Finding the Winning Edge, Bill Walsh, 1997

Good luck finding a copy of Bill Walsh’s definitive coaching textbook for less than $200. In fact, there are leather-bound, signed editions that fetch more than $1,000. Walk into the office of an NFL coach or front-office executive, and there is a good chance you will spot a well-worn copy with more highlights than white space. Of the 36,000 copies sold in 1997, a hefty percentage have found their way to the desks of grade school, high school and college coaches throughout the country.

Walsh set out to create a comprehensive organizational guide, functioning as a playbook, coaching manual, leadership compendium and roster blueprint under one cover. “It’s not a sports book,” Walsh once told his son. “It’s a thesis.” The 550 pages can be dry and dense at times — Walsh listed 29 factors that could help determine if a player has a drug problem. But it ultimately succeeds as a legacy piece that has advanced the art of NFL coaching and team building.

“Saying it was outstanding wouldn’t do it justice. For a coach, it’s a Bible,” Patriots great Bill Belichick raved to Yahoo’s Charles Robinson nearly a decade ago. “… If I were an owner, first of all, I would read that book. Then I would make that book required reading for my head coach, general manager or any other key executive in my football operation.”


“As a coach, the primary point to remember is that a knowledge or expertise of any subject must remain dynamic. As renowned organization theorist Abraham Kaplan has noted, “As knowledge of a particular subject matter grows, our conception of that subject matter changes. This paradox is resolved by a process of approximation: the better our concepts, the better the theory we can formulate with them, and in turn, the better the concepts for the next improved theory. It is only through this succession that (we) can hope ultimately to achieve success.

An excellent example of Kaplan’s progression is the interaction of ideas and theories I have exchanged with the many fine coaches with whom I have had the pleasure of working over the years. As a result, my attempts to be more knowledgeable about the game and to continually expand my offensive concepts eventually led to the next step in the evolution of, for lack of a better term, the “West Coast Offense.”

Whatever label, genuine or otherwise, others want to give to it, the “West Coast Offense” still amounts to nothing more than a total attention to detail and an appreciation for every facet of offensive football and refinement of those things that are needed to prove an environment that allows people to perform at their maximum levels of self-actualization.”