The Bill Walsh Coaching Tree

He is not only considered the Godfather and innovator of the West Coast Offense but he is considered one of the grandfathers of coaching due to the proliferation of assistant coaches whom not only coached under him but further coached as Head Coaches at the Collegiate or NFL level after serving under other head coaches familiar with the West Coast Offense style. As a result of the seeds being planted in the 1980’s, the 1990’s were filled with a multitude of coaches operating the West Coast Offense system and with several winning Championships with it as well.

The Originator Bill Walsh: Coached under Paul Brown, whom turned the late 1940’s/early 1950’s Cleveland Browns into a dominant dynasty. Walsh would serve as Offensive Coordinator/Wide Receivers coach from 1968-1970 before taking over Quarterbacks from 1971-1975. As a result of obtaining QB Virgil Carter, whom had a rather weak arm despite being accurate and smart, Walsh ended up devising the West Coast Offense to take his quarterback’s traits into account and allow everything to be predicated on timing in a reverse of the deep aerial attacks that relied on throws over 30 yards such as that favored by Sid Gillman and later Don Coryell. Walsh would later coach at Stanford (1977-1978 and 1992-1994) but is widely known as being the Head Coach of the San Francisco 49ers from 1979-1988.

While with the San Francisco 49ers, he managed to turn that franchise into a near dynasty. The team had not made the playoffs since 1973 upon Walsh’s hiring in 1979. By Walsh’s 3rd season, San Francisco had won the Super Bowl and from 1983-1998, the 49ers would win at least 10 games every single season under 3 Head Coaches: Bill Walsh, George Seifert, and Steve Mariucci. The latter two being part of the Walsh coaching tree.

Many of Walsh’s assistant coaches immediately became successful elsewhere and won Super Bowls in the NFL as Head Coaches. Here’s a list of the coaches steeped under the Walsh coaching tree in alphabetical order by last name.

Brian Billick: Coached under Dennis Green. Won Super Bowl in 2000.
Bill Callahan: Coached under Ray Rhodes and Jon Gruden. Lost Super Bowl in 2002.
Bruce Coslet: Coached under Bill Walsh and Sam Wyche. Lost 1 Playoff Game.
Dennis Green: Coached under Bill Walsh. Lost NFC Title Game in 1998 and 2000.
Jon Gruden: Coached under George Seifert, Mike Holmgren, and Ray Rhodes. Won Super Bowl in 2002.
Mike Holmgren: Coached under Bill Walsh and George Seifert. Won Super Bowl in 1996. Lost Super Bowl in 2005.
Gary Kubiak: Coached under George Seifert and Mike Shanahan. Lost 2 Playoff Games.
Mike McCarthy: Coached under Mike Holmgren. Lost NFC Title Game in 2007 and Won 2010 Super Bowl.
Steve Mariucci: Coached under Mike Holmgren. Lost NFC Title Game in 1997.
Jim L. Mora: Coached under George Seifert and Steve Mariucci. Lost NFC Title Game in 2004.
Marty Mornhinweg: Coached under Mike Holmgren and Steve Mariucci.
Joe Philbin: Coached under Mike Sherman and Mike McCarthy. Finished 8-8 in back to back years.
Ray Rhodes: Coached under Bill Walsh, George Seifert, and Mike Holmgren. Lost 2 Playoff Games.
George Seifert: Coached under Bill Walsh. Won Super Bowls in 1989 and 1994 as HC of San Francisco 49ers.
Mike Shanahan: Coached under George Seifert. Won Super Bowls in 1997 and 1998.
Mike Sherman: Coached under Mike Holmgren. Lost 4 Playoff Games.
Marc Trestman: Coached under George Seifert, Jon Gruden, and Bill Callahan. Won 2 Grey Cups.
Sam Wyche: Played and Coached under Bill Walsh. Lost Super Bowl in 1988.
Jim Zorn: Coached under Mike Holmgren. Went 8-8 in 1st year as Head Coach.

Along with winning many championships, the impact on players has also been widespread with a large portion of coaches utilizing the offense to transform their quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends into integral weapons in their on field success. Thanks in large part to the success of the offense in the 1990’s, teams started tying the Zone Blocking scheme for the running game after Mike Shanahan won 2 Super Bowls with Alex Gibbs (the pioneer of the scheme) as his offensive line coach. This transition was further hastened after running back Terrell Davis ran for 1,700 yards in 1997 and over 2,000 yards in 1998.

The West Coast Offense and by extension, the succession of Head Coaches after Bill Walsh managed to turn many quarterbacks into household names including: Joe Montana, Steve Young, Brett Favre, and John Elway. By the late 1990’s, the success of such quarterbacks made the offense en vogue around the NFL. From 1995-1999 John Elway managed to throw for 101 Touchdowns and averaged 229 yards passing per game. That was while having a RB whom was running for over 1,700 and 2,000 yards in back to back years.

By the early 2000s more quarterbacks were continuing to refine their games under coaches such as Mike Holmgren and Jon Gruden. Rich Gannon, playing under Bill Callahan in 2002 led the NFL with 4,689 yards and threw just 10 interceptions. Other quarterbacks in the West Coast Offense such as Brett Favre, Aaron Brooks, and Jeff Garcia all threw for over 3,300 yards as well.

The biggest impacts that the offense had was on the proliferation of receiving tight ends and wide receivers, able to catch the ball quickly and making plays after the catch. Jerry Rice, a longtime player in the West Coast Offense, became the most dominant wide receiver to ever play because of his ability to run with the ball after he caught it. Other notable wide receivers whom made their names while largely playing in the system included: Cris Carter, Terrell Owens, and Randy Moss. Along with quarterbacks and running backs, the system allowed for tight ends to break out and routinely challenge the 1,000 yard mark including players such as Shannon Sharpe and Tony Gonzalez.


Written by David Hunter

David Hunter enjoys writing about wrestling, sports, music, and horror!

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