Photo: Don Coryell
NOTE: This is an updated story based on my research at the suggestion of Fred Dryer, who played for Don Coryell at San Diego State. He and many others believe Coryell belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Dan Fouts says Coryell influenced the game on both sides of the ball. Mike Martz says Coryell is the father of the modern passing game as much as Pro Football Hall of Fame coaches Sid Gillman and Bill Walsh.
Coryell is again a finalist for the upcoming Pro Football Hall of Fame vote that will be conducted over the Super Bowl weekend.
By Tom Shanahan
The Pro Football Hall of Fame is missing someone.
Don Coryell is in the College Football Hall of Fame, but doubling up as the only coach to win 100 games in college and the NFL strangely has't been enough for a entry into the other half of immortality, the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Coryell was 104-19-2, largely in 12 seasons at San Diego State, where he turned around a woeful program with an innovative passing game. In the NFL, his passing attack was still ahead of the times, ending playoff droughts with both the St. Louis Cardinals and later the San Diego Chargers. He was 111-83-1 with six playoff trips in 14 seasons.
Yes, it’s true Coryell didn’t win a Super Bowl, although the Chargers advanced to two AFC Championship games. One loss was skewed by a fluke bounce of the ball to Oakland Raiders tight end Raymond Chester for a touchdown. The other by the Arctic conditions of the Ice Bowl in Cincinnati.
But is Coryell's record really lacking when compared to George Allen? Allen didn't win a Super Bowl, although he claimed one NFC title. Allen changed the game with defense and special teams, Coryell with offense. Can you write the history of Pro Football without Air Coryell? The voters decided in 2002 they couldn't without Allen.
Coryell's passing attacks were ranked No. 1 in the NFL seven times. He originated the “digit” play-calling system still used by many NFL teams.
“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.”
Listen to Brian Sipe, Coryell’s quarterback at San Diego State. As the Cleveland Browns' 13th-round draft pick, he developed into the 1980 NFL MVP.
“When I went to the Browns in 1972, Don Coryell’s offense was ahead of anything I saw in the NFL. I think the only reason I had the career I had, is I was so quickly able to step in and know what I was looking at. The NFL was easy for me. I felt like I was taking a step backward in terms of preparation.”
Listen to Mike Martz, a San Diegan that won a Super Bowl as the offensive coordinator with the St. Louis Rams and advanced to another Super Bowl as the Rams’ head coach.
“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.
Listen to Willie Buchanon, a Pro Bowl cornerback and 1972 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year with the Green Bay Packers, who was an All-American cornerback for Coryell at SDSU.
“When I got in the NFL, it was easy after playing at San Diego State. I learned everything I knew from Don Coryell, Ernie Zampese and Claude Gilbert. We had a system. Coryell developed the tight end as a wide receiver when he split Tim Delaney 5 yards out. They call the passing games today the West Coast offense. That was Don Coryell’s system.”
A list of testimonials could go on an on from those that believe Coryell belongs in the NFL. Dan Dierdorf never made a Pro Bowl with the Cardinals before Coryell, but Coryell's influence propelled him into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Fred Dryer, a Pro Bowler that was an All-American defensive end for Coryell at SDSU, also spoke of an advanced "system" of coaching a team Coryell employed. Dryer said it was ahead of what he experienced as the New York Giants' first-round draft pick, in 1969. Dryer wonder what would be revealed comparing Pro Bowl appearances among Cardinals and Chargers players before and after they played for Coryell. I checked for him. Seven players never made a Pro Bowl before or after playing for Coryell.
The following is a research focused on Coryell’s offensive players, a reflection of his advanced Air Coryell style that pushed forward the modern game. It also doesn’t include three Pro Bowl Chargers, Winslow and two offensive linemen, Ed White and Russ Washington.
Winslow was drafted by the Chargers under Coryell and essentially played for no other coach.
White was an established Pro Bowler with the Minnesota Vikings (1975, 1976 and 1977) before he joined the Chargers in 1978; he made the 1979 Pro Bowl under Coryell.
Washington was an established Pro Bowl with the Chargers in 1974, 1975 and 1977 before returning under Coryell in 1978 and 1979.
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DAN FOUTS (Chargers), 1973-1987, Hall of Fame.
Pro Bowls before Coryell: none; Pro Bowls with Coryell: (6) 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1985.
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CHARLIE JOINER (Chargers), 1969-1986, Hall of Fame.Pro Bowls before Coryell: (1), 1976; Pro Bowls with Coryell: (2) 1979, 1980.
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DOUG WILKERSON (Chargers), 1970-1984.
Pro Bowls before Coryell: none; Pro Bowls with Coryell: (3) 1980, 1981, 1982.
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CHUCK MUNCIE (Chargers), 1976-1984.
Pro Bowls before Coryell: none; Pro Bowls with Coryell: (3) 1979, 1981, 1982.
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JOHN JEFFERSON (Chargers), 1978-1985.
Pro Bowls with Coryell: (3), 1978, 1979, 1980; Pro Bowls after Jefferson was traded to the Packers: (1) 1982.
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WES CHANDLER (Chargers), 1978-1988.
Pro Bowls before Coryell: (1), 1979; Pro Bowls with Coryell: (3) 1982, 1983, 1985.
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DAN DIERDORF (Cardinals), 1971-1983, Hall of Fame.
Pro Bowls before Coryell: none; Pro Bowls with Coryell: (4) 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977; Pro Bowls after Coryell: (2) 1978, 1980.
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JIM HART (Cardinals), 1966-1984.
Pro Bowls before Coryell: none; Pro Bowls with Coryell: (4) 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977; Pro Bowls after Coryell left the Cardinals: none.
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TOM BANKS (Cardinals) 1971-1980.
Pro Bowls before Coryell: none; Pro Bowls with Coryell: (3) 1975, 1976, 1977; Pro Bowls after Coryell left the Cardinals: (1) 1978.
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TERRY METCALF (Cardinals), 1973-1977, 1981.
Pro Bowls with Coryell: (3) 1974, 1975, 1977; Pro Bowls after Coryell: none.
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JIM OTIS (Cardinals), 1970-1978.
Pro Bowls before Coryell: none; Pro Bowls with Coryell: (1) 1975; Pro Bowl after Coryell left Cardinals: none.
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