Doug McArthur said, "Old soldiers never die, they just fade away." Bill Walsh is an old football soldier. Sunday was his last draft as General Manager of the 49ers. He may not be fading away, but he is turning over the reigns to Director of Player Personelle/ Assistant General Manager Terry Donahue.
This changing of the guard comes with all the baggage and tradition that one can imagine, and the former gutty little Bruin is trying to apply what he has learned.
"The Bill Walsh experience is really wonderful," says Donahue, who turned down top pro coaching positions to stay at UCLA before leaving Westwood after 20 years in 1995. "I;ve seen him work the last three drafts. There are stark differences between the pro and college game.
"Our philosophy will remain the same. The inherent way you build a team is the same between pro and college football, but Bill has helped me learn the nuances of the job. He's just fascinating, and our relationship is like a married couple.
"We get along, we have mutual respect for each other. We don't agree all the time, but we do offer counter-opinions, different ways of going about things. One nice thing about Bill, he doesn't come back a week later or some other time and say, `You did that and it didn't work."
Half the game Sunday at Santa Clara was clearing up what will be going on at 4949 Centennial Boulevard the next few seasons.
Walsh calls talk of his last draft "maudlin," but the fact is that it is his last one. The Genius will be a consultant. He has been having family problems and needs to devote less time to football, which is of course an all-consuming occupation.
That said, the man said more than once, "I'll be around," and "I'll see you around."
So here comes Terry. You remember his Bruins teams, right? They used to run the veer. That is not exactly the West Coast offense. He did bring Troy Aikman into his own, and he has been learning from the best.
The 49ers are on the verge of greatness again. They had a terrific draft last year and by all accounts another one in 2001. Coach Steve Mariucci is a great offensive guy, but the trend lately (read: the last one season) is on defense, al la the Baltimore Ravens.
"Yeah, you want to concentrate on defense," says Donahue, in reference to number one pick Andre Carter, a terrific defensive end out of California. "The way the NFL is now, you draft for need. Yes, we do draft some great players ahead of need, but we say that `if you pick 'em play 'em." The financial end of the game is such that there are quality veterans sitting at home, priced out of opportunities to play, so young guys get a chance to come in. As we go along we're looking ahead and hope to draft to fill future needs."
Donahue now faces dealing with player agents and getting free agents and "walk-ons" signed.
The still-youthful Donahue still uses words like "walk-on" and "recruiting class" to describe draftees and free agents invited to camp for "anywhere from for free and a chance, to $50,000, depending on the salary limitations and need.
I'll be flat disappointed if our draftees don't pan out," he says of Carter, Jamie Winborn (Vanderbilt linebacker) and Kevan Barlow (Pittsburgh running back). "It's a great start to an exciting season."
The torch has been passed on to a new generation of 49ers. Some guys go their whole careers with the "genius" label but no trophy. Donahue never won a National Championship in college. He won Rose Bowls and the admiration of friend and foe alike. He never won the Big One.
Does that make him less qualified to take the reigns of one of the greatest organizations in NFL history? No. Casey Stengel was a baseball "clown" who, for reasons nobody ever really pinned down (Dan Topping and Del Webb probably got him cheap) took over the Yankees late in life and was perhaps their greatest manager.
49er Redux? You are in the saddle Terry Donahue. It is time to ride.
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism