I was perusing Hall of Fame Coach Bill Walsh’s book Finding the Winning Edge which he autographed for me in 1998 when we shared involvement with American Football Quarterly magazine.
He had led a transient life attending three high schools, one community college, and then a completion institution. His coaching career bounced him like many of us from high school, to college, to the professional ranks, and back to college. His path was not unusual nor unique.
He had the tremendous fortune to work with Paul Brown, Sid Gillman, Blanton Collier, Al Davis, Don Coryell, John Ralston, and George Shaughnessy. I too, have had the opportunity to study, observe, and borrow insight into the game of football from Vic Rowen, Cal Murphy, Galen Hall, Andy Reid, Steve Spurrier, Joe Gibbs, and have shared many conversations with Hugh Campbell and the late Ron Lancaster. Most of these men have a common thread in that they provided an atmosphere of autonomy that allows for the development of your own philosophies and systems.
Ultimately the genealogy of your system is based upon what your players are capable of executing. Devise a schematic that you believe will give you the best chance to win. You build a team on the defensive side of the ball first. Stopping your opponent is obviously paramount but by building the defense you also affect your special teams play. This will also develop the aggressive, pressure, up tempo attitude you want the entire team to reflect. Offensively as you construct your team, a decision as to how to control the ball with an eye to gaining 25 first downs in a given game directs the conversation.
There are so many events that impact your career. My first offensive coordinators job in 1986 at Ohio Wesleyan University produced a 0-10 season but I learned so much. Our head coach demanded we run the triple option yet we didn’t have a running back in the program that could produce a sub 5.0 forty yard dash to attack the flank with any threat. I took my wing-T background and “broke” the wishbone formation to provide us with better misdirection and create advantageous flanks by shifting formations to create confusion in recognition from the defense.
The head coach was released after eight games and I was given the “interim” tag as both the offensive and recruiting coordinator. I was not selected as the next head coach and was hired within two days of my release from OWU by Capital University as the OC in February of 1987. I took the experience of the previous season and implemented a scheme that was wing-T based, option oriented, and spread the formation. We had a quarterback that was athletic and a good decision maker and a 6″4″ wide receiver that drew NFL attention that season as he caught 72 balls for over 1300 yards in 11 games. We set numerous offensive records, won the Ohio Athletic Conference, and were selected to play in the NCAA Championship Play-offs in the time when only 16 teams in the country received such an invite. I had learned to recognize what we could do athletically and provided a scheme that gave our players a chance to succeed.
Coach Walsh helped develop the “west-coast” offense out of necessity. As a member of the expansion Cincinnati Bengals coaching staff under Paul Brown, they had to recognize what they could and could not execute offensively based upon available personnel. They were just doing “what we did” in an attempt to be competitive.
When Coach Brown retired, Coach Walsh was passed over for the head coach position. He had been with the organization for eight seasons and his family considered Cincinnati home. Coach Walsh states, “Not getting the Cincinnati job was at the time very devastating for me. I was particularly concerned that other people elsewhere would question my abilities to be a head coach if top management in Cincinnati did not see fit to make me the head coach.”
He was frustrated and there were things he wished he had done differently. He goes on to state, “Most prominent among those disappointments was the way it affected how I dealt with people.”
I have a keen understanding of his message in 2011 that possesses far more depth than when I first delved into his insight through reading and personal conversation in 1998.
“Many people erroneously think they have only one chance to succeed in their life’s work, and that if they miss that chance, they are doomed to failure. In fact, most people have several opportunities to succeed. If they learn from past mistakes, they will be better able to take full advantage of the next opportunity when it presents itself.” I quote Coach Walsh one more time because I couldn’t have said that any better myself.