Comeback Kid - Part II

By February of 1989, Jimmy Johnson would be on his way to Dallas to replace the legendary Tom Landry on the Cowboys sideline. Suddenly, there was an opening for the University of Miami job and the players lobbied long and hard for offensive coordinator Gary Stevens.

But instead Dennis Erickson, a long-time friend and acquaintance of athletic director Sam Jankovich, would get the job coming over from Washington St. That decision would eventually lead to Walsh being reunited with Johnson in the 'Lone Star' state.

"Ultimately, I felt like I wasn't going to learn or get a lot out of my senior season with Dennis Erickson as the head coach," said Walsh, on his decisions to eventually bypass his senior year at Miami and enter the supplemental draft." I mean I really would have enjoyed working with Gary Stevens one more year. Gary didn't get the job, Dennis Erickson did. So I gave Dennis an opportunity, I spent a couple of weeks with him during two-a-days, went through his offensive system and I just felt like I was going to regress a little bit as a quarterback, as opposed to progress.

"And I just felt like, 'Y'know what? This is not going to be enjoyable.' Now, I knew we were going to be a very good team and that we had a great defense and I knew that offensively we were going to be in great shape and I knew we had a chance to win a championship and I could've held every Miami record. But that really wasn't important to me. What was important is, am I going to improve as a player?"

Miami would end up winning it's third national title with Craig Erickson under center, while Walsh and Johnson had gone from the proverbial penthouse to the outhouse. The Cowboys would finish the '89 season with a dismal 1-15 mark.

"It was eye-opening as far as the confidence level because after we lost a few in a row, it got to the point during the game, it was like, 'OK, who's going to screw up this week?'," said Walsh of that nightmarish rookie season, where he led Dallas to it's only win of the season, a 13-3 victory over the arch-rival Washington Redskins at RFK Stadium. "It was really that attitude and I don't know what Jimmy did, I wasn't around there long enough to figure it out but he got rid of that attitude. And one of the biggest things in getting rid of that attitude was bringing Emmitt Smith in. Emmitt was such a great, great guy."

Unfortunately for Walsh, Dallas had tied it's future into Troy Aikman at quarterback and Walsh would eventually be traded for a series of draft picks to the New Orleans Saints that would help build Dallas' dynasty. The 89 season would be his last with Johnson.

"The thing is that he demanded the best," he said of Johnson. "He was such a great psychologist and the fact that he would start his pre-game speech on Wednesday, Thursday, he was laying the message down, 'This is what we've got to expect.' He would plant seeds and then when he'd talk to the team on Saturday, it was like, 'Oh, he kind of tied it all back together.'"

"He was a very good speaker, he was a motivator, he would bust your ass, he said it at a team meeting at Miami, 'Do I play favorites? Hell yes I do. If you take care of me, I'm going to take care of you. If you're out there screwing around, not going to class, getting in trouble and you're not performing on the football field- you're going to be out of here.' And he had that attitude in the NFL and that's fine."

Walsh would go on with his NFL career, finishing things off in 1999 with the Indianapolis Colts, after stints with Dallas, New Orleans, Chicago, St. Louis and Tampa Bay. Despite moving around and not playing as much as he would have liked, he enjoyed his time in the league.

"I did, I played with six teams, six teams in 11 years, you're all over the place," said Walsh, on his travels. "But I played in some great cities, my only regret is that towards the end of my career I didn't get a chance to be a starter again. I was the backup and played a handful of snaps every year as the backup, I didn't get a chance to start one or two games."

"Had I did that, I felt I would have been successful and I would have continued on my career a lil' bit longer but I had an opportunity in New Orleans, for one reason or another, the coach went with another quarterback and I didn't get a chance to succeed. I went to Chicago- had really my best season as an NFL player, we win a playoff game- the next year I don't play a down. I really wanted to stay in Chicago, Dave Wannstedt had other ideas and my career started winding down in a backup role.

"I was satisfied in the fact I stayed healthy," Walsh continued. "I basically proved that as a starter you could win with me. And that was proven everywhere I went and it was just frustrating that I didn't get a chance later in my career to start as a backup where I really could have continued playing for a few more years."

It was thought in the early 90's that the Walsh tradition would continue with his younger brother Chris, a record setting quarterback like his brother in the St. Paul area that came to Miami in 1992 as one of the most heavily recruited players in the country. But eventually his time at Miami would be full of frustration and unfulfilled expectations due to a strange throwing hitched he developed. He would never be the same and he would soon transfer.

"He's doing great," said Walsh of his brother. "He lives and works in Minnesota, married, he's got a family of three and it was frustrating because he was more prepared for college football than I was, mentally as far as understanding the game, was he where I was? I don't know, maybe, maybe not. But he was faster than I was, he was physically stronger, heavier than I was, so it was real frustrating because he had a lot of gifts that I didn't necessarily have and basically I blame it on 'Hurricane Andrew'"

'Hurricane Andrew' would blow through the south in the late summer of 1992, destroying just about everything in it's path. The Miami practice facilities were damaged to a point that the Hurricanes had to make arrangements so they could prepare for the season opener at Iowa.

"'Hurricane Andrew' blew through the campus and Dennis and his staff took everybody up to Vero Beach to practice and they had a lot of time on their hands and they were tinkering around with his motion and they flawed it."

Years later it would be time for the older brother to make the adjustment without the game of football. Currently, Walsh manages a mortgage firm in Palm Beach Gardens called Home Bank Mortage, a company he's been with since retiring from the NFL.

And like many others, life without football was a difficult adjustment for Walsh.

"It was tough," said the well-adjusted Walsh, who majored in finance at UM. "I signed late in training camp in 1999 and that was ultimately my last season. So going up to that point before I signed it was getting a little bit frustrating, a little bit emotional, that I wouldn't be with a team anymore because I had been playing football since I was eight years old and not to be part of a team, that is definitely an emotional adjustment.

"And then I signed and we had a great year and I made a lot of money an everything else was great. I was so much more prepared the next year and I went through the same thing: I worked out the full off-season, I was prepared to play football one more year and we talked to a couple of teams but we never signed. So that year was a lot easier because I had prepared myself the previous year and at that point I came to the realization I may not play football again and just accepted it and made plans for other endeavors."

You always got the sense, even early on, that Walsh would be a success no matter what he did with his life. But he makes no bones about it, nothing is like getting behind center in a big game with 80,000 fans anticipating your every move and nothing can replicate the camaraderie of a close-knit team.

"No, absolutely not," he admits. "I mean you try to find little moments in the business world, a big account that you land, a big month of closing, maybe a record for the company. You just try to live off those moments but absolutely nothing compares to that."

Throughout his playing days, Walsh was always known for being among the most cerebral of players, literally a coach on the field. During his run at Miami, he would play with Rob Chudzinski, Randy Shannon and Greg Mark, who are now veterans of the Hurricane coaching staff. Wouldn't Walsh be a natural to join them on the sideline?

"I thought about it," he says. "I spent some time and I spent some time with Rob, he actually offered me a position on the staff when Butch left and I really wasn't interested in getting into coaching and the fact that even though I feel like there's a lot I could give back to the game, the pressures and the time demands that those guys have, I have a young family and most coaches I talked to said that if you don't have to do it financially- don't do it.

"So I chose not to do it, it was something I explored, definitely. And there was an opportunity at Miami but I chose not to pursue it much further than that."

But like many other alums, Walsh does drop by to keep in touch with the program.

"I do down there occasionally and I talk with the coaches and get my little fix and then I can walk home, those guys have to stay there and spend another five, six hours there," he says with a laugh. "So I go down and watch practice, I'm able to get something out of practice so to speak and that fulfills any sort of desire of coaching."

"I would probably get involved at a pee wee level or maybe even a high school level at some point but I'm not ready to do that, my kids are too young," explained Walsh, who's been married for the past 11 years and has two daughters, ages ten and seven, and five year old son.

Walsh says that he plans on attending three or four Miami games this upcoming season. While many observers point out the similarities to the '87 edition of the Hurricanes that won the national championship after a near miss at the Fiesta Bowl, Walsh believes this years edition mirrors the '88 team that he led.

"I think it's a rebuilding year after a couple of teams- not just last year- I mean you factor in the the four or five first round draft choices the year before and then this past year another few first-round draft choices. So it's a culmination of a two-year rebuilding process," Walsh points out.

"Obviously, anytime you change quarterbacks, you're going to have a lot of focus on the program because of the importance of the position. I think it's in very good hands and Brock Berlin understands what he needs to do," Walsh says of this year's starting quarterback. "Obviously, he just has to go out and do it now. He's got to make those decisions and utilize the talent around him. There's still a heckuva lot of talent there, it's just people you've never heard off. So in a way it's more like the '88 team than the '87 team because you're losing some of those receivers and you're going to have more play-makers that are new to the media, not necessarily new to the program that have to step up now."

It's clear that the program is now back at the same dominant level as when Walsh was calling signals, in certain ways the Hurricane football program has elevated itself from that era as it has continued to evolve.

"I couldn't be more pleased," Walsh says, on the state of the program. "They have one of the best men in college football running the program, Larry Coker, you talk about integrity and just a stand-up guy. I have a special feeling obviously for the three guys that I played with a Miami and actually, one guy that I played with in the NFL with Randy Shannon, be integral parts of that program. Also having three other coaches that coached me when I was there still on the staff (Don Soldinger, Art Kehoe and Dan Werner), so I know there's a lot of good people down there and I know how hard they work and I couldn't be more pleased to see that.

"I know a little bit of the athletes, I know some of the guys on the team and I know they work hard."

(Steve Kim is an avid fan of the Hurricanes, who has been visiting Grassy.com since the 1998 season. Kim is also an owner of his own website MaxBoxing.com. For any questions or comments, you can email him at k9kim@yahoo.com)

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