West Coast Offense We know that football teams, similar to organizations everywhere, improve by going through an evolutionary progression as they learn, apply, adapt, and learn again. Bill Walsh accomplished all these by establishing and mastering the steps involved in that crucial process. No individual in the history of the game is more qualified to put forth such individual guidance. During his illustrious career, Bill Walsh was more than a football coach. In a very real sense he has been an exceptional visionary. Although he is widely renowned as the architect of the West Coast offense, his innovative approach to the game has extended far beyond his imaginative ideas on offense.
During the time he spent working with the San Francisco 49ers, he transformed San Franciscos game into an art form. To Walsh, football was more than a physical contest, and success is more than a victory on the playing field. Success is the progression of worthy ideas and goals. Such a progression involves at least two key cerebral factors, attention to detail and an absolute commitment to perfection. To Walshs way of reasoning, no detail or situation is too unimportant to be overlooked.
Every possible circumstance that might affect the performance of the team and the productivity of the organization should be addressed. In turn, a contingency plan to handle each situation should be developed. In his more than four decades of involvement with the game as a player, a coach, and a top-level administrator, no individual has had a more worthy or meaningful impact on the players he coached or the coaches with whom he worked. A list of coaches that served with Walsh, and who subsequently went on to achieve remarkable success as head coaches on both the collegiate and professional levels is quite extraordinary. As a result, his influence continues to be felt throughout all levels of the game today.
As you read through my manuscript about the West Coast offense, you will read about a detailed offense that thrives on perfection. Throughout my manuscript Bill Walsh and sometimes LaVell Edwards will continue to be referred to, having being the architects of such an ingenious offense. Before we can know more about the offense, we should know more about the history of the father of the West Coast offense. Bill Walsh was born in to an environment where most children played sports in the streets and on neighborhood lawns . He grew up in a neighborhood where there were no basketball courts, so playing football was the only option. Walsh grew up in area of southwest Los Angeles, better known as south central L.A.
South central L.A. was the home of University of Southern California. Having lived in the atmosphere of USC, only served to heighten Walshs interest in football . In later years, Walsh had the opportunity to hang around USC as a ball boy for the Trojan football team. In the process, Walsh made friends with several USC player that went on to be professional athletes and coaches.
If you think Walsh came from a football background you are wrong. Though his father played a very influential role in his life, ingraining strong work ethics, (evident in most of Walshs football teams). During the week his father was employed at a blue collar job in an auto plant. Walsh and family traveled from place to place for employment reasons. Because of the numerous travels, Walsh had the opportunity to attend three different high schools.
He played on the football team at each high school, sometimes as quarterback, but usually as a running back because it was probably easier to learn the system. Walsh attended San Mateo Community College for two seasons, where he was allowed to play quarterback on a regular basis. After attending San Mateo and gaining a Associates Degree, he attended San Jose State University, where he had the opportunity to play as a split end on the Spartan football team, coached by the legendary Bob Bronzan . Bronzan was a typical hard nosed coach, he demanded high standards of performance at all times from everyone associated with the team. He was a coach that stressed the fact that everyone needed to be willing to make sacrifices if the team was to succeed.
Last but not least Bronzan was very creative offensively. After school Walsh was drafted into the Army. He spent his entire two-year of duty at Ft. Ord in California, where he got to play on the post football team and box. After the Army, Walsh returned to San Jose State to pursue a graduate degree and Bronzan hired him on his staff as a graduate assistant coach.
Bronzan got the credit as being Bill Walshs mentor. I can imagine Bronzan spent countless hours with Walsh working to develop the skills and abilities to be a good football coach. After finishing graduate school, Walsh got a position as a head coach at a high school in Fremont, California. Despite being only 24 years old Walsh felt confident that he had learned enough to be a head coach. After spending three years as a head coach at the high school level, with Bronzans support Marv Levy hired him to be a member of his staff at University of California – Berkley.
Moving right up the coaching ladder Walsh had gained a head coaching position at a high school when he was 24 and three years later he was a full time assistant at a Division I college. Two years under his belt at the Division I level on Levys staff he was appointed Walsh as defensive coordinator. Walsh did not feel completely prepared for this position, but the experience proved to be very important. After three seasons with Marv Levy and the Cal Bears, Walsh began his association with Stanford. John Ralston hired Walsh to be a member of the Cardinals staff.
In his first year working for Ralston, he was appointed the chief recruiter, administrative assistant, and junior varsity coach. Then he was appointed as his defensive backs coach. When you actually sit down and try to summarize how you pursued the major goals in your life, it is relatively difficult to determine from which point you should began. Most people interested in football want to know where did Walsh develop his professional philosophies, and in particular the West Coast offense. All factors considered, the birth of the West Coast offense started with the legendary Paul Brown, from whom Walsh worked for in Cincinnati, and the offensive genius Sid Gillman.
Gillman made his mark in 10 seasons with the San Diego Chargers, leading them to five championship appearances. Walsh learned from Gillman when Gillman hired him with the Oakland Raiders. Walsh gives credit to Gillman as being the biggest influence in his early career. Gillman was just one of the numerous pro coaches whom Walsh studied from. Walsh also credits individuals such as Blanton Collier, Al Davis, Don Coryell and Clark Shaughnessy, the legendary Stanford coach and Chicago Bear assistant to George Halas who brought the T formation into college and professional football . Having the chance to work at the college level at two great schools like Cal and Stanford had to be meaningful for his development as a coach.
What many people dont realize is that Walsh spent his first few years in college football on the defensive side of the ball. Working as Marv Levys defensive coordinator at Cal, then later with John Ralston at Stanford as his defensive backs coach, provided him with experience important to coaching offensive football. The time Walsh spent with Cincinnati Bengals seemingly gave Walsh a chance to develop his own coaching philosophy and to put them into practical application. At the time, Cincinnati was an expansion team that had Virgil Carter as its quarterback. Virgil Carter was a quarterback who had a great collegiate career at Brigham Young.
Virgil Carter was only six feet tall and without a throwing arm, but he was a good runner. Back in those days from film I have seen, the Bengals werent strong enough on the offensive line to be able to run the ball well, Walsh decided that the best chance to win football games was to somehow control the ball. As a result, Walsh devised a ball-control passing game in the hope that if the Bengals could make 25 first downs in a given game and also had good special teams play, football games wouldnt be hard to win . Over the eight year period Walsh was in Cincinnati, he and his staff were able to develop a system known today as the West Coast offense. Walsh couldnt have never known the system as being an all-encompassing system.
If he did know he probably would have patented the name and made a lot of money from it. At age 47, Bill Walsh got his first chance to be a head coach since he coached at the high school level in the late 1950s . He was named head football coach at Stanford University in 1977. Most people would consider coaching at Stanford an opportunity of a lifetime. This position allowed him to take full control of an organization and field test the precepts and philosophies he had worked to develop over the years. What matters most is that he also got a chance to further develop an offensive system, but at a decidedly different level.
Coaching football at the college level probably needs more involvement because of the varying stages of development of football players. Teaching is more comprehensive in college because a dramatic range exists in the abilities of the players. The success Walsh had at Stanford, culminating in a national ranking a win in the Bluebonnet Bowl, gave him the chance to become the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers in 1979. The 49ers had been virtually dismembered in the late 1970s by mismanagement and terrible personnel decisions. The apathy in the Bay area for the 49ers was at an all-time high, as evidence by the fact they couldnt sell many tickets. The 49ers had been through a tumultuous period with differences of head coaches and general managers who constantly were at odds with one another.
As a result, the organization had no single leadership and no meaningful direction. To make things worse the 49ers had few draft choices with which to rebuild due to some poor trades. When Walsh was hired they made him head coach, and he was also in charge of all football operations, similar to what the Seattle Seahawks have done when they hired Mike Holmgreen. The standards that Walsh set coaching the West Coast offense were miraculous. His primary goal was to get players that fit the system.
Therefore, I will give an idea on what type of players by position that Walsh wanted. The wide receiver position is probably the second most important position in this offense only because of the passing. The ideal size of a wide receiver should be at least 6 foot 3 inches, and weigh about 210 pounds. To play effectively, a wide receiver must posses several traits and characteristics. For example, a wide receiver should have a high level of agility.
The agility to change his body position is essential if a wide receiver is to be able to get his hips turned and his hands in position to catch a ball that is not perfectly thrown. Body control is particularly critical for a wide receiver who wants to get to the highest tier of play. Wide receivers in this offense must also be relatively strong. Strength can help wide receivers in several ways. For example, strength plays a role in a wide receiver being able to maintain his balance after a collision with his defenders.
Strength also affects a receivers ability to go up for the ball and his ability to maintain his performance level as the game progresses . All factors considered the stronger a player is, the less likely he is to be injured. Soft hands are also vital. Its a given that to have a legitimate chance to play, a receiver must have outstanding hands. The key is to be able to catch the ball in a crowded situation, while on the move.
Almost all potential receivers can run under the ball and catch it in the open. In reality, however, most catches must be made with the ball and the defender closing at the same instant. In such a situation, the receiver must get his body in position to catch the ball, actually the ball and be hit all at the same moment. Wide receivers must also have the ability to focus. They must be able to find the ball, focus on it, and isolate it from everything else that is happening around them.
When a coach is evaluating videotapes on a particular wide receiver, he looks for and evaluates those plays that demonstrate situations where the player must be focused. Speed also plays a role. While pure (track) speed may be desirable, the ability to increase his foot speed as needed (i.e., explosiveness) and his full stride speed are more important factors for a wide receiver. Acceleration has a number of obvious applications for a wide receiver. Full-stride speed enables a receiver who has the ball in the open field to be able to keep the separation with the closing defenders until he crosses the goal line . He doesn’t have to out-run the defenders or gain ground on them just get to the goal line before the defenders do.
This situation requires full-stride speed, rather than track speed. The NFL has also had a few wide receivers with Olympic-level sprinting speed who lacked full-stride speed. As a result, they weren’t able to score whenever they got tangled up with a defender and weren’t able to get back into full stride quickly enough. Coachability is another factor that is important that wide receivers have (as it is for all players). Coaching can help enhance a receiver’s ability to evade a defender at the line of scrimmage, to read the form of coverage, and to change a pattern accordingly. Wide receivers must also be durable.
Durability is a factor because receivers get hit a lot. Often, they’re hit when they’re in a vulnerable position (i.e., being hit by a much larger opponent after running a hooking pattern against a linebacker). Wide receivers are finely tuned athletes who need to be in top condition to perform well. If they are hurt or injured, it can be very difficult for them to function at a high level. Unlike a few other positions (e.g., offensive lineman), wide receivers must be almost totally injury free to perform well. Walsh has had the luxury to coach a number of great wide receivers, including Chip Myers, Charlie Joiner, James Lofton, Ken Margerum, Isaac Curtis, Dwight Clark, John Taylor and the incomparable Jerry Rice.
At one time or another, all of them were either Pro Bowl players or All-Americans in college. Each, however, was uniquely qualified and different from the others. For example, Chip Myers was 6’5, while Charlie Joiner was only 5’10; Isaac Curtis was an NCAA sprint champion; Dwight Clark ran a 4.6 40-yard dash, etc . The one thing that they had in common, however, was that they were all brilliant performers. Another important position in the West Coast offense is the tight end position. The ideal size for a tight end in this offense is about six foot, four and one half inches, weighing about 245 pounds.
The requirements for playing tight end depend primarily on the system a team deploys. Accordingly, a West Coast offense team must find the athlete who best fits the team’s approach to the offense. Some teams want a tight end who has girth, ballast and strength. For these teams, the tight end is one of the primary keys to their offensive system because he has the size and physical tools to secure the point of attack. If the tight end is able to block a defensive lineman who is positioned on the edge of the offense, then a team automatically has an increased likelihood of having a running game with just that single feature. In many of the defensive alignments of the 1990s, defensive linemen are lining up adjacent to or across from the tight end, whereas years ago they probably were not.
If the tight end can block those defensive linemen, then this entire offense has a focal point from which to work. This type of tight end can be a dominating factor. He is bigger and stronger, though less quick and agile, than the other type of tight end. Teams tend to fashion their passing game with him in the vicinity of the linebackers. Accordingly, he must have both the ability to absorb a ball as he is being hit and soft hands. On virtually every pass thrown to him, he is going to be hit almost simultaneously with the catch.
This type of tight end also does not need to possess great speed; a 5.0 time on the 40-yard dash will get the job done. The major shortcoming attendant to his lack of extraordinary speed is the fact that he is not going to be able to clear defenders on certain pass patterns to help other receivers. All in all, that limitation is not that significant compared to all the blocking capabilities he provides. The other extreme would be a Brent Jones type tight end, who can be a major factor all over the field. This type of tight end is a dream come true for the West Coast offense. He should have the ability and the foot speed to go anywhere on the field quickly across the field, to the outside, down the field, etc.
In the process, he will be able to either bring defenders with him or find openings in the defenses. This kind of tight end needs the body control, the great hands and a lot of the skills of wide receiver, although more girth (size) than a wide receiver because many of the passes he catches will be in the vicinity of linebackers and even defensive linemen. The quicker and faster type of tight end will utilize an all-technique (rather than bulk) approach when blocking. It is essential that he learns and develops those blocking techniques that he can use with a reasonable level of effectiveness against defensive linemen and linebackers. Unlike the stranger, bigger type of tight end, he will not be able to use amass-against mass approach to blocking.
Also, this type of tight end is considered the great all-around type. This type of tight end is so gifted (athletically) that he can do all of the things both of the other types of tight ends would normally be expected to do. A multi-talented, all around tight end who is both a great blocker and a great receiver gives his team multiple offensive options. The next tool in the West Coast offense has to be the offensive lineman. Like most offenses offensive linemen make the offenses great.
The offensive tackle should be the tallest on the offensive line, especially in the West Coast offense because so many of the passing plays are across the middle. The ideal size for an offensive tackle has to be at least six foot, six inches, and 310 pounds. The National Football League (NFL) has a number of highly skilled offensive tackles who weigh 330 pounds or so. In reality, these athletes play well in spite of weighing 330 pounds, not because of it. The only apparent benefit of weighing that much is to attract the attention of the television crew. While most of them m …