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Walsh Takes Offense at What He Sees Around the League : Pro football: Free agency, violence are disturbing to former 49er coach, who hasn't ruled out a return.

December 17, 1995|T.J. SIMERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

He has an interest in returning to Los Angeles if football makes a comeback here, but Bill Walsh remains a spectator--unhappy with the game he once dominated as coach of the San Francisco 49ers.

"I'm disappointed in a lot of teams," Walsh said. "The Raiders in particular. Dallas is floundering suddenly. . . . The whole fabric of the game seems to have changed because of free agency. There has been so much upheaval, and it's not good.

"It's good for certain players who make more money, but as an example, the Bengals have an excellent following in Cincinnati and yet that team is finding it can't meet the financial demands needed to compete in this league. They can't raise ticket prices fast enough to stay up with the salary cap.

"I feel badly for Mike Brown and the Bengals because they don't want to move. But they may not have the financial resources to keep up with other teams. I know that's what happened to Cleveland. The Browns tried to go big time signing all those players, and Art Modell went into deep financial trouble trying to do it."

Walsh, of course, knew only stability in San Francisco during his 10-year tenure as coach. But he said the movement of franchises and the out-of-control violence that is taking place on the field are now threatening to destroy the game.

"The violence in the game is so obvious and reckless and it is not being controlled by officials and the league," Walsh said. "People get conditioned to violence, they see players behaving as they do on the field, and I'm not sure that's what we want seen on TV in every household.

"Your star players are getting hurt through unnecessary conflict, and people seem dumbfounded to deal with it. You also have your best players looking over their shoulders to the next great [free-agency] opportunity; players just don't have the commitment to the team that they used to have. All of this is really testing the game, the loyalty of its fans. . . . It's moving toward running itself out of business almost like baseball."

Although the game has changed, as Walsh sees it, he has thought about returning, though not necessarily as a coach. He has talked to investors, league officials and interested parties about the return of football to Los Angeles.

"I would have an interest in a team if it would occur soon," said Walsh, who was born in Los Angeles. "But if it were to take a long period of time, no, my life would go in another direction."

Walsh won three Super Bowls with the 49ers and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He walked away from the game a Super Bowl champion in 1989 but now second-guesses himself.

"It was probably smarter to coach another couple years," he said, "But I wouldn't want to go through what Don Shula is going through."

Walsh's genius for offense continues to leave its imprint on the game. In addition, seven of the assistant coaches who trained under him are now working as head coaches in the NFL.

"I'm not driven to go back into the NFL," Walsh said. "I'm certainly not a man without a job. But I don't know if there are many people available with my kind of experience. I don't think I would coach, but I would help coach."

Walsh, a consultant for the NFL, tours the country making speeches to corporations and is also writing a management book.

"I think it's really unfortunate what has happened in L.A.," Walsh said. "People get more games on TV than they used to, but those ratings will dry up without any hometown identification for a team. I can't believe everybody in Southern California will start cheering for the 49ers or the Chargers. There might not be a lot of impact on the TV ratings this year, but the appeal for the game will change significantly in Southern California with time.

"I think it's a great market, and there should be a team there sooner than later. I'm sure some people would like to step forward and make something happen, but they don't want to appear foolish and embarrass themselves without knowing what's going to happen. That's why I'm not anxious to put myself out front to any great extent."

Two weeks ago, Walsh was in the 49ers' locker room after their victory over Buffalo. Last week he went to Cincinnati to watch the Bengals and Bears.

"The 49ers look so much better than anybody else," he said. "It's not even close.

"Dallas looks like it no longer has it together, and when you go around the league, you just don't see anything to get excited about. Pittsburgh is probably the best team in the AFC. Kansas City had its foot to the floor all season long, but that could start eroding after the game it had in Miami. They were playing so intensely without having a great team, and what happened in Miami could foretell what's going to happen there."

So will the 49ers repeat as Super Bowl champions?

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