Finding the Winning Edge
James A. Peterson
Sports Publishing Inc.
©1998 Bill Walsh and Brian Billick
All rights reserved.
Book design: Michelle A. Summers
Dustjacket design and photo section layout: Michelle R. Dressen
Editor: Joseph J. Bannon Jr.
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 9780397
Unless otherwise noted all photos are from Bill Walsh's private collection.
Sports Publishing Inc.
804 N. Neil
Champaign, IL 61820
Printed in the United States
To my wife, Geri—my lifetime partner. Together, we shared the disappointments and frustrations of a struggling career and, ultimately the euphoria of
winning the world championship. The years of sacrifice finally proved worthwhile. I also dedicate this book to my children—Steve, Craig and Elizabeth.
You've been great, even with a dad who wasn't always around.
To Kim, Aubree and Keegan who gave up many nights and weekends, allowing me to pursue this endeavor.
To Sue, my wife and best friend for thirty years.
I would like to recognize Owen Edwards who collaborated with me on our Forbes Magazine series. What a terrific person and gifted writer. Owen is an
accomplished professional and a wonderful philosopher. I would also like to state my appreciation for the expert skills of Richard Van Rapaport, the writer who
molded my thoughts into definable reading for our piece that appeared in the Harvard Business Review. Rich is a true intellectual, a marvelous writer and a great guy.
I am quite proud of the body of work that the three of us produced. Owen and Rich were able to translate football into something of interest to the corporate
I would also like to acknowledge the following individuals who have affected my life in meaningful ways: Martin Connelly—my lifetime friend and colleague—your
insight and wisdom have meant so much; Jane Walsh—my friend and associate—your part in this project has been invaluable; Dr. Harry Edwards—your strength and
professionalism have made a major impact on my life; newspaper columnist—Jim Murray—I am indepted for your support throughout the ebb and flow of my career;
Eddie DeBartolo and Carmen Policy—we've shared every possible emotion; Coach Bob Bronzan—thanks for setting a standard for individuals like myself to
emulate; Steven Kay—I am indebted to you for your counsel, advice and friendship; Dr. Glen Albaugh—your dedication and your commitment to society have given
justification to sport; and Dick Vermeil and Mike White—what a run we've had.
As is usually the case, the completion of this book was made possible though the help and guidance of a number of people. The authors would like to thank Erica
Wieland, Mike Eyers, Frank Cooney, Jeff Walker, Darci Bransford and Colonel Charles F. "Casey" Brower for their assistance in compiling the information. We
would also like to thank Bob Oates, Gordon Forbes, Andrea Kremer and Phil Simms for their input and counsel throughout the project.
Our gratitude is also expressed to the staff at Sagamore Publishing/Sports Publishing Inc. for their assistance with this project, particularly Michelle Summers, Joanna
Wright and Laura Main.
Finally, we would like to acknowledge those in the coaching profession, too numerous to list, for their creative and devoted commitment to the industry and their
collective contributions to the philosophies and structures outlined in this material.
(by Mike Holmgren)
(by Brian Billick)
Part I: Experiences and Values
Chapter 1: Putting Things Into Historical Perspective
Chapter 2: Doing What Comes Naturally
Part II: The Organization
Chapter 3: Understanding the Role of a Head Coach
Chapter 4: Developing a Successful Organizational Structure
Chapter 5: Organizing the Staff
Part III: The People
Chapter 6: Evaluating Players
Chapter 7: Acquiring Talented Players
Chapter 8: Developing Players
Chapter 9: Handling the Pro Athlete
Part IV: The Game
Chapter 10: Designing a Winning Game Plan
Chapter 11: Preparing to Win
Chapter 12: Putting It All Together
Chapter 13: Strategies and Tactics for Dealing with a Highly Competitive
Chapter 14: Making the "Right" Decision
Chapter 15: Overcoming the Mental Barriers to Success
Chapter 16: Staying on Course
Part V: The Business
Chapter 17: Working with the Media
Chapter 18: Focusing on Financial Matters
Appendix A: Selected References
Appendix B: Sample Employee Lectures
Appendix C: Sample Job Description Outlines
Appendix D: Sample Schedule of Supplemental Duties
Appendix E: Sample Team Lectures
Appendix F: Sample Scouting Workout Criteria for Selected Positions
Appendix G: Sample Base Play Schematics
Appendix H: Sample Classic Play Schematics
Appendix I: The Bill Walsh Coaching Lineage
Appendix J: Index
We know that football teams, similar to organizations everywhere, improve by going through an evolutionary progression as they learn, apply, adapt, and learn again.
Bill Walsh's Finding the Winning Edge provides readers with the firstever systematic, practical guide to establishing and mastering the steps involved in that crucial
process. In my personal opinion, no individual in the history of the game is more qualified to put forth such invaluable guidance.
During his illustrious career, Bill was more than a football coach. In a very real sense, he has been an exceptional visionary. Although he is widely renowned as the
architect of the "West Coast" offense, his innovative approach to the game has extended far beyond his imaginative ideas on offense.
During the time he spent working with the San Francisco 49ers, he transformed San Francisco's game into an art form. To Bill, football is more than a physical contest,
and success is more than a victory on the playing field.
Success is the progression of worthy ideas and goals. Such a progression involves at least two key cerebral factors—attention to detail and an absolute commitment to
To Bill's way of reasoning, no detail or situation is too unimportant to be overlooked. Every possible circumstance that might affect the performance of the team and
the productivity of the organization should be addressed. In turn, a contingency plan to handle each situation should be developed.
Bill was no less adamant about the need to shoot for perfection. His convictions on the matter were illustrated vividly to me during an event that occurred one day in
practice. As the 49ers' quarterback coach, I watched Joe Montana throw a pass slightly behind Jerry Rice, who nevertheless would catch such a pass 99 times out of
Most coaches might be satisfied with this success ratio. Not Bill. He immediately came to me and explained in great detail why a pass involving that route had to be
thrown twelve inches in front of the receiver, not six inches behind him.
Bill had a singular focus on perfection. Every day. Every practice. Every play. Every meeting. Every situation.
Finding the Winning Edge is destined to become the number one reference book in the library of every football coach in the game. Written in an easytoread,
straightforward style, this groundbreaking text can help coaches at all competitive levels.
In his more than four decades of involvement with the game as a player, a coach, and a toplevel administrator, no individual has had a more worthy or meaningful
impact on the players he coached or the coaches with whom he worked.
A list of the assistant coaches that served with Bill—and who subsequently went on to achieve remarkable success as head coaches on both the collegiate and
professional levels—is quite extraordinary. As a result, his influence continues to be felt throughout all levels of the game today.
Finding the Winning Edge is Bill's detailed effort to share his ideas, principles, and programs for developing a winning program. The book offers every coach a game
plan for success.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Arguably, one of the most exciting and most closely contested games in the history of the Super Bowl occurred on January 22, 1989, in Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami,
Florida. This game had everything—passion, drama, heroics and two highly competitive teams with comparable talent levels, the Cincinnati Bengals and the San
Super Bowl XXIII also had one of the most defining threeminute periods in the history of football—a period which has come to be known over the years as simply,
"The Drive." 92 yards. Twelve plays. Methodical efficiency. A 2016 49ers' victory.
Trailing 1613 with just over three minutes to play, the 49ers' offense began a fateful scoring drive that culminated with a 10yard pass from Joe Montana to John
Taylor for the winning score with 34 seconds left. As conceived and orchestrated, the drive was the definitive example of coaching proficiency.
In reality, the drive was simply an extension of "the man" and "the system." The man was Bill Walsh, and the system was the West Coast Offense (an offensive scheme
that reflects the factors that Bill holds in the highest regard—preparation, planning, precision and poise).
Unbeknownst to the 75,000 people who were in the stands that day or the millions of individuals who were watching the intense gridiron struggle on television, Walsh
had made the decision before the game to retire as head coach of the 49ers after Super Bowl XXIII. The fourpoint victory over the Bengals that earned both him and
the 49ers their third Super Bowl victory in a decade only served to reinforce the validity of Bill's preoccupation with perfection.
When Bill approached me about helping him develop and write this book, it became immediately clear to me that one of Bill's main priorities with the project was to
keep the focus and perspective of the material on a welldefined and practical level. Furthermore, he wanted this book to be an invaluable reference text for coaches
at all competitive levels.
As you read this book, I believe that you will conclude that both of Bill's goals in this regard have been achieved. Finding the Winning Edge presents Bill's ideas,
principles and concepts for developing a successful football program in a single volume.
This book is organized into five distinct sections: Part I—Experiences and Values; Part II—The Organization; Part III—The People; Part IV—The Game; and Part
V—The Business. In addition, Finding the Winning Edge features an extensive Appendices section that includes several valuable segments (e.g., sample job
description outlines, team lectures, employee lectures, etc.).
The section on Experiences and Values provides a brief summary of Coach Walsh's background and a review of some of the major influences on his personal and
professional attitudes and values. In addition, an overview of the factors required for a focused philosophy is presented, with a particular emphasis on understanding
the meaning of true competition.
The section on The Organization explains how and why a football organization must be structured to accomplish specific goals. How the head coach
should recruit, develop and effectively utilize a competent staff is also examined. This section also includes a thoughtful discussion of what it means to be a head coach.
The section on The People discusses how the head coach should utilize the various methods of acquiring players to build a successful team. An overview of the steps
involved and the criteria used to evaluate players is also presented.
Furthermore, this section includes a summary of what a head coach should do to ensure that the skills and talents of each player on the team are developed and utilized
in an appropriate way, particularly those of the quarterback. In addition, the area of how the head coach should deal with relevant issues facing his athletes is
The section on The Game looks at several of the critical factors that directly impact on the team's performance and success level, including game planning, practice
structure and gameday management. In addition, a review of how the head coach can make sound decisions and how selected mental aspects can inhibit a player's
performance is summarized.
This section also includes an extensive discussion of how the head coach should deal with specific circumstances. Among the seasonal situations that are examined are
those instances involving a newly named coach, an extended losing streak, the lastsecond loss, an extended winning streak, rebounding from a losing season, the
coach who leaves the job, and the offseason. Advice is also presented concerning how to handle different types of teams, including the inexperienced team, the
downandout team, the talented team and the team with high expectations. The final part of the section covers how the head coach should deal with individual game
circumstances (e.g., the lastsecond loss, key games, games as a big underdog or a lopsided favorite, games after a huge win, road games, preseason games, etc.).
The section on The Business discusses how the head coach should deal with specific financial issues, including interacting with the team's CFO and understanding the
NFL salary cap. In addition, an overview of common sense recommendations and advice on how the head coach should deal with the media in a variety of
circumstances is presented.
The book also includes almost 100 quotes that have inspired and have helped clarify and illuminate specific issues and factors for Bill over his career. Each of these
quotes is boxedin to highlight its importance.
Whenever the legacy of Bill Walsh is discussed, a number of factors will typically be considered—his lifetime commitment to excellence, his complete and total
concentration on the task at hand, his ability to translate and apply his insightful concepts to offensive schemes, and his gift of inspiring and motivating others (as
reflected by his three Super Bowl victories and the legion of former assistants and players who have gone on to make their marks in the coaching profession).
Hopefully, this book will also be one of his legacies to the game which he holds in such high regard. If Finding the Winning Edge provides coaches and
administrators with a tool that enhances their ability to help their teams reach the next level of success, then the efforts to write this book will have been well