Tony DeMeo

Coaching Tips from a Genius

In the winter of 1998 I had the unbelievable opportunity to have dinner with the late but certainly great Bill Walsh. This was every coach’s dream. We talked for four hours about everything from his Italian wife to Rommel to boxing and oh yeah – football. He was easy to talk to and had a great sense of humor. Though he was brilliant; he was far more down to earth than I expected a genius to be. He was just a guy who happened to know more about the game of football than almost anyone on this planet. It was a great night. He questioned me on my thoughts on offensive football. He asked me how I taught the triple option, and also asked me if we threw the quick game. When I told him about my use of “unless rules” – he smiled and said he taught the passing game the same way.

I shuddered when he asked me about the quick game. This was like Einstein asking a junior high teacher about math. And my anxiety was magnified by the fact that we had our Quarterback boot if the initial pattern was covered. Should I lie and give a conventional answer or tell the truth and risk the end of the conversation and leave Bill Walsh thinking I was a lunatic. Anyone who knows me knows what I did – I asked the waiter to bring more bread. I bought myself time hoping to change the subject but Coach Walsh wanted an answer so I told him. He stared at me for what seemed like an hour and a half and said “that’s brilliant, where did you get it?” I explained how I took what my quarterback at Mercyhurst College (Eddie Ricci) did on his own and put some rules to it and there it was. He liked it and the conversation flowed freely about football from then on.

I h had the opportunity to spend more time later that winter with Coach Walsh, Sam Rutigliano, and Brian Billick talking football in Ft. Worth. They were all great and I took a ton of notes. The result was a spike in our pass game efficiency that was phenomenal. I always believed in combining the option with the dropback pass but now I knew how to do it more effectively.

So what did this not so young grasshopper learn from the master? How did Bill Walsh’s West Coast Offense become part of an option attack?

Here are some of the key coaching points from Bill Walsh:

  1. Everything must start with protection. It doesn’t matter what pattern you’re installing it must start with how you are going to protect it. He was a strong believer in 7 man protection unless the defense was in nickel then 6 man protection was OK. So I followed his advice and stressed protection and  taught the quarterback to direct the protection to match up with their rushers. This really helped us against Zone Blitzes.
  2. Coach Walsh did not like throwing “hot” because he said your quarterback is going to get hit if you throw hot and that hit could put him out of the game. So is a 6 yard gain worth losing Joe Montana?
  3. Always have a contingency plan if the routes are covered. The famous catch that Dwight Clark made was an example of the contingency plan. I think this is why Coach Walsh liked the boot off the quick game because it gave the Quarterback a contingency when the routes are covered. I also added a contingency plan to our dropback and play action passes. If all were covered it’s QB Draw.
  4. You beat Zone Defenses with your Running Backs and Tight Ends and you beat Man coverage with your Wide Receivers. Against Man Coverage expect the blitz so it’s OK to “max protect” and let your Wide Outs use double moves to beat the corner.
  5. A Quarterback’s ability to run with the ball destroys Two Deep Man Coverage (which is the toughest coverage to throw against). A Quarterback that can be a run threat also puts a pressure on a defense that drops eight men into coverage. The advantage of having an option QB involved in the passing game is obvious.  Steve Young was a Wishbone Quarterback in high school.
  6. Every route has a rhythm and timing. So when you put routes together into a pattern; the routes should open in a timed sequence so you can’t have an “all hitch” pattern because the hitches will open at the same time and the quarterback won’t be able to throw to his second hitch look without being late on the throw. So if you want to throw an all hitch pattern; the hitches must be at different depths. The same is true with all curls etc.
  7. Details are everything. If you can’t rep your offense with detail cut your play list down. You are doing too much. You don’t need a lot of routes and patterns to have an effective passing attack. You just need to be able to execute the routes you do have.
  8. Speed at receiver can be used either down the field or across the field. Coach Walsh was a master at getting the ball to Jerry Rice on those shallow drags and crossing routes. We tried to do the same with our wide receivers.
  9. Using Play Action Pass on a run down or normal down and distance is the best way to throw the ball downfield. The run fake not only affects the secondary but also gives the linebackers conflicting reads. Coach Walsh loved the pressure the option put on a defense because the secondary had to be involved in run support but he did not think coaches that ran the option took advantage of that. I made the run/pass balance a priority and in 2009 our team led the nation in pass efficiency.
  10.  When evaluating a Quarterback there are two simple questions: Can he run the team? And can he carry the club? If he can do those things, then as a coach you have to live within your quarterback’s limitations and capacities. The key is for the Quarterback to know the system and make good decisions and use good judgments.

These are ten coaching tips I got from a great coaching legend, Bill Walsh. I have other tips he gave me that I’ll pass on in the future.