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Friday, September 3
Conversation with Bill Walsh

In an interview with ESPN's Gary Miller on Up Close, the San Francisco 49ers' Bill Walsh was less than reassuring about quarterback Jim Druckenmiller's role as heir apparent to Steve Young. He also talked about what happened in the draft and his working relationship with Steve Mariucci. An edited transcript of the interview follows.

Miller: : There is the image that the clock is ticking for this team. Do you have that sense and what are your Super Bowl aspirations for this coming year?

Walsh: Well, this year I think we're one of maybe six teams you'd have to say would be odds on to contend for it. The clock is ticking, in a sense, because we have Steve Young who had his greatest season last year, but will be thirty-eight years of age. Jerry Rice, the greatest receiver of all time, is toward the end of his career. So, from that standpoint we will be going through transition. Now, the transition I hope doesn't affect our win/loss record, doesn't affect what you see on the field, but there is transition. We traded, in a number of cases this year, to get more draft choices even though they were late round picks. We ended up with eight choices, and I'm hopeful all eight will turn out well for us. But there is a certain transition that carries on. Steve Young will not play forever. We must have a man like him to replace him if we expect to continue to win. Jerry Rice is the greatest and yet at some point he'll step away. Then, defensively we have the same kind of things with Merton Hanks and Tim McDonald.

Miller: You said you need somebody to groom and that worked out well with Young after Joe Montana. Jim Druckenmiller has had some off the field problems but he has some problems in camp as well because he doesn't fit that prototype West Coast offense. Can he be the heir, and if not, where are you going to look?

Walsh: Well, you adapt your offense to your players. The mobility of Joe Montana and especially Steve Young is a big factor with 49er football. Other people have emulated in a sense, but if we didn't have a real active quarterback, say we had a Dan Fouts, who to me was one of the greatest ever, then we would do different kinds of things with him. So we're not stuck in a rigid position as to what fills that role.

But on the other hand, Jim has not played enough to prove that he can be the heir apparent. We have Jeff Garcia, who was a dynamite player in the Canadian League, much like Flutie, who has joined us, who is very impressive in drills. He is another man that could conceivably be the replacement, but if there is a single person out there now, like a Jake Plummer, that's waiting in the wings, we don't have that.

Miller: Well, I've got to call you on two things: Jake Plummer is a guy who you wanted them to draft instead of Druckenmiller. How disappointed are you and how have you handled him? He knows now that you wanted him to play in the World League and he wouldn't do it. How is that fallout going to be now that camp has started?

Walsh: Well, Jim and I have a good relationship. We talk about technique. I can help Steve Mariucci to the extent that I can talk about technique to players. I'm never going to talk strategy or tactics. That's obviously his area (Mariucci). So Jim and I have spent time talking about that and working on it, so we have a great relationship. Now the fact that Jim hasn't had a chance yet to produce is something that maybe was the fault of the 49ers. Conceivably, he can do the job. As I said, Jeff Garcia is fine too. So between those two we're looking into this next season.

I don't know what to say about the future. I know we'll know about every quarterback that's out there. And of course people have said "why didn't you draft a quarterback?" Well, it was really impossible to do that. We drafted in the first round late and then in the third round late. There was no second round pick to make any kind of maneuvering prospect possible. We couldn't move up. We couldn't do anything with it, and so consequently we've gone ahead and said we like Jim Druckenmiller and Jeff Garcia. We tried and we couldn't do it so here we are.

Miller: You are the quarterback guru. What a class we have this year, and you had some guys who you would have loved to been able to draft but it didn't play out that way. Give us a quick handicap of the stars of this draft class.

Walsh: Well, you can just go almost in the order they were drafted as to how most people had them figured. (Cade) McNown was really a top player but he was picked toward the end of that run of quarterbacks. Akili Smith surprised everybody because of his amazing athletic ability. He jumped up some. And of course (Tim) Couch. (Donovan) McNabb is an outstanding one. So, there are any number of great players . Daunte Culpepper I thought was as good as any.

Miller: Yeah, I know you like Culpepper a lot. How much did you think about Shaun King, who slipped into the second round? You could have taken him in the first round?

Walsh: We could have taken him. We had to have a defensive lineman with Bryant Young injured. We just had to fill that role or I would have taken Shaun King. Steve Mariucci agreed a hundred percent, but we couldn't do it. Now, we're in the second round and I'm trying to trade up with Steve and John McVay to maybe get Shaun King, but it couldn't be done. We didn't have any ammunition unless we would have given up the entire draft for the next year. Well, we have Jim Druckenmiller. We have Jeff Garcia. I think they'll play comparable to a Shaun King this year. So we just had to go forward with filling in those defensive voids that we had on our ballclub through the trades, loss of athletes and aging, and just look for the quarterback of the future at some other point.

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