If you're a football fan you almost certainly know the name Bill Walsh and you probably know his significance and importance to NFL history. If not, in short, he is widely regarded as a football genius and he revolutionized how the game was played, practiced, and approached on many levels, all while leading the 49ers to three Super Bowl victories in the 1980s.
I bring it up here because he had a very strong influence on Pete Carroll's coaching style and philosophy, so if you're curious about Carroll's methods and attitude, it helps to take a look back at the career of Bill Walsh. Carroll was the defensive coordinator for George Siefert's 49ers in 1995 and 1996, and Bill Walsh was a consultant for the team in those years. Carroll took to Walsh like a puppy and gleaned as much information from the legend as he could in those two seasons.
In his book Win Forever, Carroll mentions that Bill Walsh imparted to him a philosophy on quarterbacking that struck a chord, and he's followed it ever since.
"We talked a lot about the quarterback position. Coach Walsh was one of the great quarterback gurus in the history of the game, and he convinced me that everything a coach does in designing his offense should be about making it easy for his quarterback, because his job is so difficult. He believed that everything should be be structured with the quarterback in mind."
What have the Seahawks done the past two offseasons while building their team? Some say they've completely neglected the quarterback position but I would guess Carroll believes he's doing the exact opposite. He's added three 'first-round' (meaning, hopefully awesome) offensive linemen in Russell Okung, Robert Gallery, and James Carpenter to work with a second-round center (Max Unger) and third round right guard (John Moffitt). He signed two Pro-Bowl receiving options in Sidney Rice and Zach Miller, and beefed up the running game with the additions of Leon Washington and Marshawn Lynch. These players complement the additions of Mike Williams, Golden Tate, and Kris Durham to a team that already had John Carlson, Justin Forsett, and Ben Obomanu on the roster.
He's apparently designing an offense that will make things easy for his quarterback. Whoever that is.
Bill Walsh, the guru, and one of Pete's mentors, described his ideal quarterback: "All I'm looking for is a guy who can throw a catchable ball."
Well, he did have Joe Montana and Steve Young, but how much influence Walsh had on their success is hard to gauge in hindsight. So, is Tarvaris Jackson Carroll's guy? I don't know, but Pete may believe so. What does Carroll look for in his QB? Well:
"I still think about Coach Walsh's "catchable ball" today when I evaluate potential quarterbacks during recruiting, draft preparation, or free agency and I have never forgotten the importance of building an offense that is focused on protecting the quarterback, first and foremost."
There's quite a lot of grey area when it comes to finding a guy that throw a "catchable ball," but that idea isn't the only nugget that Carroll took from Bill Walsh's philosophy. He also inherited Walsh's doctrine on practice, team building, and importantly, player nurturing and confidence building.
Walsh passed away recently, and Steve Young shared some thoughts on his late great coach.
I said in my Hall of Fame speech, he's the most important person in football in the past 25 years, I don't think there's any debate of that. ...(goes on talking about development of West Coast Offense, timing, etc).
Integration. You know, everyone talks about racial integration, but he integrated every place you can on a football team. Culturally, cliques that would form, he'd break them up. He'd break up guys sitting at the lunch table. He knew football was the ultimate people sport, it was the ultimate team game, there's too many guys. If you're going to be good, you've got to develop a level of respect for each other.
At some point, you're going to be 3rd and 7, down four, on the road, in New York, it's raining, you're tired, and you can smell the bus fumes and you just want to go home. Guys had to have that element in them. So he built it, in the lockerrooms, in the plane, hotels, training camp, he was so much ahead of his time."
I'm not writing this to convince you that Pete Carroll is the second-coming of Bill Walsh. Not at all. I'm simply trying to shed some light on why Carroll does some of the things he does and where he developed his methods -- how he has gone about building the roster, why he places such importance on team-building and practice, and why he believes in the power of building a player's confidence.
Steve Young came over to the 49ers from the Buccaneers after compiling a 3-19 record in two years, throwing 11 touchdowns to 21 interceptions and completing fewer than 55% of his passes. Bill Walsh saw something in him that he liked and made the trade for him. He came to the 49ers, developed for a few seasons, then the rest is history.
"He knew me well before I knew myself. He knew what I could accomplish well before I could accomplish it. You know, as a coach, that's the ultimate talent you can have."
It might be cheesy but it sure worked for Walsh. I'm sure Pete Carroll believes it can work for him as well, and he's not the only one using some of the principals and philosophy that Walsh pioneered.
Mike Holmgren, now president of the Cleveland Browns, who some of you MIGHT be familiar with, is another disciple of Bill Walsh's methods on quarterbacking, and has had some success with guys like Brett Favre and Matt Hasselsomethingorother. (Remember how he traded for an obscure 6th round pick, built a team around him, and developed him into an All-Pro and led his team to a Super Bowl or something along those lines?)
The Bill Walsh modus operandi was closely linked to the West Coast Offense he developed where the onus was on making it easy for QBs -- by choreographing the footwork and timing so the QB didn't have to think, just make throws to the weapons assembled around him. There were principles from this in place with Holmgren's Favre/Hasselbeck teams and are present with his new team's offense now.
Doug Farrar, over at Yahoo's Shutdown Corner, summed it up in a piece recently while talking about Colt McCoy's role with the Browns moving forward. Essentially McCoy, widely critiqued around the league to be marginal at best, could be the future in Cleveland because Holmgren is taking Walsh's philosophy and running with it.
Farrar said, "In Holmgren's West Coast offense (new Cleveland head coach Pat Shurmur is running it by proxy), arm strength is low on the list of priorities - it's much more about the connection between coach and quarterback. Holmgren took Matt Hasselbeck, a sixth-round pick and former Favre backup in Green Bay, to Super Bowl XL with the Seattle Seahawks. And with Shurmur in tow, McCoy looks to be a bigger part of a more integrated offense."
Carroll used this QB philosophy -- both the relationship, trust-building aspect and the idea of making it easy for the QB, in his next jobs in New England with Drew Bledsoe, and later at USC with Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, Mark Sanchez, and a few other fairly successful players (John David Booty, for example... wildly successful in Carroll's system, not so much in the NFL). He has brought this to Seattle has put a lot of the pieces in place. A lot of people believe Jackson is a stop-gap until the Hawks can draft the QB of the Future, which does make some sense and is what I tend to believe is happening, but there's always the outside chance that Carroll thinks he already has that player on the roster.
Whether Tarvaris Jackson (or Charlie Whitehurst) can become the NFL's next Steve Young or Matt Hasselbeck is anyone's guess, but the history there does make you sit back and scratch your chin a little bit.