When discussing who the greatest NFL head coach is, the variety of names generally breaks down by where people live and when they were born.
Bill Walsh, though, is one name that tends to be on everyone’s list.
The father of the West Coast Offense, Walsh led the San Francisco 49ers to three Super Bowl championships in 10 seasons as head coach. Mentor to Pro Football Hall of Famers Joe Montana and Steve Young, Walsh also was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1993.
Walsh died in 2007, but his legacy on the field is unquestioned. His influence off the field includes serving as a model of leadership to coaches who worked under him, followed him and read his books, including “The Score Takes Care of Itself” and “Building a Champion.”
Jeff Jansen worked alongside Walsh at the Stanford Leadership Academy and offered these five items that Walsh stood for throughout his career.
- A culture of success. Inheriting a 49ers team that finished 2-14 in his first season, Walsh entered training camp, “with a specific goal to implement what I call the Standard of Performance. It was a way of doing things, a leadership philosophy that has as much to do with core values, principles and ideals as with blocking, tackling, and passing – more to do with the mental than with the physical.”
- Setting the tone. Coaches who want their athletes to show passion, commitment and work ethic must demonstrate those things every day. “For me the starting point for everything – before strategy, tactics, theories, managing, organizing, philosophy, methodology, talent or experience – is work ethic. Without one of significant magnitude, you’re dead in the water, finished. The example I set as head coach would be what others in the organization would recognize as the standard they needed to match.”
- Developing leaders. Players have to take on leadership roles in the locker room and on the field. This does not come naturally to all athletes and for some must be grown. Eventually, these players will reinforce the winning culture the coaches want. “In building and maintaining your organization, place a premium on those who exhibit great desire to keep pushing themselves to higher performance and production levels, who seek to go beyond the highest standards that you, the leader, set.”
- Adapt to your players. The West Coast Offense was created by Walsh to solve a problem he faced while offensive coordinator with the Cincinnati Bengals. His quarterback had a weak arm but threw with great accuracy. Instead of throwing downfield as was the NFL norm at the time, Walsh designed a series of intricate routes that included short, precise passes. “All successful leaders know where we want to go, figure out a way to get there, then move forward with absolute determination.”
- Everyone contributes. From the star quarterback to the backup linemen, all players have a job to do. It is the coaches’ job to put their players in a position to have success, then instill upon the players the confidence to get their jobs done. “Victory is produced by and belongs to all. Winning a Super Bowl results from your whole team not only doing their individual jobs but perceiving that those jobs contributed to overall success. The offensive team is not a country unto itself, nor is the defensive team or the special teams, staff, coaches or anyone in the organization separate from the fate of the organization. We are united. We win or lose as one.”