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Football 101: The West Coast Offense

Bill Walsh

By Mark Lawrence

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Originally published in Free Essays.


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 Francisco’s 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 Walsh’s 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's Early Life

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 Walsh’s 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 players that went on to be professional athletes and coaches.

If you think Walsh came from a football background you are wrong. His father played a very influential role in his life, ingraining strong work ethics, evident in most of Walsh’s 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 Associate’s 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 Walsh’s 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 Bronzan’s support Marv Levy hired him to be a member of his staff at University of California - Berkeley. 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 Levy’s 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 Cardinal’s 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.

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