With the death of legendary 49ers coach Bill Walsh, several in the organization lost a person they considered a mentor.
Walsh died last Monday at 75 after a three-year battle with leukemia. The 49ers will wear "BW" decals on their helmets this season. Coaches will wear a patch on their shirts.
As general manager of the 49ers, Walsh awarded defensive lineman Bryant Young a six-year, $38 million contract in the spring of 2001. Although some wondered at the time if Walsh had overpaid to keep Young, the deal turned out great for both sides. Walsh was also instrumental three years earlier when Young sustained a career-threatening broken leg.
"When I got hurt, he was uplifting, and gave me words of encouragement," Young said. "I owe him a lot for being there for me."
Head coach Mike Nolan and assistant head coach Mike Singletary consider Walsh a mentor, even though neither coached nor played for him. Nolan said he spoke almost weekly with Walsh during his first two seasons as head coach. The two shared a three-hour lunch about a month before Walsh died, Nolan said.
"It's said because we lost a friend," Nolan said. "The 49ers lost a friend and I've lost a friend. But I'm appreciative for the time we had."
Singletary, a Hall of Fame linebacker with the Bears, said he has more notes on coaching from Walsh than anyone else in the league. In each of the four years he has been an NFL assistant, Singletary met at least once with Walsh to learn from the master.
"I wrote out everything he said," Singletary said. "He'd say, 'Write this down.' But I wrote everything down. And then I'd have my wife or my daughters type it up. I have pages and pages of notes from him."
Singletary yearns to be an NFL head coach. He has interviewed for four openings and figures to be a hot candidate again at the end of the season.
"One of the biggest things he said to me was, 'When it's time, it'll happen,'" Singletary said. "You don't sit around wondering why it's not happening, you keep pressing and you keep preparing. He told me, 'If you do what I'm telling you to do, you'll be ready.'"
Quarterback Alex Smith also is grateful for the time he spent with Walsh. While Smith was going through some struggles on the field as a rookie, he got advice from just about everyone with whom he came in contact.
He met with Walsh about a half-dozen times and he always expected more advice.
"Who could talk better than anyone about being a quarterback?" Smith said. "But he always talked about life, and asked how I was doing. He never forced anything. I felt he knew what I was going through. I appreciate that way more than the guys who gave me advice."
The 49ers practice at their in-season practice facility in Santa Clara, Calif. Most practices are closed to the general public, but the club has scheduled several free open sessions. Camp breaks Aug. 22.
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