Over the next four to six weeks, Bill Walsh will have a difficult decision to make: return to football or stay in the television booth.

The coach of the San Francisco 49ers until he retired after the 1988 season, Walsh was one of the game's great innovators before becoming an analyst with NBC (he has seven games remaining on a two-year contract). But lately, Walsh has been sought for his coaching skills.

First, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers said they wanted Walsh after coach Ray Perkins was fired. Then there were reports that Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell has talked with Walsh. A league source said yesterday that Philadelphia Eagles owner Norman Braman was thinking of opening dialogue with Walsh. Eagles Coach Buddy Ryan is in the final year of his contract.

"I've heard that one," Braman joked. "I have a coach. We're not looking for other coaches."

For his part, Walsh likes to play down the possibility of returning. He noted that NBC executives called him on Tuesday and urged him to stay. But late that night he was -- for one of the few times in over a year -- actually discussing the possibility of making the jump back to football.

Walsh said he is a "little more open now to the possibility of coming back to pro football than I was a year ago. But that doesn't mean I'm going to."

Walsh, 59, said it would be unlikely for him to return to coaching. Rather, he would prefer to be a general manager. Walsh said he'd likely seek a position similar to that of Al Davis, president and managing partner of the Los Angeles Raiders. Basically, Walsh would like to have total control of football operations.

The leading candidate for his services right now is Tampa Bay. At the 49ers-New York Giants game on Dec. 3, Walsh sat with 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. in the owner's box. At the request of Tampa Bay owner Hugh Culverhouse, DeBartolo talked with Walsh about the advantages of becoming general manager of the Buccaneers.

Walsh said: "My appreciation for what the {Buccaneers} have is genuine. I know people may think there is some other motive for me saying that I have great admiration for Hugh Culverhouse, but it's the truth. I feel good about where that organization is and what it is capable of doing. If someone were to ask me about Cleveland, I'd have a lot of positive things to say about them too.

"I have to say that if I did come back, I doubt it would be as a coach. I don't want to ruin my health by coaching again. But this is all speculation, because I haven't spoken with Hugh Culverhouse or anything."

Then Walsh said: "But if I did get back into it I would like to provide the kind of direction to a ballclub that Al {Davis} does. I would want to be directly involved in all phases of the operation rather than being the executive that puts out memos and sits in the nice mahogany chair.

"The role I'm used to is the one I had in San Francisco because I held both jobs {general manager and coach} for so long. I'm used to having some control, rather than being the old athletic director sitting in his office staring at the trophies. That's not the role for me.

"If I did it I wouldn't have any specific demands. I wouldn't say, 'I want all the power.' That's not me. But I would have to be sure it was the right thing for me to do."