Zohn reader Chris asks me to elaborate on Bill Walsh scripted plays — Chris says Bill scripted the first 25.

Here’s my understanding. He started with fewer than 25, maybe as few as 15. He definitely then scripted 20 and may have gone up to 25.

He would go over these plays in the offensive meeting the night before games. One coach who never had seen this before told me this was fascinating. Of course, if unexpected things happened, Walsh would abandon the strict order of the scripted plays but he tried to come back to them when he could.

Why did Walsh script his plays?

He once explained this to me and gave me an example. It was Stanford’ 1992 season. Bill took me into the coaches’ conference room — long oblong table. He shut the lights and put on a tape of the USC game they had played earlier that season. He showed me one scripted play after another — I can’t remember the plays, wish I could. He said each play he called would give him information. If, for example, he ran a particular pass pattern how would the Trojans respond? And so forth.

How USC responsed to the scripted plays let Bill know how to call plays the rest of the game. He was getting USC (and all other opponents) to reveal what they were trying to do.

Bill and I always talked boxing metaphors. He said scripting was like throwing a jab in a fight. How would the opponent react to the jab? What would it tell you about the next jab or a left hook off the jab?

So the scripted plays were designed to score points, sure. But also to get the opponent to declare itself without ever intending to.

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  1. JC

    This is fantastic reporting Lowell. Thanks!!!

    January 12th, 2011 11:17 am

  2. Stan

    You know-this really sounds like the way a genius thinks/talks. At ease being many steps ahead,just comes natural. And why 25 plays scripted is 24 ahead of what most coaches or OC do.
    I miss that guy. What if he had been hired at 30 instead of 49?

    January 12th, 2011 11:29 am

  3. Mark M

    fascinating….miss that guy

    January 12th, 2011 11:37 am

  4. John Sousa

    I think Rickey Henderson had a similar idea about leadoff hitting. He liked to make the pitcher throw a lot of pitches so everyone could see what he was throwing that day.

    January 12th, 2011 12:34 pm

  5. Neal

    Walsh was a defensive genius too. You look at Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary,they knew nothing about offensive if Nolan did he would of pick Rodgers before Smith, Rodgers a much better behind the center then Smith who just did shot gun. How many times did you ever see Montana or Young be in a shot gun formation?Yea I thought so. Never.

    January 12th, 2011 12:38 pm

  6. josh stump

    Great read.
    I was only a little kid when Walsh was coach, so I never got to truly appreciate his genius, until I grew up and read articles (many of them yours Lowell) that explained his genius.
    One thing I’m excited about with Harbaugh is that it would seem he thinks in terms of strategy and out thinking an opponent.
    Sun Tzu~ The battle is won before it is fought. (I just watched Wall Street *original* last night)

    January 12th, 2011 2:12 pm

  7. StevenG

    A few years back, I ran across a football manual that Bill Walsh wrote. I don’t know if “manual” is the correct word, essays might be. I’m sure they’re still available on the internet somewhere, but they were downright fascinating. He wrote about issues like trick plays and how they were useful, but only if used first before the other team attempted one. His level of intellectual capacity and detail were as astounding to me then as they are now.

    January 12th, 2011 2:32 pm

  8. Rowdy

    Sadly, this story reminds me that we were tortured by the simplistic predictability of Singletary and Jimmy Raye for the past two years.

    January 12th, 2011 2:50 pm

  9. Byron

    Sounds like Chess to me.

    January 12th, 2011 3:31 pm

  10. CohnZohn

    interesting you say that. it was like chess.

    January 12th, 2011 3:41 pm

  11. john

    The 80′s was an incomparable decade of Niner football.

    January 12th, 2011 3:49 pm

  12. Matthew

    According to “Building a Champion” the book Walsh wrote with Glenn Dickey… Walsh attributes his “script” to Paul Brown, who used to ask him, “What are our openers?”

    January 12th, 2011 4:36 pm

  13. Harry

    Singletary beats Bill Walsh. Singletary also had scripted plays, for the entire game, at least 60 plays. Run, run, pass, repeat 20 more times.

    January 12th, 2011 4:51 pm

  14. ready ranger

    I believe that we are all in agreement as to the Greatness of the Legendary Coach, Bill Walsh. We miss you Coach, and God Bless You.

    January 12th, 2011 4:55 pm

  15. Johnc

    Yeah, that strategy was revealed before but thanks for refreshing our memories. It does become a chess game with the Xs and Os. That is why a cerebral coach is so necessary in the NFL for success

    January 12th, 2011 7:02 pm

  16. Stan

    I was talking to my older cousin who says why when Walsh is given credit for the west coast offense-nobody mentions HE was taught west coast by Al Davis and Sid Gilman at San Diego,then with Al in Oakland.
    Good point.

    January 13th, 2011 1:39 pm

  17. glenellen

    I just love it when you talk about Bill Walsh. Reminising about his greatness. If he was alive today I wonder what new offense’s or changes he would have come up with.
    This past season, I am glad he did not have to see it.

    January 13th, 2011 5:40 pm

  18. chris

    thank you so much Lowell………it always fascinated me when watching Walsh’s 49er games that the announcer would many times mention that the first group of plays to start the game were scripted……..and that is so cool that Walsh got the idea from Paul Brown, who everyone also called a genius.

    And to Stan’s point about Walsh learning the west coast offense in Oakland, I guess that could have some truth to it. …….Stabler’s strength was the short to medium range passes……but Al Davis’s offense was all about taking high risk chances and throwing long, which goes against the high percentage short range plays the west coast offense was…….I say “was” because to me, no one runs the west coast offense today with the style and creative flair like Bill Walsh did……….the genius

    January 15th, 2011 2:18 pm

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