"What matters most is what you expect from yourself. The players who do the best are those who expect the most. The Forty Niners didn't play down or up tot he level of their opposition. They played to meet their own standards and they expected nothing less from all of their teammates" (89). This quote is a great quote and is most helpful when viewed side-by-side with its antithesis, a back-handed compliment given out to players who can "play up to the level of their competition".
So when you hear of a player who plays better when he's playing good opponents, if he plays better when matching Kobe Bryant than Scruff McGruff, it should be viewed as a negative. He's a slacker, not a competitor. What it means is that player is more suspectible to losing games to average or below average teams because he won't be playing seriously or trying hard.
Conversely, if one sees a team repeatedly blow out weaker opponents, like the Patriots during the 2007-2008 season or the Celtics in their 2007-2008 season (beating the Knicks by 40 points) one knows that team is a serious contender for playoff performance. They set their own standards and will be a good pick to cover the spread and also will suprise with a few blowouts of teams that "play up to their opponents".
A team that doesn't have a problem losing will get beat badly by teams that strive for excellence.
Bill Walsh also expected precision from his coaches. He chewed out a coach for saying "nice play" because it wasn't specific enough. The coach had to complement the player for the specific actions taken.
"Everyone has a role and every role is essential. He was still convinced that championships are won with the bottom half of the roster" (89). I also saw this in a book about the Patriots I read, where Bill Bellichick felt that same players on other teams (the bottom third) couldn't even make the practice squad of the Patriots.
"You have to be ready to attack the problem and find a way to communicate about it without it being difficult. We openly talk when tihngs go poorly and initiate a process to reverse adn change the miscalculation. The Forty Niners are always talking to each other and always listening". (91).
Another gem: "He was convinced that his team would never get better until it knew who it was, and that providing such an identity was the head coach's central function" (92).
Bill Walsh also placed a premium on character, inspiration, and motivation. This is a common theme, the idea of a locker room's identity and the people that enforce it. "Walsh's projection of Young's impact would prove on teh mark, particularly on that last count. An ordained Baptist preacher, Charle brought character in abundance, leading the team in pregame prayers and offering inspirational sermons to anyone in his vicinity" (107).
I think this factor is more valuable in football than basketball.
Bill also emphasized footwork and technique. "He insisted he could always tell the outcome of the play just by watching the quarterback's feet". Thats a very interesting point. The faster the QB throws the ball, the more his play call are open on the first read. The more the offense is winning the battle against the defensive play-caller. Thats a very important thing to keep in mind when watching a game (110).
Another common theme is Bill Walsh spending each off-season trying to bring in more talent.
"this concentration on defense (in the draft) also reflected Bill's theory that his sy stem of offense could cover for talent shortages but not so with defense, where talent was essential and could not be compensated for" (126).
Jack "Hacksaw" Reynolds was legendary for his intensity and work ethic and study of the game.
He really set the example in terms of work ethic and intensity and a lot of young players keyed in on that.
Joe Montana after the strike of the 81-82 season: "there were grudges and we weren't playing as a team. We weren't working together and people weren't talking to teach other. How can you win under those conditions? A lot of players heads weren't into the game" (175).
After the season was over, "Walsh identified three things that led to their collapse. 1) Complacency 2) Distractions 3) Drugs".
Drugs aren't a factor in the NFL (as far as I know). Complaceny occured because "Its just human nature, especially for a team that hasn't been winning before and didn't yet have a legacy or tradition. Suddenly you're invited to every golf tournament in the off-season. Its hard to rekindle the same kind of hunger" (176).
Complacency: "We had too many guys writing books, or on speaking engagements, or otherwise enjoying the fruits of the Super Bowl. We just got so distracted our edge disappeared".
So lastly, signs of teams losing focus would be coaches writing books, players writing books. Those are the most visible.