Following high school, Walsh attended San Mateo Junior College for two years as a quarterback. He then transferred to San José State, where he played as a tight end and a defensive end. He also participated in intercollegiate boxing. Walsh graduated with a bachelor's degree in physical education in 1955. He served under Bob Bronzan as a graduate assistant coach on the Spartans football coaching staff and graduated with a master's degree in physical education from San Jose State in 1959. His master's thesis was entitled Defensing the Pro-Set Formation. Following graduation, Walsh coached at Washington High School in Fremont, leading the football and swim teams.
"I was very impressed, individually, by his knowledge, by his intelligence, by his personality and hired him," Levy said.
After Cal, he did a stint at Stanford as an assistant coach, before beginning his pro coaching career.
He then moved to the AFL expansion Cincinnati Bengals in 1968, serving under Paul Brown for seven seasons as one of the architects of the team's offense, built around quarterback Ken Anderson and wide receiver Isaac Curtis.
When Brown retired as head coach following the 1975 season and appointed Bill "Tiger" Johnson as his successor, Walsh resigned and served as an assistant coach for Tommy Prothro with the San Diego Chargers in 1976. In a 2006 interview , Walsh claimed that during his tenure with the Bengals, Brown "worked against my candidacy" to be a head coach anywhere in the league. "All the way through I had opportunities, and I never knew about them," Walsh said. "And then when I left him, he called whoever he thought was necessary to keep me out of the NFL."
In 1977, Walsh was hired as the head coach at Stanford where he stayed for two seasons. His two Stanford teams went 9-3 in 1977 with a win in the Sun Bowl, and 8-4 in 1978 with a win in the Bluebonnet Bowl; his notable players at Stanford included quarterbacks Guy Benjamin and Steve Dils, wide receivers James Lofton and Ken Margerum, and running back Darrin Nelson. Walsh was the Pac-8 Coach of the Year in 1977.
In 1979, Walsh was hired as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. The long-suffering 49ers went 2-14 in 1978, the season before Walsh's arrival and repeated the same dismal record in his first season. Walsh doubted his abilities to turn around such a miserable situation -- but earlier in 1979, Walsh drafted quarterback Joe Montana from Notre Dame in the third round.
Under Walsh the 49ers won Super Bowl championships in 1981, 1984 and 1988. Walsh served as 49ers head coach for ten years, and during his tenure he and his coaching staff perfected the style of play known popularly as the West Coast offense.
In addition to drafting Joe Montana, Walsh drafted Ronnie Lott, Charles Haley, and Jerry Rice. He also traded a 2nd and 4th round pick in the 1987 draft for Steve Young. His success with the 49ers was rewarded with his election to the Professional Football Hall of Fame in 1993.
In 1981, the 49ers blew out the Cowboys in week 6 of the regular season. On Monday Night Football that week, the 49ers' win was not included in the famous halftime highlights. Walsh felt that this was because the Cowboys were scheduled to play the Rams the next week in a rare Sunday night game and that showing the highlights of the 49ers' win would potentially hurt the game's ratings. However, Walsh used this as a motivating factor for his team, who felt they were disrespected.
The 49ers faced the Cowboys again that same season in the NFC title game. The game was very close, and in the fourth quarter Walsh called a series of running plays as the 49ers marched down the field against the Cowboys defense, which had been expecting the 49ers to mainly pass. The 49ers came from behind to win the game on Dwight Clark's memorable TD reception (The Catch), propelling Walsh to his first Super Bowl. Walsh and the 49ers defeated Cincinnati in the Super Bowl, which was played in Pontiac, Michigan. Walsh would later write that the 49ers' two wins over the Rams showed a shift of power in their division, while the wins over the Cowboys showed a shift of power in the conference.
After leaving the coaching ranks immediately following his team's victory in Super Bowl XXIII, Walsh went to work as a broadcaster for NBC (teaming with Dick Enberg to form the lead broadcasting team). Walsh returned to Stanford in 1992 to once again serve as head coach for the school, leading the Cardinal to a 10-3 record and a Pacific-10 Conference co-championship. Stanford finished the season with an upset victory over Penn State in the Blockbuster Bowl on January 1, 1993 and a # 9 ranking in the final AP Poll. After consecutive losing seasons, Walsh left Stanford in 1994 and retired from coaching.
Walsh would also return to the 49ers, serving as Vice President and General Manager from 1999 to 2001 and was a special consultant to the team for three years afterwards. In 2004, Walsh was appointed as special assistant to the athletic director at Stanford. In 2005, after then-athletic director Ted Leland stepped down to take a position at the University of the Pacific, Walsh was named interim athletic director. He also acted as a consultant for his alma mater San Jose State University in their search for an Athletic Director and Head Football Coach in 2005.
Bill Walsh was also the author of two books, a motivational speaker, and taught classes at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Walsh appeared in a recent Coors Light commercial. He plays the role of a coach who answers questions about football. Coors Light-drinking fans ask him questions, saying things such as "We have a 12 pack and four cans" to which Walsh replies "Well, 12 and 4 is pretty good.."
This was actually taking old footage of Walsh's press conferences and editing footage of fans asking questions, and the 12 & 4 comment was probably referring to an opponent's record before a playoff game. Most likely this refers to the Chicago Bears in Walsh's final season of 1988, whom the 49ers handily defeated 28-3 in the NFC Championship at Chicago's Soldier Field in January 1989. The Bears were 12-4 in the regular season and the top seed in the NFC for the playoffs.