Following the afternoon practice, Vikings wide receiver coach George Stewart took time to remember NFL icon Bill Walsh, who died earlier in the day at the age of 75 following a long battle with leukemia. Stewart coached for seven years (1996-2002) in San Francisco when Walsh was an executive with the club.
“It’s a sad day obviously in professional football and all of sports,” said Stewart. “Coach Walsh was a great man. A great football coach, a great family man. He will be sadly missed. I have prayers for his family.”
The Hall of Fame coach won three Super Bowls in 10 years as the head man in San Francisco. His teams went 102-63-1 in the regular season and 10-4 in the playoffs (2-1 versus the Vikings). But Walsh’s continuing impact in the league is perhaps even more impressive than his wins and losses.
“You talk about the coaching tree, he’s the Redwood,” Stewart said. “You think of all the coaches that have come off his tree. The (Mike) Holmgrens, the (Mike) Shanahans, the (Steve) Marriuccis.”
Of course, former Vikings head coach Dennis Green and offensive coordinator Brian Billick, now the Ravens head coach, are part of that tree, which includes former coaches George Seifert, Sam Wyche, Ray Rhodes and Bruce Coslet, as well as current coaches Andy Reid, Gary Kubiak, Jon Gruden and Jeff Fisher.
“He influenced everybody associated with football,” Stewart said, comparing Walsh to the likes of Knute Rockne and Vince Lombardi.
While many in the Purple Nation point out that the Vikings, under offensive coordinator Jerry Burns, ran what would later become known as the West Coast Offense long before Walsh got the head job in San Francisco, Walsh’s name became synonymous with that offensive design during his championship run in the 1980s with the 49ers.
Many teams today, including the Vikings, are running a version of the West Coast Offense. After all, Minnesota head coach Brad Childress served under Reid in Philadelphia, who coached with Holmgren in Green Bay after Holmgren was on Walsh’s staff in San Francisco.
Besides the West Coast Offense and his coaching impact, Stewart says Walsh should be remembered for his keen eye for talent.
“The thing with Coach Walsh that I will take the rest of my coaching career was his ability to understand talent, the ability to go out and find pieces that fit exactly what he wanted,” Stewart said. “Nobody wanted Joe Montana. He made Joe Montana the greatest quarterback of all time. He saw Jerry Rice on a highlight clip in a hotel room in Indianapolis … and made him his first pick. Great eye for talent.”
Asked what would surprise people to know about Walsh, Stewart didn’t hesitate to answer.
“He had a great sense of humor,” said Stewart, recalling the story of how Walsh “helped” his players into their hotel for the team’s first Super Bowl appearance in Detroit.
“He was the bell captain,” Stewart said. “(He) put on the suit, put on the top hat and carried bags up to the rooms. Some of the players didn’t realize it was Bill Walsh. He was a great comedian in that respect. Just an excellent person.”
Others around the league on Walsh:
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell: "His Hall of Fame coaching accomplishments speak for themselves, but the essence of Bill Walsh was that he was an extraordinary teacher. If you gave him a blackboard and a piece of chalk, he would become a whirlwind of wisdom. He taught all of us not only about football but also about life and how it takes teamwork for any of us to succeed as individuals. He helped the league on many important initiatives, from improving opportunities for minorities in coaching and the front office to our executive training and international development programs. Bill Walsh was a mentor to me and many others. He revolutionized the game with his 'West Coast Offense' and will always be remembered as one of the most influential people in NFL history."
Eagles Chairman Jeffrey Lurie: "Bill Walsh embodied everything that so many of us love about the game of football - his intellect, his aggressive and brilliant game strategies, quarterback development, risk taking, and franchise-building ideas. And the way he coolly executed them is deservedly legendary. His passion for the game was contagious. All of us who had the fortune to spend significant time with Bill and sought his willing guidance will surely cherish every moment spent with this very special man."
Bengals president Mike Brown: “"Bill's record speaks for itself. He was the top coach in the NFL during his time in San Francisco. During his eight years on our coaching staff (1968-75), he brought imagination and ideas to the game. He was a tremendous part of our staff, and we were lucky to have him. He set a mark on the game that is admired by everyone, and he will be greatly missed."
Quarterback Jeff Garcia: “"There are so many people that are thankful that their lives have been touched by the man who is Bill Walsh. I am one of them. He believed in me when not many others did; he was willing to put his reputation on the line in order to give me an opportunity. I always respected and appreciated that and never did I want to fail him. Several times I went to him at moments of change in my career and asked for and leaned on his advice. Even at a time of struggle in his own life, he made time for me. He gave me advice like a father would give to his son and I know that I am not the only one he did that for.
"He touched people's lives, he made people smile. He had an element of surprise about him - you never knew what he was going to say but he had your attention. I love that man like so many others do and I will miss him.
"I thank you Bill for your guidance and belief in me, but more so than that, I thank you for your friendship. I love you and I thank you."
Broncos coach Mike Shanahan: “He's a great teacher. I never had the opportunity to actually coach for him, but I was around him a lot. I had a chance to talk to him about a number of different things. I just consider him a good friend. When we played the Raiders, I had a chance to talk to him for about 15 to 20 minutes, and over the last couple of weeks he's been going through a very tough time. He knew it was just a matter of time. Today is a really sad day. He was a great coach and a great teacher. He enjoyed teaching and it didn't matter what level it was. I don't care if he was teaching high school kids or quarterbacks three-to-five step drops, college kids, pro kids, he enjoyed it. He was very good at it, very smart. The best way to describe him is passionate about everything, and that's one of the reasons he was so successful."
Observations from Monday’s afternoon practice conducted in shells and shorts:
Compared to the first few days, the practice was quite sluggish.
First-round pick Adrian Peterson got some snaps with the first team and also worked with the second and third teams. During 11-on-11 drills, Peterson fumbled a pitchout from quarterback Tyler Thigpen.
The biggest hit Peterson received came from the ground when he slipped trying to turn up the far sideline.
Peterson looked very natural catching swing passes.
Like in the morning 11-on-11 session, Peterson conferred with running backs coach Eric Bieniemy in the backfield when he wasn’t needed for a play.
Rookie Alex Reyes got some punts in before practice began, but during the special teams portion of the session, Chris Kluwe did the work. Kluwe got nice hang-time on many of his boots.
Aundrae Allison, Bobby Wade, Mewelde Moore and Chandler Williams took turns fielding Kluwe’s punts.
Safety Darren Sharper was once again held out of practice but could be seen doing some sprints off to the side. Mike Doss continued to run with the first team in Sharper’s place.
Safety Dwight Smith had both legs taped from his cleats to just below his knees.
The second-team offensive line consisted of Marcus Johnson and rookie Chase Johnson at tackle, rookies Dan Mozes and Brian Daniels at guard and Norm Katnik at center.
In 11-on-11 play, quarterback Brooks Bollinger, who continues to work exclusively with the second team, was intercepted by Dovonte Edwards and Charles Gordon and “sacked” by defensive end Ray Edwards.
Edwards and Darrion Scott worked mostly as the first-team defensive ends with Kevin Williams and Pat Williams at tackle. At one point, Pat Williams got excellent penetration on quarterback Tarvaris Jackson.
Jackson had his ups and downs. He threw an outlet pass into the ground and was intercepted by Antoine Winfield on a pass intended for Sidney Rice. But right after the interception, Jackson hit Wade in stride on a deep route that would have gone for a touchdown.
Williamson had a pass go off his shoulder pads. The third-year wideout and some other receivers spent time after practice catching balls.
Like in the morning, running back Artose Pinner was working ahead of Moore.
Darrell Bevell called the plays again during the “live” portion of 11-on-11.
It took four days, but Bieniemy finally took off his black sweatshirt.
The sparse crowd was listless throughout the practice, which ended about 20 minutes early.
The offense wore the dark jerseys.
Tuesday has a full-team practice in the morning (9 a.m.) and a special teams session in the afternoon (2:15).