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Bay Watch

Bill Walsh, Back With 49ers, Will Be Looking Over Shoulders of Seifert and Trestman


SANTA CLARA, Calif. — His winning percentage, .760, is best in NFL history and eight more victories will make him the San Francisco 49ers' winningest coach, but George Seifert remains most insecure.

It's that consultant.

"Insultant?" said Seifert, and he should know, after working for Bill Walsh as an assistant for 11 years.

Official happy-talk pronouncements aside, Bill Walsh, the 64-year-old "Genius," the arrogant brains behind the West Coast offense and egotistical winner of three Super Bowls, has returned to the 49ers to make George Seifert squirm.

"I think this year will probably be like '94, another live-or-die season," Seifert told Sports Illustrated earlier this summer. In 1994 Seifert went to work each day believing he would be fired if unsuccessful in putting the Lombardi Trophy in owner Edward DeBartolo's hands.

San Francisco won XXIX, but failed to repeat last season, a high-treason offense for the folks who set 49er policy. Previously criticized for overreacting to such disappointment, the brass confirmed its hyperactive reputation this off-season by inviting Walsh to meddle in Seifert's business.

"I think it's a good thing, as long as we continue to communicate," said Seifert, who blocked Walsh's hiring as general manager in 1991. "But we understand the pitfalls. Probably, if there are problems, there will be a vote on who should be head coach and all that kind of stuff."

When the 49ers' offense went into the dumper in 1994, losing to Philadelphia, 40-8, the team's flag-ship radio station conducted a poll: "Should Seifert be replaced by Jimmy Johnson?"

Eighty-five percent responded favorably to Johnson, and insecurity had become Seifert's constant companion.

Two years later, Seifert is still smarting. Asked last week about the long-term signing of wide receiver Jerry Rice, Seifert replied, "He's going to have more longevity than I do." Then, for added emphasis, he told the reporter to put that in the story.

Over yonder stands Walsh, the man who picked the land, helped arrange the deal and then plotted the plans for this very practice facility. No, the great one never really went away.

"Every now and then we're going to bang our head into the wall because it's not like this has been done before," Seifert said. "There's no book on how to do this, but the main thing is everybody is willing to work together."

There have already been problems. The 49ers brought in Walsh to fine-tune an offense that scored the most points in the league last season, while placing second in yardage only to Detroit. And that was with injured quarterback Steve Young sitting out five games.

Understandably perplexed by Walsh's addition, offensive coordinator Marc Trestman offered his resignation. Although reassured by management that all was well, there were questions being raised quietly about Trestman's game-day management in the coaches' booth.

"It's not an easy situation for any of us, because the dynamic is much different than anywhere else," Trestman has told reporters. "This has never happened. You can't draw parallels in any sports situation like this.

"You could put a Sid Gillman or anybody like that [in a consulting role], but nobody has ever had this position with the legacy of a Bill Walsh, in my opinion, and his relationship with the administration, the organization, management, George, me. It's never happened. So you've got to have some people that are very sensitive for it to be able to work out, and I think we have those people."

Pressure, however, is mounting. Trestman and Seifert are being asked to explain the team's wretched offensive performance in the exhibition season. Not since 1979 have the 49ers scored fewer points. In the team's last 23 offensive series, it produced one field goal. The first offensive unit posted three touchdowns in 15 series, but poor offensive line play allowed Young to get sacked seven times.

None of this has much to do with Walsh, who has his own inner conflicts to quell. His three-year repeat stint as Stanford's coach ended in uninspiring fashion and a try at broadcasting resulted, mercifully, in his microphone being turned off. There were other jobs, too, such as work for the NFL in shaping its World League rules for scoring, column-writing for Forbes magazine, motivational speaking engagements and tutoring for college seniors preparing for the NFL draft.

But nothing could match the adrenaline-pumping thrill of outfoxing Don Shula or crafting a crossing pattern to free Jerry Rice. There are plenty of golf courses to be played, but as Walsh said, "This is what I do. It's what I know, and this is my team--in a general sense."


By George, that's what Seifert's been trying to live down the last seven seasons.

"It's very unusual to have a consultant, who is an ex-significant operating officer in the company," said Jim Collins, co-author of the book, "Built to Last: The Successful Habits of Visionary Companies."

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