Bill Walsh was an offensive innovator whose system has continued into the NFL today due to his long line of prestigious coaches who are a part of his coaching tree. The offense that Walsh taught, which was known as the “West Coast Offense,” was actually implemented originally while Walsh was with the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals’ quarterback, Virgil Carter did not have a strong arm so short and quick passes worked best for his skill set.
Walsh coached under legendary NFL coach Paul Brown for eight seasons before getting his first head coaching opportunity. He also is considered to be part of Sid Gillman’s legendary coaching tree due to the season he spent with the Oakland Raiders under Al Davis. While looking up the tree from Walsh, we have two of the most accomplished coaches in NFL history, when looking down the tree from Walsh; it is filled with some of the best coaches of the last two decades.
As a head coach, Walsh compiled a 92 – 59 – 1 record in his 10 seasons with the San Francisco 49ers. He won three Super Bowls and was a two-time coach of the year. His quick passing offense was great for the cerebral quarterback Joe Montana and the sure-handed receivers of Jerry Rice, Dwight Clark, John Taylor and Freddie Solomon. His biggest impact, however, may have been on his assistant coaches, who are the foundation of Walsh’s coaching tree.
There are three types of coaches typically associated with Walsh’s coaching tree, the first group played for Walsh; the second group is those who were assistant coaches to Walsh and the third group were assistants to the names mentioned in the first two groups. Those who played for Walsh include, Bruce Coslet, Tony Dungy, Ray Rhodes and Sam Wyche. Three of them, Coslet, Rhodes and Wyche would go on to be assistant coaches for Walsh. Others who worked under Walsh include Mike White, Mike Holmgren, George Seifert, Dennis Green and Rod Dowhower.
The assistants to those already mentioned include current NFL head coaches like Andy Reid, Jon Gruden, John Harbaugh, Pete Carroll, Mike McCarthy and Mike Tomlin. Additionally, some former head coaches who are part of Walsh’s coaching tree include Bill Callahan, Herm Edwards, Jim Fassel, Brian Billick, Mike Shanahan, Steve Mariucci and Gary Kubiak.
Also, as every season progresses, more coaches get added to this list. For example, Reid has had assistants go on to be NFL head coaches like Matt Nagy and Doug Pederson. Carroll has seen assistants Gus Bradley and Dan Quinn become head coaches and Harbaugh has seen Mike Pettine, Rex Ryan and Vic Fangio, amongst many others get their chances to be head coaches.
Walsh is a key component that connects the past to the present. Gillman started his NFL career in 1936, Davis worked for Gillman from 1960 – 1962. Walsh worked under Davis in 1966. In 1986, Walsh hired Holmgren and in 1992, when Holmgren became the head coach of the Green Bay Packers he hired Reid, who is coaching the Kansas City Chiefs today against the Houston Texans. This list is about appreciating and celebrating the history of the NFL and with Bill Walsh, we can honor 83 of the 100 years of the NFL, pretty impressive!