When Bill Walsh was hired as the Bengals offensive coordinator in 1968, he inherited a roster littered with underwhelming talent. Needing a system that could quickly move the ball down the field, he and Paul Brown invented what would one day be known as the West Coast Offense. While Bruce Coslet was never much of an impact player, the tight end from the University of the Pacific would return to Cincinnati to reinvigorate a stagnant offense with the principles that he learned as a player.
The Early Years
Bruce Coslet was born on August 5, 1946 in Oakdale, California. After starring on the gridiron for the Oakdale High School Mustangs, he accepted a scholarship offer to the University of the Pacific. While the Tigers struggled throughout his college career, young Bruce made a career decision, switching from wideout to tight end between his junior and senior years.
After catching 16 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns in 1967, Bruce Coslet failed to be drafted into either the NFL or the AFL. The Bengals called the following year and he soon found himself half a world away from the cozy confines of Sacramento.
When Bruce Coslet arrived in Ohio, the Bengals had recently drafted a promising passer from the University of Cincinnati named Greg Cook. Blessed with fleet feet and a bazooka for an arm, Cook was the total package. As a result, Bill Walsh and Paul Brown installed a wide open offense revolving around the passing game, chucking balls down the field at will.
Coslet didn't have to wait long for to score his first touchdown, catching a 39-yard strike from Cook in the third quarter of a 34-20 win over the Chargers in the second game of the season. But the good times wouldn't last as Cook was felled with a torn rotator cuff in a win over the eventual Super Bowl champion Chiefs the following week. while he would finish out the year leading the league in passing, Cook's career would soon peter out.
Meanwhile, the Bengals were left in quite a quandary. With Cook on the mend, they traded for Virgil Carter of the Bears. Carter was the complete opposite of Cook, forcing the Bengals staff to design a different style of offense. Instead of launching balls into orbit on virtually every play, Walsh and Brown designed the receiver's routes to be much shorter and Carter's passes to be placed just in front of them so that they would have room to run after the catch, maximizing the yards gained on the play.
While he was never their top target, Bruce Coslet immediately began taking advantage of the new system, catching eight passes for 98 yards and a touchdown that year, seven more receptions and 59 more yards than the year before. What's more, the Bengal's innovative offense shocked the NFL by winning their division and making the playoffs for the first time in their short history.
After their season ended in a 17-0 first round loss to the Colts, Bruce Coslet proceeded to prove his value the following year, enjoying the best year of his playing career. His season began quietly, but late in the Bengals 4-10 campaign, Coslet shined bright. He caught five passes for 102 yards in a 24-10 Week 9 win over the Broncos, including a 71-yard touchdown catch and run from Virgil Carter. In a 28-13 win over the Oilers the following week, he only caught one pass for six yards, but it went for a touchdown in the first quarter, giving his team a commanding 14-0 lead.
Three weeks later, Bruce caught an exhilarating 43-yard touchdown pass late in the second quarter of an eight point loss to the Steelers. After that 99-yard performance, Coslet capped off his finest year as a player by scoring his team's final points of the year on a nine-yard touchdown reception late in their 35-21 loss to the Jets. Bruce Coslet finished the year having caught 21 passes for 356 yards and four touchdowns.
After that season, Coslet's value to the Bengals offense diminished as Bob Trumpy continued to shine as the team's featured tight end. While he would only catch ten or more passes just once more, the Bengals continued to eviscerate opposing defenses and expand their impact on the sport.
The Bengals had drafted Ken Anderson in 1971 and Walsh quickly molded him into his ideal quarterback. Anderson proved to be all that the Bengals hoped that he could be as he operated the timing based system to perfection. As a result, the Bengals made the playoffs twice more in the decade, in 1973 and 1975.
However, this was in the thick of one of the great dynasty era's in NFL history. In that decade, the Miami Dolphins, the Dallas Cowboys and the division rival Pittsburgh Steelers all won at least two Super Bowls. As an expansion team still trying to find its way, the Bengals didn't stand a chance.
They never went past the first round in any of their three playoff appearances and Bruce Coslet only caught two passes for 14 yards in the final matchup, a 31-28 loss to the Raiders in 1975. After catching five passes for 73 yards and a touchdown the following year, Coslet retired. But he was nowhere near done with the game.
After retiring as a player, Bruce Coslet began a long coaching career that ultimately found him back in Cincinnati. A decade after his retirement, he was the Bengals offensive coordinator, coaching alongside an old teammate, Sam Wyche. As young players, they bore witness the the birth of the West Coast Offense.
He proved to be a quick study as a coordinator, leading attacks that ranked first in yards gained twice and in the top four in points scored three times in his four years at the helm. In 1988, the Bengals made it all the way to the Super Bowl in a rather unconventional way.
While they were powered by a terrific rushing attack and led by league MVP quarterback Boomer Esiason, their style was different than past years. that year, Wyche and Coslet decided to speed up their offense, gifting the sport one of the earlier incarnations of the no-huddle offense. While they never strayed from the tenets of the West Coast Offense, defenses across the league were gassed after every game as they couldn't slow down Cincinnati's warp speed offense.
But like the decade before, none of their innovations won them a championship. At season's end, the coaches watched Bill Walsh walk off the field as a Super Bowl champion once again.
By 1990 Bruce Coslet was the head coach of the New York Jets, fully intended on making a name for himself at the top of his profession. But coaching can be a fickle industry. While some men can transition well from being a coordinator to the role of a head coach, other crumble under the intense scrutiny of one of the most public positions in the world. Bruce Coslet was uncomfortably in the latter. Weighed down b y poor drafts and lackluster rosters, he never enjoyed a record better than 8-8. He was let go after the 1993 season but stayed ready for another opportunity, should it arise.
Back to Cincinnati he went, once again as the Bengals offensive coordinator, but his role didn't last long as the organization fired head coach Dave Shula in the middle of 1996, thrusting Bruce Coslet front and center as their new head coach. Perhaps he was running on adrenaline as he led the team to a 7-2 finish. After all, the 1990's was a lost decade for the Bengals as they proved time and again to be the worst franchise in the NFL. Sure enough, Coslet fell back to earth the following year as the Bengals stumbled to a 7-9 season.
Surely, he hoped for that sort of record the next two years as the Bengals finished with 4-12 and 3-13 records. After starting 2000 0-3, Bruce Coslet was fired as the head coach of his beloved Cincinnati Bengals. He spent one year in Dallas as their offensive coordinator, witnessing Emmitt Smith's record-breaking run in that lone 2002 season, before getting the ax one last time. It was his last hurrah in the industry.