present head coaches -- after the man who conceived of the idea, Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh.
Now named the Bill Walsh NFL Minority Coaches Internship Program, the idea to expose talented minority college coaches to the methods and philosophies of summer NFL training camps was introduced to the league by Walsh in 1987 when he brought in a group of such coaches into his San Francisco 49ers training camp.
"Bill knew it was important to create these opportunities, so we'd go into our meetings and there would be a young minority coach sitting with us," says former 49ers wide receiver Dwight Clark.
The program grew to the point that now every NFL team participates in it at every training camp. Last summer, a record 90 minorities were invited to NFL camps, planning and participating in practice sessions, working with players, and learning from coaches with more experience.
"Bill Walsh is known for his 'coaching tree' that produced many NFL coaches such as Tony Dungy, Mike Holmgren and Dennis Green," said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in announcing the name change. "But that tree has even more branches because of Bill's initiation of the minority internship. That is why the program will now bear his name."
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin – the youngest head coach (36) in Super Bowl history – is a graduate of the internship and endorses its efficacy.
Tomlin interned with the Cleveland Browns in the summer of 2000 when he was the defensive backs coach at the University of Cincinnati. Sunday he will join another graduate of the minority program – the Chicago Bears' Lovie Smith (Super Bowl XLI) – as two products of the internship to be head coaches in a Super Bowl.
"I came into the league as a minority intern with the Browns when I coached college football," Tomlin said this week. "That was a great avenue to expose the NFL to me. Really, prior to that, I had no intentions whatsoever of coaching in the NFL. I left that internship committed to coaching in the league because it was such a positive experience."
The newest minority internship grad is already a well-known name in Tampa Bay -- new Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris, just appointed on January 17.
Morris -- the youngest head coach in the NFL at 32 -- interned with the New York Jets in 2001 when he was the defensive backs coach at Hofstra University. Like Tomlin, he is a big proponent of the newly named program.
"It was a great opportunity to get in, to get involved with people who were in the NFL world, to establish myself and establish some of the relationships with the people that I met with the Jets," says Morris. "If you're willing to learn, become a sponge, it's awesome. It helped my career tremendously."
"Those guys all inspired me because they were given that opportunity by Bill Walsh.," said 49ers inside linebackers coach Vantz Singletary, a fellow graduate of the program. "Bill passed that baton to them and they passed it down to me. When I look around the National Football League at all the guys that participated in the summer programs, it certainly helped their professional careers and their development as coaches and there's just so much that you learn from that."
49ers Vice President of Football Affairs Keena Turner played linebacker for Bill Walsh. Admiring Walsh for his coaching and his ideals, Turner is pleased that the award has been named in Walsh's honor.
"He was such a pioneer in so many ways and I think it's obviously documented, the impact he had on the football world and it's great that he's getting some recognition for some other things that he pioneered," said Turner. "He was ahead of his time in terms of understanding the full scope and the idea of inclusion and opportunity and that program opened the door for so many young coaches to come in and be recognized."