Bill Walsh became the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers in 1979, and he ran the West Coast offense. The West Coast offense emphasizes passing more than running the ball. The short passing game takes the place of the run to control the ball. In the 1980s, Walsh made the offense famous and changed the game football, as many coaches tried to run the West Coast offensive system. While it became popular in the 1980s, Walsh started running this offense in the late 1960s.
From 1968 to 1975, Bill Walsh was the assistant coach for the Cincinnati Bengals under Paul Brown. In 1971, Bengals quarterback Virgil Carter was successful in running the West Coast offense, as he led the NFL that season in completion percentage. The West Coast offense calls for a lot of short passes so it will be easy for the completion percentage to be high. Even after Walsh left the Bengals, they ran the west coast system. In 1981, head coach Forrest Gregg utilized the West Coast offense. That season quarterback Ken Anderson won the NFL MVP and led the Bengals to a Super Bowl appearance.
San Francisco 49ers
Now, this is when the West Coast offense became famous. Walsh was the San Francisco 49ers’ head coach from 1979 to 1988. He drafted quarterback Joe Montana to orchestrate his offense. Montana was great under the offense; he led the 49ers to 3 Super Bowl wins under Walsh’s tenure. Also, Montana won three Super Bowl MVPs and two NFL MVP awards. Many believe that Joe Montana is the greatest quarterback of all time, as opposed to the New England Patriots quarterback who once idolized him, Tom Brady.
Jerry Rice was another player that benefited greatly from Walsh. Rice came from the small college of Mississippi Valley State. In Rice’s second season under Walsh, he caught 86 passes for 1,570 yards and 15 touchdowns. In 1987, Rice caught a league-high 22 touchdowns, which was almost unheard of for a receiver in that time. Rice thrived under the West Coast Offense, as he was perfect for catching the short passes and taking them in for a touchdown. The former 49er is known as being one of the best receivers, if not the best receiver of all-time.
In San Francisco, Walsh’s West Coast offense was a little different, since he used running backs and fullbacks out the backfield to catch passes. In 1985, running back Roger Craig became the first running back ever to run for 1,000 yards and have 1,000 yards receiving. That season, Craig rushed 1,050 yards and caught 92 passes, for 1,016 yards. Adding the running back to the passing game made the offense dynamic.
In his time with the 49ers, Walsh won three Super Bowl trophies.
As you can see, Walsh’s fingerprints are all over today’s game. With all the running backs catching passes out the backfield and some the offenses using some of his West Coast concepts. One of the most impressive thing about Walsh is all the coaches on his coaching tree; it is pretty amazing.
This coaching tree starts with Walsh, who produced Jim Fassel, Dennis Green, Paul Hackett, Mike Holmgren, George Seifert, and Sam Wyche as coaches. For example, Dennis Green produced Tony Dungy as a coach, who went on to produce Rod Marinelli, Lovie Smith, and Mike Tomlin. Because of Walsh’s help mentoring his assistants, the sequence and production of new head coaches continued, which eventually led to the rising of some of the NFL’s current coaches. Those coaches include Jon Gruden, John Harbaugh, Andy Reid, and as mentioned earlier, Mike Tomlin.
Bill Walsh did a lot for the game of football; one thing he liked to do was get rid of players before it was too late. That is why you saw players like Joe Montana on the Kansas City Chiefs, Ronnie Lott and Jerry Rice on the Raiders. Walsh will be known as an NFL innovator and one of the best coaches on all time.