Don Coryell coached his last NFL game 29 years ago. Needless to say, he has been eligible for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame for over two decades. Yet, he has no bust in Canton, Ohio. Tonight, perhaps, that could change.
It should change.
Known as one of the most innovative offensive minds in the history of the league, you still see so much of what he created in today’s game. The NFL, without a doubt, is primarily a passing league. Many teams feature spread formations which focus on the vertical passing game. These concepts were brought about by Coryell.
After putting the San Diego State Aztecs on the college football map, Coryell moved on to coach the St. Louis Cardinals. He turned around that franchise prior to making his way to America’s finest city to take on the head coaching job for the Bolts.
Despite never coaching the Chargers to the Super bowl, the “Air Coryell” offense was tops in the league for 5 consecutive years in the passing game from 1979-1983. After a one year “break”, the 1985 passing offense return to the top of the NFL charts.
While most teams empowered a two-back set during his era, Coryell preferred lining up one ball carrier. He believed in employing an athletic tight end that could work the seam vertically. Regardless of the down and distance, he was always in favor of his quarterback dropping back to pass and slinging it down the field; it was encouraged on third and short, as well.
The covering defenders in today’s NFL are not allowed to breathe on receivers. Pass interference and defensive holding calls happen early, often and have actually helped win some games, to a degree. That was not the case while Coryell was coaching. Defenders could mug wideouts and they were coached to do just that. The offensive innovator decided that placing his offensive skill position players in motion could help counteract that by making it easier for them to get off the line of scrimmage. This also enabled quarterback Dan Fouts to establish whether or not the defense was in man or zone coverage.
The coaching tree that was spawned from the teachings of Coryell includes the likes of John Madden, Joe Gibbs, and many others. Both Madden and Gibbs are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Don Coryell was far ahead of his time. Every single NFL game you watch includes some form of his imaginative air passing attack. He was quoted as saying, ” I gave my life to football”. It is now time for football to give back to him.
Here’s to hoping the man who belongs with his apprentices is finally awarded with what he earned.
Thanks for reading.