Last Thanksgiving, The Blind Side was released in theaters. While the movie received lukewarm reviews from many critics, the public seemed to fall in love with it. By New Year’s Day, the movie had gross sales of over $200M...and it only took $29M to make. When a low-budget film produces this type of return, it demonstrates the compelling nature of the story that the movie told.
The movie is based on a book (by the same name) written by Michael Lewis. He is the same author that wrote Moneyball—a book that we wrote about last year in WorkPuzzle. While the book and the movie both do a great job of chronicling the life of Michael Oher, the book goes into much greater depth about the topic of professional football. Michael Lewis has a gift for boiling down the complexities of a sport into simple observations and statistics that open your eyes to the realities of why some teams win and others lose.
One of Lewis’ observations involves the impact that coaching legend Bill Walsh had on professional football. As an offensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals in the early ‘70s, Walsh started to figure out how to build an offensive “system” around players who had average skills (as compared to other NFL players). Because “superstars” were not something that Walsh had at his disposal, the system itself had to compensate for his team’s lack of talent if he hoped to win.
And win he did. After leaving the Bengals and coaching Stanford to two winning seasons, Walsh took the position of head coach for the poorly performing (2 Wins / 14 losses ) San Francisco 49ers in 1979. By 1981, Walsh lead the 49ers to the first of three Super Bowl championships during his ten year tenure with the 49ers.
The “system” that Walsh built is now called the “West Coast Offense,” and it was so superior that it was eventually copied by every team in the NFL and landed Bill Walsh in the Football Hall of Fame. The system changed the nature of how football was played professionally by transforming how a team could gain an advantage by passing the football. I won’t go into all the details here (it took Lewis a whole chapter to chronicle the events and explain all the particulars), but there are some important business lessons we can learn from Walsh’s accomplishments.
In general, Walsh’s system was designed to take advantage of the possibility of near perfect execution. If a quarterback and a receiver were able to accomplish fairly simple tasks with near perfect timing, short pass plays were almost impossible to disrupt or curtail. This style of play did have one major weakness however—if the quarterback did not have enough time to perform his tasks (due to defenders harassing him during the pass rush), the plays would breakdown. The most effective way to rush the quarterback was from behind his field of vision so he couldn’t see the defender coming. This is called the quarterback’s “blind side.” Reliability protecting the blind side has translated into big business—it’s something a team will now pay millions of dollars to have reliably performed.
In my next article, I’ll outline some of the recruiting and coaching lessons that can be taken from Bill Walsh’s successes. I think you’ll find there are some important similarities to what you’re trying to achieve.
Editor's Note: This article was written by Ben Hess. Ben is the Founding Partner and Managing Director of Tidemark, Inc. and a regular contributor to WorkPuzzle. Comments or questions are welcome. If you're an email subscriber, reply to this WorkPuzzle email. If you read the blog directly from the web, you can click the "comments" link below.