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For Redskins, 'West Coast' Is Coming East

It's not true that the West Coast offense has about as many legends attached to it as does the Loch Ness Monster.


It just seems that way.

This much is for sure: Now that Jim Zorn has been named the 27th head coach of the Redskins, you will hear the term "West Coast Offense" around Redskins football about as frequently as you used to hear "50-Gut" or "70-Chip."

Zorn has stressed that his offense for 2008 will be one marked by "balance" and "rhythm."

"It will be an offense in which we will take shots [downfield] and throw rhythm passes," Zorn said in his introductory press conference. "This whole game is about rhythm."

Philosophically, if you will, Zorn is embedded in the West Coast style that has been the hallmark of the Seattle Seahawks for years. But West Coast principles have roots that go back well beyond Mike Holmgren's tour of duty in the Pacific Northwest.

Most experts on the topic say the term itself, "West Coast Offense," can be traced back to a 1993 Sports Illustrated article by NFL writer Paul "Dr. Z" Zimmerman quoting Bernie Kosar, then the back-up quarterback in Dallas.

"Dr. Z" once wrote that when he asked Kosar what that Cowboys offense of 1993 was like, Kosar, something of a football historian, replied: "Oh, you know, the West Coast offense. [Norv] Turner and [Ernie] Zampese and Don Coryell and Sid Gillman. That thing."

Zimmerman went on to write that the quote caught on and later was used, erroneously, in conjunction with the San Francisco offense under Bill Walsh in the 1980s.

In the SI account, Walsh once pointed out that his offense in San Francisco was something quite different from a pure West Coast style, as we now know it.

Walsh, in fact, said his offense went back to the 1970 season when he was the coordinator in Cincinnati and the Bengals had lost promising rookie quarterback Greg Cook.

Wrote Zimmerman: "In came Virgil Carter in 1970-smaller, agile, quick-thinking. Carter was able to go through his progressions quickly and throw on the go; not blessed with a big arm, but accurate.

"So Walsh crafted an offense to suit him, a horizontal offense with a lot of motion and underneath routes and break off patterns, an attack that now goes by the misnomer 'West Coast offense.'"

Some West Coast devotees would emphasize that the term has its nexus with "Air Coryell," used by the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders beginning in the 1970s.

Most often, names such as Walsh, Gillman, Coryell, Turner and Zampese surface when you're talking about the genesis of the West Coast.

In today's game, you could link Mike Martz, Holmgren, Jon Gruden or Andy Reid to it, to some degree at least. Among quarterbacks, Brett Favre, Matt Hasselbeck and Donovan McNabb are among its practitioners.

Generally, it's more of a phenomenon than it is a full-fledged system and it's fair to say that the passing game gains privilege over the running game in authentic West Coast attacks.

Any team changing to a West Coast style first has to learn its nomenclature, which is said to be unique as well as efficient.

Simply put, to make it work, it takes an accurate passer who gets rid of the ball in a hurry to sure-handed receivers with smarts.

The big question, of course, is this: To what extent will the Redskins shift to a West Coast emphasis in 2008 and to what extent will they merely incorporate West Coast elements?

In his first few days on the job, Zorn has said he understands and appreciates what the Redskins have been able to do with their ground game and that he'd like to keep its vocabulary intact.

But then again, he's spoken about how certain players--inside receiver Antwaan Randle El, for instance--could really stand out in a West Coast approach.

In any event, it will be a great conversation piece at a minimum, as the West Coast offense, or parts of it, make their way from the state of Washington to Washington, D.C.

The other day, Zorn was right on the mark, calling it the "West Coast mystique."

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