The West Coast Offense was originally coined by Bernie Kosar and referred to the offensive strategy used by the Chargers and Raiders. Bill Walsh perfected a version of the strategy while working with the Bengals and brought it to the Niners in 1979. The strategy focuses on short passes to advance the ball slowly and exhaust the opposing team’s defense. Long passes were only used if there was a clear opening, and the goal was to pick up points early in the game. The offense used fullbacks as receivers and aimed to keep the defense playing for as long as possible. Walsh was notable for writing the first 15 plays of a game. The effectiveness of the strategy was influenced by the high quality of players like Joe Montana and Jerry Rice.
The West Coast Offense is often thought to refer to the phenomenal football performance of the 49ers and their three Super Bowl victories in 1981, 1984 and 1988. In reality, the term, coined by Bernie Kosar, a former quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, applied to the offensive strategy used by the Chargers and Raiders.
West Coast Offense, as used by Kosar, specifically referred to a type of offensive strategy that was first employed by the San Diego Chargers in the 1960s. Bill Walsh, the head coach of the Niners during their heyday of winning days, perfected a version of this strategy while working with the Cincinnati Bengals. Walsh brought the strategy to the Niners in 1979, but his version was adapted from the original strategy. However, most now think of the West Coast offense as synonymous with Walsh’s version.
The main feature of the strategy defined by Walsh focuses on throwing short passes in the early part of the game. The goal is to advance the ball 3 to 4 yards at a time to make first downs, slowly, and by doing so, exhaust the opposing team’s defense. In general, the running game is not used until the end of the game.
Long passes were often not used unless there was a clear opening. Long possession was the goal to keep the opposition defense playing for as long as possible. Additionally, West Coast’s offense aimed to pick up points early in the game, making it more difficult for the opposing team to recover.
The West Coast offense tended to use offensive fullbacks as receivers, and therefore, a large number of receivers ran to designated spots with the hopes that a wide receiver would be open. This sent the defense sprinting in all directions to block the receivers without being fouled for pass interference. The original plan used the same strategy, but the short pass was less common. The receivers tended to go lower. The key to Walsh’s version was “short,” with several downs before getting a first down.
Walsh was also notable for writing the first 15 plays of a game. This was useful as it allowed coaches to observe weaknesses in the opposing team’s defense, which could be utilized later in the game. However, it could also be perceived as a weakness when plays clearly weren’t working against an opposing team’s defense.
Overall, the west coast offense was very effective especially during the 1980s for the Niners. However, it can also be said that the high quality of the players influenced the effectiveness of the strategy. Quarterbacks like Joe Montana and Steve Young are renowned for their athletic ability. Additionally, catchers such as Jerry Rice, Dwight Clark, and John Taylor have been very successful at catching short passes. The West Coast Offense can be said, therefore, to have combined extreme athleticism and agility with thoughtful strategy.