Stockdale was the only civilian, as the admiral puts it, in the 49ers' team meeting the night before Walsh's final Super Bowl. He speaks of the experience as one of his honored life's highest honors. "What a great leader Walsh is," says Stockdale. "He is absolutely straight with his men. No matter what pressure he was under, he never lashed out at anybody. I've had experience with tough guys all my life. The Congressional Medal of Honor Society is full of them. No one can top Bill for compassionate, clean effectiveness."
Stockdale is a senior research fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace, whose tower, with a little craning, can be seen from Walsh's office window. Also there is former Secretary of State George Shultz, who last spring had the Walshes to dinner along with a select group of eminent scholars on economics and foreign affairs. Each spoke about problems the country faces in his or her area. When it was Walsh's turn, he was not without ammunition.
He began by saying that SAT scores are up marginally in San Francisco and Oakland inner-city schools because, he said, so many of the kids have dropped out and don't take the tests. Formerly ferocious football high schools have faded because manhood and money are now bestowed less through sports than through gangs and drugs. Walsh said he saw the ghetto turning inward and that we have to change that before it explodes. He proposed a plan to lure children back to schools by doubling the number of teachers and maintenance workers, doubling security to create a structured environment and offering sports, art, drama and vocational training. "That's to get them back," he said. "Then you teach them a little English."
He went on to propose some sort of universal service for young people. "Costly, but a way of breaking down the concrete social strata, a way of getting kids out of the inner city to serve and learn. Then, if they go back, they'll be changed."
Two weeks after the dinner, the Los Angeles riots erupted. Walsh took no comfort in being right, but his grasp of the issues was evidently impressive. Says Stockdale, "If I were president, I'd appoint him to a commission on the problems of the inner cities. He draws an audience of all social classes, from high-rolling fans to the horribly downtrodden."
Walsh will have other chances to influence opinion. The business school and the psychology department at Stanford want him to lecture. He has been interviewed by the Harvard Business Review about keeping executive ego from stifling communication and how to foster individual creativity within a disciplined framework.
For more than a year Geri Walsh has been ramrodding the remodeling of a 1927 adobe ranch house on four acres in Wood-side, 10 minutes from Stanford. "The grounds were untouched for 35 years, and impenetrable," says Walsh as you pass within a thick adobe wall and see the red-tile roofed structure. "There were roses 50 feet high." Now the earth is bare save for groupings of redwoods, oaks and olive trees. The walls and the dust are the same dun hue. "Kind of Tijuana-jail," says Geri.
Walsh takes you through the house, and in room after room he lifts his gaze to new skylights. It seems a joy to him, metaphorically and actually, to let in light.
The house has only two bedrooms, but there will be a wine cellar, and a putting green, and a pool, and beyond the wall two acres of chardonnay and Pinot noir grapes, and above the vines, a view of the wooded Santa Cruz foothills.
"If coaching has a payoff, this is it," says Walsh, acknowledging that college coaches ought not aspire to quite such a retreat. "It took a couple of Super Bowls to afford this."