Football Profiles - VI

Dak Prescott at Haughton High


Prescott and Dan Mullen


Prescott and Tim Tebow


Prescott and Tony Romo

Dak Prescott
This profile is based on an ESPN the Magazine article on Cowboys QB Dak Prescott during his sensational rookie season (2016).
  • When he was eight or nine years old, Dak proclaimed, "I'm going to win the Heisman Trophy and I'm going to play for the Dallas Cowboys." (His affinity for the Cowboys is explained by the fact that Dak grew up in Haughton LA due east of Shreveport. Folks in that part of Louisiana watch the Cowboys games on TV rather than the Saints.)
  • Dak often played tackle football (without pads) with his older, bigger brothers and their friends. When 6-year-old Dak took a nasty hit, it started a fistfight between his oldest brother and the guy who delivered the blow. Dak went running to his mother, who raised him as a single parent. "Don't come in here crying," Peggy scolded. "If you can't run with the big dogs, stay on the porch."
  • At Haughton High, Dak played the spread offense that required him to both run and pass. His toughness was confirmed when he threw for nearly 400y while playing with a torn MCL. He also impressed coaches with his ability to connect with everyone on the team. (He once made sure Haughton players carried an autistic team manager off the field in the boy's final game.)
  • However, the major programs questioned whether Dak could become a big-time QB. LSU recruited him as a TE at first. "I don't think that sat well with him," says Haughton's head coach at the time.
  • Mississippi State, however, wanted Prescott as a QB. By the time LSU decided to recruit him as a QB, it was too late. MSU had a big advantage because head coach Dan Mullen had been Tim Tebow's offensive coordinator at Florida, and Tebow was Dak's favorite player. Mullen told him, "If you want to know more about me, call Tim Tebow." Says a friend, "Dak's love of Tebow was more about his character, his leadership, how he gave 100 percent all the time and put the team on his back." Prescott even had a dog named "Tibeaux."
  • At Mississippi State, Dak modeled his game after Tebow's. He even wore Tim's number 15. Prescott threw for more than 9,000y and rushed for more than 2,500y. He also emulated Tebow by his "generosity of spirit."
  • Dak quickly became known as a "relentless grinder in the weight room and film room." His brother Tad remembers Dak reviewing plays on his laptop for five hours of an eight-hour round trip to visit their grandmother. "Dak wanted to understand how to beat teams with his mind," says Brian Johnson, his QB coach in Starkville. "He wrote down his goals before each season, and he wanted to master the game. Dak's got an extensive memory bank where he can recall things, and if you go back and clearly watch the film, you'll see him at times appropriately getting to the fifth read in his progression."
  • All this made Prescott NFL-ready although pro scouts didn't see it that way. "Despite his success on a roster of three-star recruits pitted against some SEC powers that had five-star recruits on the bench," Prescott was compared to Tebow, "a wobbly-armed first-round pick who won a playoff game in Denver but was out of the league in three years."
  • Prescott carried the Bulldogs to the school's first-ever No. 1 ranking in 2014, less than a year after his life's inspiration, his mom, died of cancer.
  • Of course, Dak is the Cinderella Story of the 2016 NFL season, leading the Cowboys to a 7-1 record after replacing veteran Tony Romo, who went down in the preseason.
  • One of Dak's admirers is none other than Cowboys Hall of Fame QB Roger Staubach, who called Dak "a wonderful QB for the future. You can tell that the players respect the heck out of him and that he's already a leader. He is amazing at making decisions when ... there's a difficult situation there, and he needs to dump the ball off. He also can throw to lead a receiver."
  • Another admirer is former Cowboys coach Bill Parcells. "I'm so impressed with this young man; he's done a tremendous job. But he hasn't been down 14 points yet. [Dallas did trail 14-0 early in Week 4.] He hasn't thrown four INTs yet and then had the press and the fans getting restless and the players looking at him sideways, and maybe his nose is broken too. That's when you find out about a QB."
Bill Walsh - I
Bill Walsh's road to a head coaching job in the NFL was more circuitous than most.
  • William Ernest Walsh was born in Los Angeles November 30, 1931, at the height (or depth) of the Great Depression.
  • Bill characterized his father as a "lout" who stayed distant from his children.
  • Young Walsh played various sports, including baseball, basketball, and gymnastics, but football was his favorite.
  • His high school gridiron career was disrupted by two family moves, first to Oregon, then to the San Francisco Bay Area.
  • His senior year took place at Hayward High School in 1949. Bill wanted to play QB, but two veterans blocked his road. So he played HB on both sides of the ball.
  • His coach noticed early on that young Bill knew not only his own position but every other position on the field. Recalled one of his teammates: Football is a lot of instinct, and he had those keen instincts even back then.
  • Off the field, Bill was an extremely jovial and carefree guy who loved to party.
  • In 1950, he became the first in his family to graduate from high school.

He entered San Mateo Community College, where students with limited finances could start on a college degree.

  • He played football both years and, as a sophomore, finally got to start at QB. The 6'2" 200 lb lefthander made the All League team.
  • Several four-year colleges recruited him, and he chose San Jose State.
  • The SJSC coach, Bob Bronzan, would have a major impact on Bill's life and especially on his coaching philosophy.
  • 33-year-old Bronzan ran an offense that was ahead of its time in the college ranks - a pro system with pulled guards, blitzing safeties, the option, split ends, and three-receiver sets.
  • The 1952 Spartans went 8-2 playing the likes of Colorado, BYU, and California.
  • Bill remembered Bronzan as a theorist and an excellent teacher who set a standard as to the detail of everything he coached and the organizational system he set up. He coached football like it was a science, a skilled sport instead of just head bashing.
  • Walsh acknowledged Bronzan as being an inspiration for his own decision to become a football coach.
  • Once again, though, Bill found a logjam at QB and was transferred to E. But he won a scholarship and, by his senior year, was starting on both sides of the ball.
  • Bronzan's recollection of Walsh: He wasn't all that impressive as far as physique was concerned, but he was an ideal person to coach. He was always alert. You never had to paint the whole picture for him. Just give him a few of the elements, and he'd have it right away.
    Walsh made more of a name for himself at San Jose State with his performance in the annual intramural boxing tournament. He won the championship of the heavyweight division. I loved to fight, remembered Bill. He gained a reputation among the students as a tough guy.
  • Right after graduating with a BA in physical education with a minor in history, the 22-year-old Walsh eloped with 18-year-old Geri Nardinii, a freshman he had met earlier that year.
  • A month later, Bill began a two-year hitch in the Army. During his last months in the service, Geri gave birth to a son, Steve.

As his discharge date approach, Bill tried to figure out what he could do to support his family.

  • He considered boxing professionally but rejected that idea as impractical.
  • That left coaching, his real interest.
  • So the Walsh family returned to San Jose in 1956 so that Bill could enter a master's program in the P.E. Department.
  • He put food on the table by doing odd jobs like pumping gas and umpiring high school baseball games.
  • His 192-page master's thesis was entitled "Flank Formation Football, Stress: Defense." His faculty committee complained that he included only one footnote. But fortunately his faculty adviser was his former coach, Bob Broznan, who informed the professors that no one had ever written on the subject before.

Armed with his master's degree and a California teaching certificate, Bill joined the faculty at Washington Union High School in Centerville (now Fremont) CA.

  • He made $4,650 to teach PE, be head coach of the football team, and drive the team bus.
  • The team he inherited had lost 26 of its last 27 games. But Bill arrived at a propitious time when a population boom increased the Washington Union enrollment from 750 to 3,000.
  • The new coach immediately installed what he called "the Walsh offense." In those days, Bill remembered, almost all football coaches were afraid of the passing game. People thought it made you weak, that you couldn't have a tough team if you passed too much.
  • His players loved the new system. One recalled, Everyone was running three yards and a cloud of dust. Under him, we ran three wide receivers, a lot of motion, and sprint-out pass pattern. Most teams we played only had two receivers in the pass patterns. We had three to five every play. ... At that time everybody played a three-deep zone defense. He really attacked that area. He'd flood the zones with two or three receivers.
  • Students also liked the manner in which Walsh treated them in PE class and on the football field. The basketball coach noticed that Bill's PE classes had more fun than anyone else's. I couldn't figure it out so I watched him teach one day and what I saw was that he treated everybody in the class with tremendous dignity. Little fat guys who hated to dress out and hated to come to class all dressed for his class and were glad to be there because he treated them with great respect. It wasn't just the ... good athletes. He treated everybody the same way.
  • The result on the gridiron was a rapid improvement in victories: four the first season - the most in ten years - then eight against no defeats and a chance to play for the Bay Area championship, the result being a heartbreaking defeat.
    Bill's Huskies lost when a back ran the length of the field for a sure TD only to fumble at the other team's goal line. A defender picked up the ball and ran it back the the other way for the deciding score. Almost 50 years later, Walsh would still replay that game in his mind and wonder what he could have done to change the outcome.


#21 is teenager Bill Walsh.


Bill Walsh in college


Bob Bronzan


Bill Walsh coaching Washington Union High


Marv Levy, head coach of the California Golden Bears

Word about the dynamic young coach spread to Marv Levy, the new head coach at California.
  • The future coach of the Buffalo Bills hired Walsh for his staff. The increased salary came at an opportune time as Bill's family gained a new addition, Craig.
  • In three years at Cal, Bill rose to become defensive coordinator. But Bill moved up too quickly, by his own assessment. I wasn't ready for the job, and I floundered a bit. To be honest, I made a fool of myself trying desperately to succeed before I was really ready. I was, in many ways, an immature young man.
  • Through it all, Walsh applied the same approach he had developed in PE class. There was this religion of "toughness" in coaching circles those days, and all coaches were trying to be like marine drill sergeants and scare people into playing well. I got caught up in that for a while, but I concluded it didn't come close to working. It was a kind of mass delusion. All the coaches thought the players loved them despite how badly they treated them, and all the players were doing was putting up with the coach so they could play football. Instead of loving and revering the coach, they couldn't stand him ... but they wanted to play football. They wanted the fellowship, ... they wanted the excitement, and only put up with the bullying because they had to. Most played football in spite of the coach. By the time I left Cal I had decided that if you taught people to play the game better, that was real coaching - being a teacher rather than a thug.

Bill's next job took him across the Bay to Stanford, where John Ralston assembled an impressive staff of young coaches.

Continued below ...

Reference: The Genius, David Harris (2016)
Bill Walsh - II
John Ralston assembled an impressive staff at Stanford for the 1963 season.
  • Ralston met Bill Walsh at a coaching clinic and coached against him when Bill ran San Jose State's JV team. He thought Walsh was "brilliant."
  • Bill's assignment was to coach the defensive backs.
  • Two other future head coaches served on the Stanford staff during Walsh's tenure there:
    Mike White - future head coach of California and Illinois
    Dick Vermeil - UCLA, Philadelphia Eagles, St. Louis Rams, Kansas City Chiefs
  • Earning $7,500 each, the assistants lived in the same area and became good friends, as did their families. They worked long hours. Walsh's son Steve recalled, Hour after hour and night after night, Dad would be sitting in his den watching film. You'd want to say, "Let's go do something." But there was just no point in arguing because you couldn't win.
  • Vermeil recalled, As a football thinker, Bill was always ahead of the people he worked with. So he was always frustrated at being held back.

    1963 Stanford staff, with John Ralston kneeling in the center and Bill Walsh at far left

Walsh's next stop was the NFL in 1966.

  • The job came about as a result of meeting Oakland GM Al Davis at a banquet. The two spent an hour talking football in the parking lot afterward.
  • Davis hired Bill to be RB coach on John Rauch's staff.
  • Bill would later say that he learned more football that year than he had in the previous decade. Davis had developed his ideas about the passing game while serving as an assistant to the legendary Sid Gillman of the Chargers. Bill would later say that what he imbibed with the Raiders would form the foundation of my philosophy of offense. The first coach to use the pass as his primary weapon, Gillman believed in using the entire field horizontally and vertically. It was a fully dimensional approach, explained Walsh, utilizing the backs and TEs much more extensively than other offense. A typical NFL team might have three of four pass patterns for the HB, but the Raiders' system had as many as 20 ...
  • However, he paid a price for that knowledge. The hours he put in at Stanford paled in comparison to his work load with Oakland. The family had continued to live in Palo Alto while he commuted across the Bay to Oakland. You couldn't have a home or family under those conditions, Bill recalled. It became clear to me I might very well lose mine if I kept on like that. His wife Geri made it clear to him that she couldn't continue like that.

So Bill resigned his job with the Raiders with the intention of leaving coaching.

  • There had been little financial reward or career developments to offset the sacrifices I had made, he decided.
  • He applied to the Stanford Business School. He taught a class at San Jose State and oversaw the San Jose Apaches, a minor league team in the Continental Football League.

An out-of-the-blue phone call changed those plans.

  • Paul Brown, the Cleveland Browns coach who, more than anyone, made "professional" football professional, had been fired by new owner Art Modell following the 1962 season.
  • Brown got another chance to coach when the Cincinnati Bengals became an expansion team of the AFL in 1968.
  • Walsh was stunned when Brown invited him to be a member of his staff. Looking for someone to help him develop a passing game after his first choice turned him down, Paul had heard about Bill from several friends.
  • When Walsh flew to Cincinnati for an interview, the Bengals head man offered him $20,000 a year. Now all he had to do was convince Geri that this was the opportunity he had been longing for.
  • She consented, and the family moved to the Midwest. A lifelong Californian, Bill said he hadn't known exactly where Cincinnati was in Ohio until he came there to meet with Brown.

More an administrator than a head coach, Brown gave his assistants wide latitude. He increased Walsh's responsibilities year by year.

  • Bill started as receivers and tight ends coach.
  • QBs were added to his purview the second year.
  • In year #3, Walsh served as de facto offensive coordinator.

The offense Bill developed can be described as combining the essence of Brown's old system with Cleveland with the Gillman approach.

  • Walsh wanted his QB to get the ball away quickly to receivers running short timing patterns. The passer threw the ball to a predetermined spot even before his receiver made his cut. He also flooded zones with as many as five receivers.
  • His players praised Bill for being precise and detailed in his coaching. All three of the QBs he coached at Cincinnati led the league in completion %.

    Bill Walsh with Paul Brown at a Bengals practice
  • During games, Walsh sat in the press box, told the play to an assistant sitting next to him who would use the phone line to an assistant on the sideline, who would relay the call to Brown on the sidelines. Using the system he invented at Cleveland, Paul sent in a messenger to the huddle with the play Bill called.
  • Bill recalled: It was the most inefficient, cumbersome process imaginable, but it preserved the fiction that Paul was pulling all the strings. Since observers saw only what was happening on the sidelines and the field, Brown received credit for the offense's success even though, as Walsh said, he wasn't even sure what the system was.
  • Walsh accepted the arrangement because Brown, for whom he had developed a genuine fondness, had given him the opportunity of his lifetime. Bill even described the venerable head coach as his "mentor."
  • For his part, Brown became even more cold and aloof than he had been in Cleveland. Still, he gave Bill a $6,500 raise for the fourth year of his tenure, telling his chief offensive assistant, "You know what I had in mind." Walsh took that to mean that he would replace Brown as head coach whenever the old man decided to retire to the front office.

The Bengals improved each of their first three seasons in the league.

  • They went from 3-11 in '68 to 4-9-1, then 8-6 and a playoff berth.
  • After dropping to 4-10 in'71, they rebounded to finish with a 8-6 mark in '72.
  • They made the playoffs again in 1973 after posting their best record yet, 10-4.
  • But their up-down pattern continued the next two years. They regressed in '74 to 7-7 before making the playoffs as a wild card for the third time in '75 with an 11-3 tally. But once again, they lost in the first round.

And that's when a monkey wrench was thrown into Bill Walsh's plans.

To be continued ...

Reference: The Genius, David Harris (2016)
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Bill Walsh - III


Greg Cook


Virgil Carter


Ken Anderson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Dan Fouts

As an assistant to Paul Brown with the Cincinnati Bengals, QB/Receivers Coach Bill Walsh started to develop what later became known as the "West Coast Offense."
  • It began as a matter of necessity to fit the talents of QB Virgil Carter, who pos­sessed great mobility and accuracy on short passes but lacked the strong arm needed for deep passes. Carter was forced into action during the 1970 season to replace strong-armed Greg Cook, whom the Bengals had drafted in 1969 to be their franchise QB just as Otto Graham had played that role for Brown in Cleve­land.
  • Cook earned the Offensive Rookie of the Year award for the '69 season. But that would be his only full season in the NFL. He was knocked out of action with a severe injury to his throwing shoulder in the third game of his rookie season. Medical sci­ence of the time failed to diagnose the injury as a torn rotator cuff. After missing several games, Cook returned and, playing in pain despite cortisone shots, fashioned a season good enough to earn him the Offensive Rookie of the Year award for the season.
  • However, off-season surgery revealed that, in addition to the shoulder damage, Cook also had a partially detached biceps muscle. After three operations failed to correct the problem, Cook retired after playing just one more game in 1973.
    Even after coaching Joe Montana and Steve Young with the San Francisco 49ers, Walsh still rated Greg Cook as the most talented QB he had ever coach­ed. Cook had the vision of Montana with the athleticism of Young plus two inch­es of height on either and an arm that was much stronger than either of them.
  • Stuck with Carter, Walsh modified the vertical passing game he had learned with the Oakland Raiders to rely on quick, short throws to receivers spread almost from sideline to sideline. With an offense tailored to his strengths, Carter led the NFL in completion % in 1971.
  • Walsh also identified Ken Anderson of tiny Augustana College as an even better candidate to run the offense than Carter. Taken 67th in the 1971 NFL Draft, Ken took over at QB when Carter suffered an injury in the first game of the '72 cam­paign.
  • Walsh honed his ideas even more with Anderson at the helm, turning him into one of the most accurate short-range passers in the league.
    Anderson would fashion a 16-year NFL career highlighted by leading the Bengals to the Super Bowl in 1981.
Walsh bided his time and let Brown receive credit for the Bengals' offensive success.
  • Bill had every reason to believe he would succeed the coaching legend when he retired from coaching and concentrated on being GM. Unfortunately, Walsh had read too much into Brown's intimations.
  • Walsh recalled: After four or five years with Paul Brown, I realized I was ready to be a head coach. I looked around me and felt because of the experience I'd had, I could organize and orchestrate and plan and prepare and do all the things a head coach does as well as anybody. Some of it was learning from Paul's example and some of it was from my own independent thinking, but I was sure I was ready. I didn't make any secret of my feelings and, looking back on it, I wouldn't be surprised if that was somehow threating to Paul. Paul was not someone who looked out for his assistants. He looked out for what he thought were his own and his club's in­terests and expected his assistants to adjust accordingly.
  • That attitude caused Brown to repeatedly deny other teams looking for a head coach permission to speak to Walsh. To make matters worse, Paul never told his assistant of the interest and even denied that there was any.

This was an arrangement that could not go on indefinitely.

  • By 1975, the press had figured out who the real genius behind the Cincinnati offense was and began praising Walsh instead of Brown.
  • Bill began noticing a subtle difference in the way Paul treated me. As the media began speculating about when Brown would leave the sidelines, Paul became "mysterious" about his plans for a successor.
  • The Bengals won their division that year but lost in the playoffs to the Raiders.
  • Two days later, a Cincinnati sportswriter called Walsh at home to tell him the team was announcing the next day that Paul was resigning as head coach and that offensive line coach Bill Johnson would succeed him. Asked by the reporter for a response, Walsh was too stunned to say anything.
    Walsh was unaware that Brown had also given signals to Johnson that he might be his successor. Paul decided that Walsh was too "emotionally volatile" to be the head coach. So Brown went with the less brilliant but steadier line coach.
  • Years later, Bill explained what happened this way: When push came to shove, Paul just couldn't bring himself to turn it over to me. There was something like jealousy involved, mixed with a kind of resentment. I had my own ideas and thoughts about everything, including personnel and the rest. He just couldn't figure out how he was going to handle me if I became head coach. He must have been struggling emotionally to come to terms with his own retirement and the thought of losing control to me was just too much for him.
  • When he got over his initial shock, Bill played the good soldier and told interviewers that Johnson was a good coach and good friend and that it was a good move for the organization. All the while, though, he was dying inside. Sometimes I didn't think I could live through it. At that moment, I was truly broken. It was crushing. I was very, very lost. His closest friends found him devastated and inconsolable. He even considered getting out of football altogether.
  • Brown had conveniently gone out of town before the announcement was made. When he returned, Bill had his first face-to-face meeting with his mentor. Fighting back tears, Walsh found Paul as cold as he had ever seen him. Brown gave no explanation as to why he didn't live up to his promise of naming Bill his successor but made it clear that he expected him to be loyal to the club, offering a raise and promotion to "offensive coordinator" as incentives for him to stay.
  • But Walsh's contract expired in another week. So Bill told his GM he was leaving and there was nothing Brown could do to stop him. I couldn't possibly have stayed. To have done so would have been tantamount to giving up my career. I would have been relegated to just being some journeyman offensive technician and nothing more for the rest of my professional life.
  • Bill had actually worked out a deal with the San Diego Chargers. So he was operating from a position of strength.
  • Brown did not react well. Enraged, he took Bill's decision as a personal betrayal and vowed that he would make sure Walsh never became a head coach in the NFL.
  • His vindictiveness was really something, recalled Bill. He set about trying to destroy my career and discredit me in any way he could. Within months, two NFL teams interested in interviewing Bill backed off when Brown told them his former assis­tant was "too soft" and "unfit" to lead an NFL team. He went so far as to say that they "shouldn't touch Walsh with a ten-foot pole."

So Walsh moved to San Diego determined to prove Paul Brown wrong.

  • Bill served as Offensive Coordinator under Tommy Prothro.
  • The Chargers improved from 2-12 in '75 to 6-8.
  • They improved their passing yardage from 1998 in '75 to 2416 and their total offense from 3411 to 4456, a whopping 30.6% increase.
  • Under Walsh's tutelage, Dan Fouts improved his QB Rating from 59.3 to 75.4.
    Fouts later said: Bill Walsh really got me into the position to be an effective QB. That set the stage for Don Coryell to replace Bill the next year and continue Dan's development into a Hall of Famer.

After the '76 season, Bill got his chance to be a head coach but it wasn't in the NFL.

  • He was hired by Stanford, where he had been DB coach 1963-65.
  • The Cardinals improved from 6-5 in '76 to 9-3 in '77.
  • Stanford capped Walsh's first season with a 24-14 victory over LSU in the Sun Bowl.
To be continued ...
Reference: Paul Brown: The Man Who Invented Modern Football, George Cantor (2008)
Paul Brown: The Rise and Fall and Rise Again of Football's Most Innovative Coach, Andrew O'Toole (2008)
The Genius, David Harris (2016)
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CONTENTS

Dak Prescott

Bill Walsh - I

Bill Walsh - II

Bill Walsh - III

 

Football Profiles - I

Football Profiles - II

Football Profiles - III

Football Profiles - IV

Football Profiles - V

 

Football Magazine

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