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Don Coryell
Date of birth October 17, 1924 (1924-10-17) (age 85)
Place of birth Seattle, Washington
Position(s) Head Coach
College Washington
Career record 111-83
Stats
Coaching stats DatabaseFootball
Team(s) as a coach/administrator
1957-1959
1961-1972
1973-1977
1978-1986
Whittier College
San Diego State
St. Louis Cardinals
San Diego Chargers
College Football Hall of Fame

Don Coryell (born October 17, 1924) is a former American football coach, who coached in the NFL first with the St. Louis Cardinals from 1973-1977 and then the San Diego Chargers from 1978-1986. He is well-known for his innovations to football's passing offense. Coryell's offense today is commonly known as "Air Coryell". He was inducted into the San Diego Chargers Hall of Fame in 1986. Coryell is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

Don Coryell played defensive back for the University of Washington from 1949-1951. Coryell coached 12 seasons with the San Diego State Aztecs, using the philosophy of recruiting only junior college players. There, he compiled a record of 104 wins, 19 losses and 2 ties including three undefeated seasons in 1966, 1968 and 1969. He was an assistant coach for the USC Trojans in 1960.

In 1978, when Don Coryell began coaching the San Diego Chargers, the Chargers had a win-loss record of 1-4 for that season. The team broke their losing streak with eight additional wins and three losses that season after Coryell became head coach.[1]

Coryell is the first coach ever to win more than 100 games at both the collegiate and professional level. He won two consecutive division titles (1974, 1975) with the Cardinals and three straight division titles (1979, 1980, 1981) with the Chargers, reaching the playoffs four consecutive times with the latter team. With Dan Fouts as quarterback, San Diego's "Air Coryell" was among the greatest passing offenses in NFL history. The Chargers led the league in passing yards an NFL record 6 consecutive years from 1978-1983 [2] and again in 1985. They also led the league in total yards in offense 1980-1983 and 1985. Fouts, Charlie Joiner, and Kellen Winslow would all be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame from those Charger teams, as well as Dan Dierdorf from the Cardinals.

Fouts was only the 2nd player to pass for 4,000 yards in 1979 before shattering the passing records in each of the next 2 years. In 1982, a season shortened to 9 games because of a strike, Fouts averaged what is still an NFL record of 320 yards passing per game[3]. In Winslow, Coryell redefined the tight end position into a deep, pass-catching threat too fast for a linebacker and too big for a defensive back. Coryell also developed multi-purpose backs such as Terry Metcalf at St Louis, who set the NFL all-purpose yards record in 1975. In San Diego, he groomed James Brooks and later Lionel James, a mere 5'6" and 171 pound running back, who broke Metcalf's record in 1985 while also setting a record of 1,027 receiving yards by a running back[4] . A rookie in 1978, John Jefferson went on to become the first receiver in league history to gain 1,000 yards in each of his first three seasons while also grabbing 36 touchdowns. Traded away from Air Coryell by ownership because of a contract dispute [5], Jefferson never reached 1,000 yards again in his career. Wes Chandler was acquired to replace Jefferson. In the 1982 strike year, Chandler, set the record of 129 yards receiving per game that is still an NFL record [6].

Detractors of Coryell point to the Chargers' defensive shortcomings. However, in 1979 the Chargers allowed the fewest points (246) in the AFC. In 1980 their defense led the NFL with 60 sacks spearheaded by a frontline of All-Pros in Fred Dean, Gary "Big Hands" Johnson and Louie Kelcher. The group was locally nicknamed the Bruise Brothers, coined from a popular act at the time, The Blues Brothers. However, in 1981, Dean, like Jefferson, was traded away due to a contract dispute with ownership [7]. Dean contends he was making the same amount of money as his brother-in-law who was a truck driver [8]. The Chargers' defense would never be the same afterwards. Meanwhile, Dean would go on in the same year to win UPI NFC Defensive Player of the Year (while playing in only 11 games) and help lead the San Francisco 49ers to a Super Bowl that year and again in 1984. Dean was inducted to the NFL Hall of Fame in 2008.

"I can't say how much it affected us, because we did make it to the AFC championship game," said Johnson of the loss of Dean. "But I could say if we had more pass rush from the corner, it might've been different.[9]"

At San Diego State, Coryell helped develop a number of quarterbacks for the NFL, including Don Horn, Bob Klatt, Jesse Freitas, Dennis Shaw and future NFL MVP Brian Sipe, and also coached two players who later became actors: Fred Dryer and Carl Weathers.

Hall of Fame Consideration

Coryell's direct development of future coaches included Super Bowl head coaches John Madden and Joe Gibbs, Super Bowl offensive coordinators Ernie Zampese and Al Saunders, as well as Jim Hanifan and Rod Dowhower. Adding to the Coryell coaching tree, Super Bowl offensive coordinator Norv Turner tutored under Zampese, and another Super Bowl offensive coordinator Mike Martz studied under both Zampese and later Turner [10]. Dan Henning coached under Gibbs.

Fouts says, "He influenced offensive and defensive football because if you are going to have three or four receivers out there, you better have an answer for it on the other side of the ball. If it wasn't for Don, I wouldn't be in the Hall of Fame [11]."

In John Madden's Hall of Fame induction speech, Madden mentioned his time at San Diego State "with a great coach that someday will be in here, Don Coryell. He had a real influence on my coaching. Joe Gibbs was on that staff, too[12]."

Gibbs also lobbied for Coryell's induction into the Hall of Fame, stating "(Coryell) was extremely creative and fostered things that are still in today's game because he was so creative. I think he's affected a lot of coaches, and I'd like to see him get in.[13] "

"Don is the father of the modern passing game. People talk about the 'West Coast' offense, but Don started the 'West Coast' decades ago and kept updating it. You look around the NFL now, and so many teams are running a version of the Coryell offense. Coaches have added their own touches, but it's still Coryell's offense. He has disciples all over the league. He changed the game," adds Martz [11].

Winslow points out that Coryell had an indirect hand in the 49ers', Washington Redskins' and St. Louis Rams' Super Bowl teams. "They call it the West Coast offense because San Francisco won Super Bowls with it, but it was a variation of what we did in San Diego. Joe Gibbs' itty-bitty receivers on the outside and two tight ends in the middle, (that's) a variation of Coryell's offense in San Diego. It's just a personnel change, but it's the same thing. When the Rams won their Super Bowl, it was the same offense, same terminology. For Don Coryell to not be in the Hall of Fame is a lack of knowledge of the voters. That's the nicest way that I can put that. A lack of understanding of the legacy of the game.[14] "

The fact that many players have made the Hall without making the Super Bowl is ample evidence as to why it should not matter.

In 2010, Coryell for the first time was among the 15 finalists considered by the Hall of Fame selection committee on the Saturday before the Super Bowl. He was not selected.[15]

References

  1. ^ Sports E-Cyclopedia History of the San Diego Chargers.
  2. ^ http://www.nfl.com/history/randf/records/team/passing
  3. ^ http://www.pro-football-reference.com/leaders/pass_yds_per_g_single_season.htm
  4. ^ Neville, David. "Little Big Man". http://www.chargers.com/news/headlines/news-1049097600.htm. Retrieved 2008-10-22. 
  5. ^ http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/football/nfl/news/2001/02/28/sayitaintso_chargers/#jefferson
  6. ^ http://www.pro-football-reference.com/leaders/rec_yds_per_g_single_season.htm
  7. ^ http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/football/nfl/news/2001/02/28/sayitaintso_chargers/#49ers
  8. ^ Wilson, Bernie. "Charger-turned-Niner Fred Dean answers Hall's call". http://www.usatoday.com/sports/football/2008-07-31-2737875428_x.htm. Retrieved 2008-11-03. 
  9. ^ Thomas, Jim. 2008. Fred Dean: Situational pass-rusher made most of his opportunities. Canton Repository, July 28 (accessed October 19, 2008).
  10. ^ Magee, Jerry. 2002. Air Coryell Redux. San Diego Union Tribune, February 1 (accessed October 4, 2008)
  11. ^ a b Shannhan, Tom. 2008. "Don Coryell Belongs in the Hall of Fame", July 1 (accessed October 4, 2008)
  12. ^ John Madden's Enshrinement Speech Transcript, August 5, 2006 (accessed October 4, 2008)
  13. ^ "Hall of Fame notes: Gibbs lobbies for Coryell, Thurman for Reed". http://www.sportsline.com/nfl/story/10917526. Retrieved 2008-11-02. 
  14. ^ "Hall of Fame enshrinement weekend blog". http://www.nfl.com/halloffame/story?id=09000d5d809a866c&template=with-video&confirm=true. Retrieved 2008-11-02. 
  15. ^ "Coryell denied entry to Hall of Fame". http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/2010/feb/06/hall-fame-passes-over-don-coryell/. Retrieved 2010-02-08. 
Sporting positions
Preceded by
Paul Governali
San Diego State University Head Football Coach
1961- 1972
Succeeded by
Claude Gilbert
Preceded by
Bob Hollway
St. Louis Cardinals Head Coaches
1973–1977
Succeeded by
Bud Wilkinson
Preceded by
Tommy Prothro
San Diego Chargers Head Coaches
1978–1986
Succeeded by
Al Saunders
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