"Holy Toledo!"

August 1, 2007

Things About Bill Walsh You Might Not Know

Filed under: NFL — Bill @ 3:36 am

Much has been said & written about the legendary coach Bill Walsh, however I thought I would add a few tidbits that you might not be aware of…

While the news of his death wasn’t a surprise (I had heard that he had taken a turn for the worse), it still jolted me. In the back of our minds we knew this day was coming but we never wanted to accept it. As a longtime Raiders fan I was once quite the 49er-hater due in large part to the huge number of fair-weather fans who once claimed to be Raider fans, but suddenly jumped ship in order to be aligned with a winner. That sort of behavior makes me
ill, pick a team and show some loyalty for heavens sake!

Over time I have grown to have great respect for what Bill Walsh accomplished, I even went so far as to read his terrific book “Building A Champion,” which gave me a much greater understanding about the man & the
organization he resurrected.

– Odd Couple: Few people know that Walsh & Al Davis became close friends after Walsh’s retirement. They stayed in regular contact over the years. Davis was at Bill’s bedside in his final days. As it turns out Bill spent his last Saturday with Al & John Madden.

– From “D” To “O”: Until Al Davis hired Walsh in ’66, he had never been primarily an offensive coach (and it was his first pro job as well). He made the transition from defense to offense becoming the backfield coach for the then A.F.L. Oakland Raiders. Walsh later admitted that one of his early mentors was Al Davis.

– Tight End In Motion: Seeing a Tight End going in motion is a regular occurrence these days, but it was a strategy created by Bill Walsh purely by accident. While watch game films Walsh noticed that Bengals TE Bob Trumpy had lined up on the wrong side of the formation. Just before the snap Trumpy moved to the correct side, and in the process completely confused the
defense. Until that moment nobody had ever seen a TE go in motion. Walsh noticed the reaction of the befuddled defense and quickly adopted this tactic as a regular part of his game plan.

– The Real Birth of the “West Coast” Offense: The truth is that the “West Coast Offense” was actually created in the Mid-West, although it was honed to perfection on the west coast (somehow referring to it as the Mid-West
Offense just doesn’t have the same ring to it).

Despite what you may have heard Bill Walsh admitted that his short passing game was born in 1969 out of necessity due to an arm injury to then Bengals QB Greg Cook. Because of the injury Cook was only able to throw the football effectively for about 15 yards. Walsh (& head coach Paul Brown) created an entire game plan consisting of short passes that didn’t require much arm strength. Until opposing defenses figured out that Cook couldn’t throw deep the game plan was quite successful.

When Walsh arrived in S.F. he quickly realized that the sad sack 49ers had no ability to run the ball consistently. In what he described as “an attempt to just get a few first downs” Walsh dusted off the “Greg Cook game plan” and very quickly the 49ers were off and rolling. Unlike Cook, the 49ers QB’s (Steve Deberg & Joe Montana) had sufficient arm strength to throw the ball deep on occasion, thus keeping opposing defenses honest. It made all the difference in the world, and the rest as the say is history.

– Checkers vs. 3D Chess: It didn’t take long for the NFL to notice the game plan wizardry of Bill Walsh. Due to a roster weak on talent Walsh had to use every trick he could think of in order to move the chains. In addition to his short passing game Walsh started using basketball-like tactics to free up his receivers. Using picks & blocking out techniques that had only before been used in basketball, he was able to get his receivers open when their abilities alone could not. Walsh’s innovative strategies combined with improved talent had the 49ers offense ranked near the top of the NFL.

Along the way Walsh was learning and constantly improving his unique passing game & play design. His offense was now capable of gaining early leads, but
they were having trouble putting teams away. He knew that he needed to improve the running game so they could run out the clock late in the 4th quarter. In ’83 he acquired Wendell Tyler & Roger Craig and not only did
the offense gain better balance, but they began winning with consistency (45 games in the 4 years Tyler & Craig played together).

The last piece of the puzzle was something Walsh knew he needed based on what he had learned from his “Greg Cook game plan” days. He needed a deep threat receiver, somebody to keep the defense honest. Freddie Solomon used to be that guy but he was getting long in the tooth. Dwight Clark was an excellent route runner but he lacked legitimate NFL speed. In ’82 Walsh thought he had a deep threat when he convinced track star Renaldo Nehemiah to give football a shot. Nehemiah had the speed but he couldn’t catch. The experiment ended in ’84 when the Falcons Scott Case rocked Nehemiah with one of the all-time greatest hits in the history of the NFL. Lights out Nehemiah!

Despite no deep threat the 49ers kept winning, a tribute to Walsh’s offensive scheme and his ability to lead. By ’84 Walsh had developed a new toy to play with, a pass catching RB named Roger Craig. Walsh designed plays allowing Craig to catch passes at a rate never before seen by a RB.

After winning the Super Bowl in ’84 Bill Walsh went into the ’85 draft in search of a deep threat receiver. He came out of that draft with Jerry Rice. With the addition of Rice, Walsh took the 49ers offense from among the top in the NFL to an offense of legendary status.

I once described Bill Walsh’s offensive game plan in this way, “While other NFL head coaches were playing checkers Walsh was playing 3D chess.”

– “Y.A.C.”: The now commonly used statistic “Yards After the Catch” came about as a result of Bill Walsh’s play design and Jerry Rice’s athletic ability to execute Walsh’s design. Walsh recognized Rice’s abilities so he
went back to the chalkboard and started creating plays that allowed his athletic WR to get into an area where all he needed to do was break a tackle and he was off to the races. It was play design at an all new level.

– Studying Under The Masters: When you look back at Walsh’s assistant coaching history, and couple that with his bright mind and his willingness & ability to learn, it’s not surprising that he was a such a successful offensive coach. He learned offensive strategy from some of the brightest football minds in the game’s history. First there was Marv Levy (at Cal), then Al Davis, add Sid Gillman to the list, and finally he had 8 years under Paul Brown. All four of Walsh teachers are Hall Of Fame coaches renowned for their brilliant offensive strategies that dominated the AFL & NFL. Surely others have studied under great minds, but few have this amazing list on their resume, and even fewer used the knowledge gained to achieve such an amazing level of success.

– The Walsh Coaching Tree: We have all heard about the number of assistant coaches under Bill Walsh that went on to become head coaches in the NFL. The number quickly multiplies when you add the coaches who studied Walsh’s philosophy under these original 8 men that became head coaches.

The original 8 are George Seifert, Dennis Green, Mike Holmgren, Ray Rhodes, Sam Wyche, Bruce Coslet, Mike White, & Paul Hackett.

6 of the past 13 Super Bowls have been won by either a former Walsh assistant or a coach who is one generation removed from Walsh: Seifert (1994 49ers), Holmgren (1996 Packers), Mike Shanahan (1997 & ’98 Broncos), Brian Billick (2000 Ravens) & Jon Gruden (2002 Buccaneers).

14 of the 32 current NFL head coaches are linked to Walsh within 3 degrees of seperation. Seattle’s Mike Holmgren is the only one of those 21 who actually served on Walsh’s 49ers staff.

In all 40 current or former NFL head coaches can claim a branch on the Walsh coaching tree.

—-

William Ernest Walsh

1956 – Graduate assistant coach at San Jose State
1957-’59 – Head coach at Washington Union High School
1960-’62 – Defensive coordinator at Cal under Marv Levy
1963-’65 – Administrative assistant, recruiting coordinator, & defensive backfield coach at Stanford under John Ralston
1966 – Offensive backfield coach under coach John Rauch for Oakland Raiders
1967 — Head coach of the San Jose Apaches (semipro)
1968-’75 – Offensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals under Paul Brown. When Brown retired in ’76 he named offensive line coach Bill Johnson as his successor. Walsh was admittedly upset that he was not chosen so he quit.
1976 – San Diego Chargers coach Tommy Prothro hired Walsh as offensive coordinator.
1977-’78 – Head coach at Stanford University
1979-’88 – Head coach of the San Francisco 49ers
1989 – Worked as TV color announcer with Dick Enberg for NBC
1992-’94 – Returned to Stanford as head coach
1994 – Walsh helped create the World League of American Football, which is now known as NFL Europe
1996 – Consultant for the S.F. 49ers, but left due in part to Carmen Policy & Dwight Clark
1998- Returned to the 49ers as a consultant (although some considered him to be the team’s GM)
2001 – Handed over the GM job to Terry Donahue and retired from football

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1 Comment »

  1. Billy,
    What a terrific,well written, informative post!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    All I can add is that without Montana, there would be no “genius” Walsh, who is credited with drafting him from Notre Dame. Truth is, Super- scout Tony Razzano ran what was arguably the most successful draft in NFL history.

    I’d have loved to be a fly on the wall when Davis, Madden, and Walsh said their goodbyes.

    I can just hear the conversation with St. Peter. “Do you know who I am?”

    Comment by Ralph Zig Tyko — August 1, 2007 @ 8:02 pm


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