The Fritz Pollard Alliance, named for the first black coach in NFL history, is dedicated to the advancement of minority hiring in the NFL.

Only one white man has received its most prestigious award: Bill Walsh.

If you think Walsh was only about winning Super Bowls and designing revolutionary offenses, ask Marvin Lewis or Tyrone Willingham.

"Bill put in place a program for minority coaches to educate them to the full scope of being an NFL coach, everything that happens behind the scenes," Willingham said. "That program really changed the landscape."

Willingham was one of the first to participate in Walsh's program, which was created in 1987. Dozens of other have followed, including Lewis.

"(Walsh) has done as much as anybody in terms of promoting minorities, and not just coaches but front-office people," said John Wooten, chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance. "The minority internship that the league adopted -- it all started with him."

Two decades ago, Wooten was scouting for the Dallas Cowboys when he helped found a program that worked to create summer internship opportunities for black coaches.

One day he got a call from Walsh -- and everything changed.

"Bill said, 'I know what you're trying to do. If there are any young coaches we can help you with, I'll bring them to the 49ers and we'll train them,'" Wooten said.

Walsh formed the Minority Coaching Fellowship program, the first of its kind in the NFL. It allowed participants to experience all aspects of being an NFL coach, from administrative duties to film and player evaluations.

It was eventually adopted league-wide and over the years has produced some of the most accomplished coaches in the game, including Tony Dungy. (SaberCats coach Darren Arbet participated in the program in 2004 with the Atlanta Falcons.)

Two years ago, Walsh received the Paul "Tank" Younger Award, named for the first NFL player from the list of Historically Black Colleges and Universities and given in recognition of outstanding contributions to enhance opportunities for blacks in the NFL.

"What Coach Walsh did affected the entire game of football," Willingham said. "He gave new insight to the game, especially to minority coaches."

Contact Jon Wilner at jwilner@mercurynews.com.