Raymond Chester and Changed NFL
I was covering the Raiders for The Chronicle in 1970 when he was the first draft choice so I volunteered to write the short message on his plaque for the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame. That was only 220 words, so it’s the basic information, nothing more. I wrote that without having to talk to Raymond but I called him anyway because he’s always interesting. This time was no exception.
We got into a comparison of the current NFL and what pro football was like when he was playing – 1970-81 in the NFL. Not surprisingly, we agreed that the NFL was better when he was playing and I was writing but he had specific reasons for believing that.
“When I was playing for the Raiders, we were coached to recognize what was happening on the field,” he said. “We didn’t have to wait for a coach to send in plays. The quarterback (usually Ken Stabler) read the defense when he came to the line of scrimmage and he expected us to do the same. Now, players are standing around, waiting for the coach to send in plays from the sideline.”
In other words, it’s now a coach’s game, not a players’ game.
That was not even true later than Chester’s time. Bill Walsh came to the 49ers in 1979 with an offense that changed thinking around the league but players were still very involved in decision making.
One example: I commented to Walsh one time that when I watched games on TV (rarely, in those days, when I was usually covering a game at the stadium), there would often be pass plays when the receiver went one way and the ball another and announcers would say that the quarterback and receiver were not on the same page. I couldn’t remember that happening with the Niners under Walsh.
“When the ball is snapped (on a pass play), the receiver runs right at the first defensive back,” Walsh told me. “If that back covers him, he knows it’s a man-to-man defense and he goes to a designated place. If he doesn’t, it’s a zone defense, so he goes to another place. The quarterback (Joe Montana) sees the same thing so he knows where the receiver will be.”
In both that case and with the Raiders, it was players making the decision. If you look at the Raiders’ record in the ‘70s and the 49ers’ record under Walsh in the ‘80s, you can see that it worked well for the players to have control.
The argument against that is that the game is more complicated now, and that’s true. But more complicated is not the same as better.
Another example from the past: George Seifert was as good with the 49ers’ defense in the ‘80s as Walsh was with the offense, and George used different players in different situations. In the 1985 Super Bowl, Miami coach Don Shula thought he’d stop that by running off plays before the 49ers could make defensive changes. So, Seifert just left his best pass rushers in the game, and they neutralized the Dolphins’ main offensive threat, Dan Marino. The 49ers won easily.
Are coaches smarter today? Are players less intelligent? The answer to both questions is no, but coaches have made the game so much more complicated that virtually all of them are sending in plays from the sideline. They have to wait for a coach in a box upstairs to send it down because, standing on the sideline, they see less of the game than a fan sitting in the lowest row in the stands. When I first started writing on football for The Chronicle in the mid-‘60s, I thought coaches were stalling when they answered post-game questions by saying, “I won’t know until I see the films.” But later I realized, they really didn’t know. That’s why they need a coach in an upstairs box to give them a play to send in.
I’m waiting for a coach who is smart and independent enough to realize this system doesn’t work and the game should belong to the players. But, I’m not holding my breath.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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