When he was coaching, Bill Walsh was called a genius. Now, as he begins his second year as a broadcaster, the genius tag is gone.
"He's got potential," his supporters say.
Others aren't as kind.
Maybe Walsh thought it would be easy. He had worked hard and mastered coaching, so it followed he would do the same thing with broadcasting, as longtime friend John Madden did.
It hasn't worked out quite that way. There have been times when he has asked himself, "What have I done? What have I gotten myself into?"
It's not that Walsh has embarrassed himself as a football commentator. All things considered, he is doing all right. But John Madden, he's not.
Walsh, 58, is proud of his coaching accomplishments. In his first year as leader of the San Francisco 49ers, they went 2-14. Two years later, they won the Super Bowl -- the first of three under Walsh during the 1980s.
Now he's seeking the same kind of turnaround in his broadcasting career. This is an important year for Walsh. His bosses at NBC expect improvement. They took a chance on him. They're looking for a payoff.
Walsh seems determined to make it. And if he doesn't?
Then it's on to career No. 3, whatever it might be, or back to coaching.
"I don't think going back to the 49ers is a possibility, and I'm really too entrenched in the Bay Area to leave" for a coaching job, he said. "Maybe a small-college job in the area someplace, but that's really remote. I really don't think there is such a school. The problem is, I'd tell myself to relax and low-key it, but I know I'd end up wanting to win just as bad as I did with the 49ers."
Walsh said he misses coaching.
"It's like someone who gets out of prison after 30 years and doesn't know what to do and has trouble adjusting to the outside world," he said. "You're a little lost.
"After more than 30 years in coaching, you become accustomed to certain routines. At the time, you may not like a lot of things. But after you leave, it's hard to adjust, particularly if you've reached a certain stature, which I think I did."
But for now, his mind is mostly on broadcasting. He needs to improve on "everything."
NBC has done its part, providing him with plenty of rehearsal time before he worked a game last season, and even hiring a voice teacher to work with him.
"The problem with my voice is it starts to get higher and higher as I talk," Walsh said. "Someone will tell me not to worry about it, to concentrate on the content, then someone else will tell me my voice needs work."
Walsh has been hearing more criticism from his NBC bosses this season.
"Last year, I was the coach of the Super Bowl champions, and treated with a certain reverence," he said. "Now I'm just another broadcaster and easier to approach. Last year, I may have worked too hard. I'd end up with notes everywhere, too many notes. Now I'm learning to edit out what isn't important."
He said putting names with numbers has been tough.
"In coaching, I never worried about it," he said. "Either I knew a player's name or his number. It wasn't important to connect the two."
In June 1989 Dick Ebersol, NBC Sports's new president, and Terry O'Neil, the new executive producer, approached Walsh about a job. They never offered him anything but the No. 1 commentator's job alongside Dick Enberg. Five months earlier, Walsh had stepped down as coach of the 49ers and taken the position of executive vice president of football operations.
Ebersol and O'Neil believed that they had to go to him with their best shot.
"You can't say, 'Bill, we'd like you to do four or five regional games on our seventh team the first two years and we'll see if you're any good,' " O'Neil said.
"We felt we were fortunate to get him. If that means that he got thrown into the fire a little sooner than we'd like, so be it. He's been through pressure situations before."
Said Walsh: "I guess I was naive. I never realized that the announcing teams were given numbers -- the No. 1 team, the No. 2 team and so on. That's very important to the people in the business. Heck, I used to think Madden worked a lot of our games just because he lived in the area."
Walsh said he was stunned by the egos and the politicking in his new profession.
"I just wasn't aware of it," he said. "There are some very nice people in this business, but there are some people who think they set the standards for broadcasting. I've been amazed.
"I know I could never be another John Madden. . . . I could never copy his style. I just hope that people become accustomed to the way I do a game and that someday my style will be the accepted style."