John Lynch had already embarked on what he expected would be a long career in baseball when he received word legendary coach Bill Walsh wanted to visit with him.
“I’m getting chills thinking about it,” Lynch said on Sunday morning, just hours after the rest of the world found out he was selected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2021.
Lynch was a second-round draft pick in 1992 of the Florida Marlins as a right-handed pitcher.
He was a part-time safety at Stanford after Dennis Green converted him from quarterback. In 1992, Walsh returned as Stanford's head coach after he had already won three Super Bowls with the 49ers.
Lynch was a starting pitcher for the Erie Sailors of the Single-A New York-Penn League. His baseball career seemed to be off to a good start with a 2.15 ERA in 29.1 innings pitched during that summer.
He received a call from Walsh’s assistant, Jane Walsh (no relation). She told Lynch that Walsh would like to speak with him. Bill Walsh asked to meet with Lynch in person once he got back to the Bay Area.
“I’ll never forget as long as I live," Lynch recalled. "He said, ‘I understand the great opportunity you have in baseball, but I believe you can be an All-Pro safety in the NFL.'
“It took all my courage to say, ‘With all due respect, Coach Walsh, I played one year at safety and I played half the snaps, if that. What leads you to believe (that)?’”
Walsh then produced a video with cutups of Lynch in action on the football field. And compared some of his highlights to plays to a safety he knew very well -- a future Hall of Famer whom he brought to the 49ers in the 1981 draft.
“The detail coach Walsh went through,” Lynch said. “He made a tape and it was a play I made my junior year and a play Ronnie Lott had made the previous year. Then, a play I made blitzing the quarterback and a play Ronnie Lott had made.”
That was about all Lynch had to hear from Walsh, who would be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993 -- the same year the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Lynch in the third round of the NFL draft.
“I think of all the people who spoke this into existence, and Coach Walsh was instrumental, because I would've gone off and played baseball,” Lynch said. “I signed with the Marlins. My heart was with football, but I said, ‘Hey, I have a future in baseball.' And until Coach Walsh told me otherwise, that’s where I was going.
“I certainly would not be here without Coach Walsh, and God bless his soul. I know he’s looking down smiling.”
Walsh died of leukemia on July 30, 2007.
Lynch went on to be selected to nine Pro Bowls in 15 NFL seasons with the Buccaneers and Denver Broncos. He was hired as 49ers general manager in January 2017.