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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. xplosiveness) 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. eing 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 might enhance their playing skills and performance if they lost a substantial amount of weight, the fact is they play pretty well at their current weight. The one absolute essential trait for offensive linemen in the West Coast offense is natural body girth. In addition to girth, offensive tackles in this offense must be very strong and a have a high level of agility.

Agility by the linemen in this offense is needed because of the quick three and five step passing game. An offensive tackle should also have strong, long arms to facilitate those blocking tasks involving tasks involving leverage. From a blocking perceptive, however, the timing of the block itself is the critical factor. In addition, the offensive tackle must have intuitive sense of feeling or knowing where to intersect defenders. In this offense the offensive tackle must be able to adapt to a situation where a linebacker blitzes from the outside and the defender he was expecting to block drops back into pass coverage.

This happens often within the offense, again because of the short controlled passing game. As a result, the offensive tackle must be sharp enough to quickly identify the scenario and be able to move and adjust to the circumstances as needed. He must also be extremely well versed and prepared in the skills and the techniques required to handle a variety of situations. The nature of the position of the offensive tackle also requires that athletes who play this position possess a level of inner confidence and natural self control that enables them to deal with frustration and, on some occasions in a football sense, disaster.

Regardless of the circumstances, the offensive tackle in this offense must be able to regain his focus and function at a high level of performance within 30-40 seconds or less. In reality, some athletes appear to have a better disposition to deal with potentially disruptive elements than others. The next position of similar importance on the offensive line in the West Coast offense is the offensive guard. The ideal size for the offensive guard is about six foot three inches, and the should weigh about 300 pounds.

Similar to some of the other positions on the offensive line the requirements for playing guard in the West Coast offense depend to a great extent on the type of passing and running the team will do. In this regard, two obvious options exist, either the offensive guard has to be selected based on his capacity to contribute to a team’s existing system of offense. Another idea is a team has to style its offense according to who its guards are. Typically, the latter option prevails. A team adapts its offensive style to the abilities of its guards.

An example of how a team adapts its offensive system to its guards occurs when a particular offensive guard can or cannot do something to his right or left. If the left guard can pull and trap, then the team is more likely to run plays to the right with the left guard pulling (and vice versa). The guard positions are personalized according to what they can do. Typically, one or the other offensive guard on a team is stronger or weaker in a particular technique or the ability to get the job done.

As a rule, great offensive guards possess several traits, including quickness, agility, explosiveness, the ability to pull and trap, and the ability to go inside-out on a linebacker. Randall McDaniel of the Minnesota Vikings is an excellent example of this type of offensive guard. Although he only weighs approximately 280 pounds, he is an outstanding player in every sense. He fits their form of the West Coast offense perfectly. In the West Coast offense more than anything, offensive guards must be able to pass block. Generally speaking, girth, stability and body balance are essential factors in this skill.

Because the offensive guard can usually get help as a pass protector, he just has to have enough power to avoid being knocked back. Just the sheer number of people inside will help the guard pass block. As a result, the guard can have some limitations as a pass blocker as long as he has enough girth to keep the defensive tackle from picking him up and moving him. The offensive guard position requires less technique for pass protecting than is essential for an offensive tackle. On the other hand, the offensive guard position requires more blocking and movement skills.

For example, in the West Coast offense the guard is used on numerous blocking combinations where he must get from point A to point B, pulling through a hole, trapping, pulling on sweeps, coming inside-out on a blitzing linebacker, etc. Collectively, this capability requires that the offensive guard has agility, mobility, and a refined level of techniques. The last but, most important position on the offensive line in the West Coast offense is the center. The ideal size for the center should be about six foot two inches and weigh about 290 pounds. The offensive center has a critical role in the West Coast offense.

Not only must he start every play with a flawlessly executed snap, he is typically the key man in making line calls. These calls are vital, and there is no way a team running the West Coast offense can do without them. For example, with the constant defensive changes that occur during a game, the offensive line must react to those changes if an adjustment in the blocking scheme is required. Because he is literally at the center of the action (in the middle of things), the center is the obvious member of the offensive line to identify and communicate to the other offensive linemen what blocking adjustment must be made.

As a result, the center must have a thorough command of the offensive line blocking system, the game plan, and individual defensive players his team is facing. In a few isolated instances, some teams use an offensive guard to make line calls because the guard is either more experienced or more adept at making them. As a general rule, the center doesn’t have to be an exceptional blocker. The center usually doesn’t have to block the nose tackle one-on-one, although if he can, it provides a considerable advantage to his team.

The center who can isolate one-on-one with a nose tackle will take tremendous pressure off of the offensive line, particularly the guards. Most West Coast offense teams typically find a way to help the center with the nose tackle (slide a line). If the other team is in alignment that doesn’t have a nose tackle (4-3 defense) or has the nose tackle stunt away from the center, the center helps a teammate with his blocking responsibilities. One additional factor related to the center that West Coast offense teams address is his height.

Although there have been successful centers in the NFL who were relatively tall, many West Coast offense teams feel that, all factors considered, a shorter center is better. Not only does a shorter center have lower center of gravity (thereby facilitating body balance), he also tends to be more mobile a trait that offers significant benefits to an individual who must operate in a relatively small area. A large body can be a hindrance in a small area (somewhat analogous to the limitations imposed on a jockey who weighs more than 150 pounds). Most West Coast offense prefer a center who is able to quickly move in between people.

In most cases, a shorter center can do that better than a tall, rangy one. Finally, the most important position in the West Coast offense has to be the quarterback. The ideal size of a quarterback in this offense or any offense should be about six foot three inches and weigh about 210 pounds. Roughly the quarterback needs to be taller than the center. Playing quarterback in the West Coast offense requires several skills and traits some of which can be developed through practice and sound coaching, and others which are inherited (genetic gifts).

One of the most obvious requirements for a quarterback in the West Coast offense is have the ability to pass. It is important to realize that arm strength and being able to pass are not synonymous. Some players can throw a football 80 yards, but they aren’t good passers. Good passing involves accuracy, timing, and throwing a ball with enough touch so that it is catchable. Good passing also requires understanding both the West Coast offense and the receivers in the West Coast offense, and having a great sense of anticipation.

While it is certainly admirable to be able to throw a ball on a line for 35 yards, if the ball is off target or arrives in such a way that it is difficult to catch, such an ability is of dubious value. The fundamental goal of passing a ball is to make sure it’s caught by the intended receiver. One of the more important criteria for assessing the potential of a quarterback to play in the West Coast offense is to what extent does he have the ability to throw a complete inventory of passes from screen passes to times, short passes to medium-range passes and down-the-field throws.

Not having a complete inventory of passes in his arsenal does not eliminate a quarterback from a West Coast offense team’s considerations, but it can be a meaningful factor. Two other positions important to the West Coast offense are the fullback and running back positions. The ideal size for the fullback position should be about six foot one inch and weigh about 245 pounds. The running back should be large enough to take punishment and retain stamina. The main goals for the fullback and running back position in the West Coast offense are to be able to block and catch.

In this offense these positions have to able to pick up blitzing linebackers. The most important value for these positions is to be able to catch. These positions in the West Coast offense will probably have more catches than rushing attempts. In the past, the knock against passing teams is that they had no consistency. You might win some games, but eventually a pass first offense will come back to haunt you. Bad weather, a strong pass rush, lack of ball control, too many turnovers, and a host of other reasons were offered as obstacles to sustained success.

Through the 1970s, this thinking was supported by the fact that the truly great teams ran the football much more often than they passed it. However the game has since changed. I believe the fans wanted to see more action within the football games. Pass minded coaches like Sid Gillman, Don Coryell, Bill Walsh, and LaVell Edwards won championships with passing offenses. What I believe caught the attention of many observers was that Walsh and Edwards offensive philosophies was unlike previous air attacks that threw only in long-yardage situations or to surprise the oppositions.

Instead Walsh and Edwards approach was to: spread the defense over a much bigger area of the field, both horizontally and vertically; create mismatches in the speed, size, or number of receivers defenders try to cover; thrown on any down and any distance to avoid tendencies that defenses could key on; maintain possession through the air just as other teams tried to do on the ground. These tenets formed the basis for what is now called the West Coast offense. This high-production, low risk offensive attack has proven itself over the years and is now used successfully by man teams at all levels.

The West Coast offense appeals to high school coaches because it does not require players up front who can blow people off the ball, down after down, which is needed in a run based offense. The West Coast offense is a finesse attack that features both ball-control and big play potential. Ball control in way of short, intermediate, and play-action passing results in first downs, moving the chains down field and maintaining possession of the ball. A series of short passes soon add up to sizable gains, putting the defense back on its heels. Moreover, receivers who can run with the ball can turn short passes into long gains or even touchdowns.

There are three main principles to minimize risk and achieve success with the West Coast offense. These include protecting the quarterback, timing the pass, and using multiple receivers (including using backs as receivers). Pressure from the pass rush can result in loss of yardage and can disrupt timing between the quarterback and receivers, resulting in forced passes. Repeated hits on the quarterback take a toll physically and invite injury. The offense must have a plan to handle the pass rush of linemen, shooting linebackers, and defensive back blitzes.

When the defense sends more rushers than available blockers, the hot receiver principle is used in order to get rid of the ball before the rusher can get to the quarterback. Solid pass protection gives the quarterback time to find the open receiver and throw him the ball. The quarterback gains confidence and gets into a rhythm of throwing on time while the defense becomes frustrated because of its inability to get to the passer. Sound protection is based on effective blocking technique. Blocking for the pass is more than the offensive player positioning himself in front of the rusher.

The rusher is surging toward the quarterback. The blocker must stop this surge and force the rusher to start up as many times as possible or redirect him away from the quarterback. Technique must he drilled in game like situations and polished through repetition. Practice time allotted for pass protections should he proportionate to how much an offense will use the passing game. Pass timing is the next most important element in successfully throwing the football. The depth of the receivers route must time out with the depth of the quarterback’s drop. If the receiver breaks into his route

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