Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Way of Strategy (11): The Script

update on 08.16.2014
Click here for an technical update of this post.

Football season is here. Armchair quarterbacks rejoice.Beside the utilization of Chinese strategy principles as a process, one of our favorite tools is "The Script."

"The Script" is a game preparation and implementation tool that was invented by Bill Walsh, an American head football coach of the San Francisco 49ers and Stanford University, during which time he popularized the West Coast offense. Walsh went 102–63–1 with the 49ers, winning ten of his fourteen postseason games along with six division titles, three NFC Championship titles, and three Super Bowls. He was named the NFL's Coach of the Year in 1981 and 1984.

The Intent of The Script
The purpose of The Script is to see exactly how the other team reacts to each offensive play at the opening stage of the game. The strategist would use this information to plan the offensive strategy for the remainder of the game. Regardless of the game situation, the disciples of the West Coast Offense are trained to stick to The Script regardless of the down, the distance and the defensive alignment, except for the fourth down. 
Applying the Script Before the Game 
Idealistically,the offensive coordinator informs the players "The Script" one or two practices before game day. On the last practice, the team rehearses "The Script." Beside eliminating anxiety (rather than create anxiety) among the players. the offense coordinator discovers whether the players are able to master those plays and decides whether to adjust the technicalities of the play.

Overall, it requires a great deal of experience, discipline and emotional intelligence to run "The Script" tool.

The Master of the Game PlanPreparation and Execution Perfected

Bill Walsh, ever the innovator, conceived a plan, now routine in the NFL, to "script" in advance the offensive plays he would call early in a game.

Walsh still remembers the criticism and skepticism from the NFL coaching establishment that greeted him in the 1970s when, as an offensive assistant with the Cincinnati Bengals, he started scripting plays. All the planning could be done in the office during the week instead of on the sidelines during the frenzy of a game.

With a script, the offensive players could devote more study time to plays that definitely would be used in the game, as opposed to studying an entire game plan that invariably included a bunch of plays that would not be called.

"It got to the point where our offensive team really wanted to know those plays," Walsh recalled. "The players really appreciate the idea that you're giving them a (head) start on the game. You can sleep easier, you have more confidence going into the game, and you're more at ease.

For the coaches, you can feel comfortable that the game is almost on automatic pilot when it starts."
"You know what's going to be called and there's no reason to make a mistake," veteran tight end Shannon Sharpe said of the system in Denver, where coach Mike Shanahan scripts the first 15 offensive plays every week. "You already know if (the defense does) this, who we're going to. So that makes your job a lot easier."

Just about every team in the NFL now uses some form of scripting. Walsh used to do 25 plays, but most teams now script about 15 plays.
There are, of course, some misconceptions about scripting. While there might be a long script of plays, they are not called blindly in order. "Would you run 25 in order? No," Walsh said. "Let's say, of the 25, you'd run 18 or 19 sort of in order. If something really worked or you saw something in the defense, you'd go back to (a play).

To me, it was just sort of a safety net because there's so much emotion to start the game, you want to think clearly, and this, in a sense, forces you to stay with a regimen that you clinically planned prior to the game."
"The scripting saved us because I couldn't think," he said. "It was minus-35 wind chill, and there was no way I could look at a game plan or pull something out of my head. All I wanted to do was run for cover, go in where it was warm, for survival. So in that case, the plan was what saved us."

Excerpts from NFL Insider/ article from 2002 by Ira Miller.

Questions and Answers on Walsh's Starter Script
Q: Most coaches run a 15 play script. Why did Walsh utilized a 25 play script?
The aim of the 15 play script is to immediately attack the tendencies and the physical weaknesses of the opposition's defense. The 25 play script focused on revealing the entire opposition's defensive arsenal while pinpointing their true weaknesses. We believed that Walsh liked the idea of forcing the opposition to expose their arsenal.Q: What was in Walsh's script?
A: A balance of pass plays and run plays that have never appeared in previous games. Walsh would o
ccasionally throw in one or two gadget plays that the opposition has never seen before.

We have heard one former Niners player referred "The 25 Plays" as "The 25 Lies." The story behind that statement is based on that the opposition became too focused on stopping Walsh's 25 play script that they forgot to focus on their own game.
Retrospectively, it is also a psychological gaming tool and an "informational feedback strategy" tool.

The implementation of a 25 play script requires a person with great patience, control and strategic insight. Bill Walsh was that person.
Rarely does anyone ever talk about the keys for the following:
  • when to stay with the script;
  • when to leave the script; and
  • when to return to it.
The amateurs think that they know what "The Script" is about. However there are a few who understand its true range and the reason why it works.

In the football business, the Script is used by many coaches. Our observations tell us that many of them do not possess the strategic training to use it properly. At the same time, some of the quarterbacks are not trained to run "The Script."

The most difficult challenge for most football teams is to run "The Script" from a no-huddle mode. We will touch on that topic in a future post.


The key to building The Script is to properly assess the competition and the grand situation. In our future book project, we will focus on this topic
Being a fan of world class strategists and an implementer of Best Practices, we recommended to our clients to script their operational strategy. In future, we will touch more on "The Script."

We believed that this set of arcane knowledge is usually given to those who are operating on a "need to know" those under the clause of "they are worthy."

We at C360 usually apply our version of the script in all of our operational situations

 If you are interested in securing an abridged version of our Compass Script, please send us a request at

49ers on cusp of new era - or total failure

Gwen Knapp, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, September 13, 2009

(09-12) 20:41 PDT -- The 49ers' seventh offensive coordinator in seven years used some interesting language late last week. "We always script the first 12 'openers,' " Jimmy Raye said, "the first third down and short, the first third and medium, the first short-yardage play."

We always? Until late January, Raye had not been connected to the 49ers since 1977, when he served as receivers coach for a single year.

He was gone when Bill Walsh appeared two seasons later, transforming the franchise and establishing the principle of scripting the opening plays on offense. By "we always," Raye meant all of his own offenses over the years, from Los Angeles to Tampa Bay to Washington. Like so many other coaches, he said, he must have borrowed the philosophy from Walsh and made it his own.

Today's 49ers have no traditions worth preserving. Small remnants from the dynastic Walsh era may survive, but after six dreary seasons, the phrase "we always" can legitimately precede nothing good. (We always lose at least nine games a season. We always change offensive coordinators.)

... The 49ers would be linked to Walsh only through the brief mentoring he provided for Singletary and the ripple effect that brought scripted openers to Raye. But they would also disengage from the last six years, leaving the threshold of Lost Franchises.

E-mail Gwen Knapp at
This article appeared on page B - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

# updated on 09/01/2011


Rick said...

A practical application of the scientific method. Walsh was literally running experiments on his opponents to determine their tendencies, then he'd exploit them.

C360 Consultants said...

Good point, Rick. ... Many know what to do. Not many know the approach. Very few can properly implement it under extreme pressure. ...

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