- Don Coryell
Don Coryell Date of birth October 17, 1924 Place of birth Seattle, Washington Date of death July 1, 2010(aged 85) Place of death La Mesa, California Position(s) Head Coach College Washington Career record 111–83-1 Stats Coaching stats DatabaseFootball Team(s) as a coach/administrator 1957–1959
San Diego State
St. Louis Cardinals
San Diego Chargers
College Football Hall of Fame
Donald David Coryell (October 17, 1924 – July 1, 2010) was an 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 was well-known for his innovations to football's passing offense. Coryell's offense was commonly known as "Air Coryell". Coryell was the first coach ever to win more than 100 games at both the collegiate and professional level. 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 enlisted in the Army in 1943 and spent 3½ years as a paratrooper. He played defensive back for the University of Washington from 1949-1951. He earned his bachelor's and master's degrees at the University of Washington. He was a high school coach in Hawaii where his teams ran a version of the I formation running game. He would also coach at the University of British Columbia, Wenatchee Valley College, and a military team at Fort Ord. As head coach at Whittier College from 1957–1959, Whittier won conference championships in each of Coryell's three years. He would also rely on the I formation at Whittier. In 1960, he was an assistant coach under John McKay for the USC Trojans, where the I formation would be its signature offense for decades. While the origin of the I formation is unclear, Coryell was one of its pioneers.
San Diego State University
Coryell coached 12 seasons with the San Diego State University (SDSU) 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. His teams would enjoy winning streaks of 31 and 25 games, and would win three bowl games during his tenure. Coryell helped lead SDSU from an NCAA Division II to an NCAA Division I program in 1969.
It was at SDSU that Coryell began to emphasize a passing offense. Coryell recounted, “We could only recruit a limited number of runners and linemen against schools like USC and UCLA. And there were a lot of kids in Southern California passing and catching the ball. There seemed to be a deeper supply of quarterbacks and receivers. And the passing game was also open to some new ideas.” Coryell adds, "Finally we decided it's crazy that we can win games by throwing the ball without the best personnel. So we threw the hell out of the ball and won some games. When we started doing that, we were like 55-5-1."
John Madden served as Coryell's defensive assistant at SDSU. Madden had first met Coryell attending a coaching clinic on the I formation led by McKay. "We'd go to these clinics, and afterward, everyone would run up to talk to McKay," said Madden. "Coryell was there because he introduced (McKay). I was thinking, 'If (McKay) learned from him, I'll go talk to (Coryell).' "
At San Diego State, Coryell helped develop a number of quarterbacks for the NFL, including Don Horn, Jesse Freitas, Dennis Shaw and future NFL MVP Brian Sipe. Wide receivers who went on to the NFL include Isaac Curtis, Gary Garrison, and Haven Moses. Coryell also coached two players who later became actors: Fred Dryer and Carl Weathers.
St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals under Coryell had three consecutive seasons (1974–1976) with double-digit victories and won two consecutive division titles (1974–1975). Those were the only division titles the Cardinals ever won while in St. Louis. Prior to 1974, the Cardinals had not been in the playoffs in 26 years since 1948 when they were the Chicago Cardinals. In 1975, the "Cardiac Cardinals" won seven times in the game's last minute. Multi-purpose back Terry Metcalf set an NFL all-purpose yards record at the time in 1975. When St. Louis did not re-sign Metcalf and he left for the Canadian Football League after 1977, Coryell departed also 
Dan Dierdorf developed into an All-Pro offensive lineman under Coryell and would later be voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Cornerback Roger Wehrli and tight end Jackie Smith were already established All-Pros prior to Coryell's tenure at St. Louis, and they are also members of the Hall of Fame.
San Diego Chargers
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. The Chargers 9–7 record was their first winning season since 1969.
He won three straight division titles (1979, 1980, 1981) with the Chargers, reaching the playoffs four consecutive times. Previously, the Chargers had not been to the playoffs since 1965. 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  and again in 1985. They also led the league in total yards in offense 1980-1983 and 1985. The Pro Football Hall of Fame called Coryell's offenses "one of the most explosive and exciting offenses that ever set foot on an NFL field." Fouts, wide receiver Charlie Joiner, and tight end Kellen Winslow would all be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame from those Charger teams.
Fouts was only the 2nd player to pass for 4,000 yards in a season in 1979 before establishing a new record for total passing yards in a season in 1980 and again in 1981. In a nine-game strike-shortened 1982 season, Fouts averaged 320 yards passing per game, still an NFL record as of 2010[update]. With 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 was astute to realize that "If we're asking Kellen to block a defensive end and not catch passes, I'm not a very good coach  ."
In San Diego, Coryell groomed another set of all-purpose backs in 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 . 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, 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.
Detractors of Coryell point to the Chargers' defensive shortcomings given that his defenses were in the bottom ten league-wide from 1981-1986. 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. Dean contends he was making the same amount of money as his brother-in-law who was a truck driver. The Chargers' defense would never be the same afterwards as it surrendered the most passing yards in the NFL in both 1981 and 1982. 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."
Tom Bass, who was a defensive coordinator for Coryell with both SDSU and the Chargers, said Coryell focused on offense during practice. He left the coaching of defensive players and the defensive game plan to Bass."In planning and designing defense, he simply had no interest," said Bass.
Hall of Fame Consideration
Coryell's failure to lead his teams to a Super Bowl has presumably kept him out of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Voters have cited his 3-6 postseason record as further evidence. His teams' defenses were not as strong as its offenses, which could be attributed to the offensive unit scoring quickly and not providing the defensive side sufficient rest. Tony Dungy, a Super Bowl head coach, says that "If you talk about impact on the game, training other coaches -- John Madden, Bill Walsh, Joe Gibbs to name a few -- and influencing how things are done, Don Coryell is probably right up there with Paul Brown. He was a genius." Sports Illustrated writer Jim Trotter, who votes on the Pro Football Hall of Fame Board of Selectors, said selectors are hesitant to vote for coaches when there is a backlog of deserving players.
Coryell's direct development of future coaches included Super Bowl head coaches Madden and 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. 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." "Whoever heard of the nickel or dime pass defense before “Air Coryell” forced opponents to come up with strategies to combat Coryell’s aerial assault?" wrote Fouts to Hall of Fame voters in support of Coryell's induction.
In Madden's Hall of Fame induction speech, he 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."
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. " Mike Martz, who won a Super Bowl as the offensive coordinator of the "Greatest Show on Turf" 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," adds Martz. "I'm not sure why that hasn't been acknowledged by the Hall of Fame."
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. "
"In the offense we won the Super Bowl with in 1999, the foundation was Don Coryell," former Rams coach Dick Vermeil said. "The route philosophies, the vertical passing game ... everything stemmed from the founder, Don Coryell. The genius."
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. After Coryell's passing later that year, Chargers President Dean Spanos said "He revolutionized the game of football, not only in San Diego, but throughout the entire NFL. Don Coryell was a legend not only with the Chargers but throughout San Diego. Though unfortunately he did not live long enough to see it, hopefully one day his bust will find its proper place in Pro Football’s Hall of Fame." Delivering a eulogy at Coryell's funeral, Madden noted, "You know, I'm sitting down there in front, and next to me is Joe Gibbs, and next to him is Dan Fouts, and the three of us are in the Hall of Fame because of Don Coryell." Choking up and then pausing, he continued, "There's something missing."
Coryell was adored by his players. "The most important thing to me about Don Coryell is him as a person. He actually cared about us as players. A lot of coaches don't even know who you are," said Fouts. Coryell did not want to intimidate his players and instead treated his players with respect, allowing them to showcase their strengths. "I don't think a coach has to be a son of a bitch to be successful. I think you can treat men like men," he said.
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Whittier Poets head football coaches
No coach (1907) • Woodward (1908) • Herbert E. White (1909–1911) • Russell T. Wilson (1912–1919) • I. H. Van Cleave (1920) • Esek H. Perry (1921–1924) • Leo Calland (1925–1926) • George Philbrook (1927–1928) • Wallace Newman (1929–1942) • No team (1943–1945) • Wallace Newman (1946–1950) • George Allen (1951–1956) • Don Coryell (1957–1959) • John Godfrey (1960–1979) • Hugh Mendez (1980–1989) • Don Uyeshima (1990) • Ken Visser (1991–1993) • Kirk Hoza (1994–1995) • Bob Owens (1996–2002) • Greg Carlson (2003–2005) • William Hammer (2006–2010) • Kirk Jellerson (2011– )
San Diego State Aztecs head football coaches
C. E. Peterson (1921–1929) • W. B. Herreid (1930–1934) • Leo Calland (1935–1941) • John Eubank (1942) • No team (1943–1944) • Bob Breitbard (1945) • Gander Terry (1946) • Bill Schutte (1947–1955) • Paul Governali (1956–1960) • Don Coryell (1961–1972) • Claude Gilbert (1973–1980) • Doug Scovil (1981–1985) • Denny Stolz (1986–1988) • Al Luginbill (1989–1993) • Ted Tollner (1994–2001) • Tom Craft (2002–2005) • Chuck Long (2006–2008) • Brady Hoke (2009–2010) • Rocky Long (2011– )
Chicago / St. Louis / Phoenix / Arizona Cardinals head coaches
Paddy Driscoll (1920–1922) • Arnold Horween (1923–1924) • Norman Barry (1925–1926) • Guy Chamberlin (1927) • Fred Gillies (1928) • Dewey Scanlon (1929) • Ernie Nevers (1930–1931) • LeRoy Andrews (1931) • Jack Chevigny (1932) • Paul J. Schissler (1933–1934) • Milan Creighton (1935–1938) • Ernie Nevers (1939) • Jimmy Conzelman (1940–1942) • Phil Handler (1943–1945) • Jimmy Conzelman (1946–1948) • Phil Handler & Buddy Parker (1949) • Buddy Parker (1949) • Curly Lambeau (1950–1951) • Phil Handler & Cecil Isbell (1951) • Cecil Isbell (1951) • Joe Kuharich (1952) • Joe Stydahar (1953–1954) • Ray Richards (1955–1957) • Pop Ivy (1958–1961) • Chuck Drulis, Ray Prochaska, & Ray Willsey (1961) • Wally Lemm (1962–1965) • Charley Winner (1966–1970) • Bob Hollway (1971–1972) • Don Coryell (1973–1977) • Bud Wilkinson (1978–1979) • Larry Wilson (1979) • Jim Hanifan (1980–1985) • Gene Stallings (1986–1989) • Hank Kuhlmann (1989) • Joe Bugel (1990–1993) • Buddy Ryan (1994–1995) • Vince Tobin (1996–2000) • Dave McGinnis (2000–2003) • Dennis Green (2004–2006) • Ken Whisenhunt (2007– )
Los Angeles / San Diego Chargers head coaches
Sid Gillman (1960–1969) • Charlie Waller (1969–1970) • Sid Gillman (1971) • Harland Svare (1971–1973) • Ron Waller (1973) • Tommy Prothro (1974–1978) • Don Coryell (1978–1986) • Al Saunders (1986–1988) • Dan Henning (1989–1991) • Bobby Ross (1992–1996) • Kevin Gilbride (1997–1998) • June Jones # (1998) • Mike Riley (1999–2001) • Marty Schottenheimer (2002–2006) • Norv Turner (2007– )Pound sign (#) denotes interim head coach.
50 Greatest Chargers Offense Defense Special teams Coaches Junior Seau Foundation Legend of the Year NFL Coach of the Year Award from the Associated Press1957: Wilson | 1958: Ewbank | 1959: Lombardi | 1960: Shaw | 1961: Sherman | 1962: Sherman | 1963: Halas | 1964: Shula | 1965: Halas | 1966: Landry | 1967: Allen & Shula | 1968: Shula | 1969: Grant | 1970: Nolan | 1971: Allen | 1972: Shula | 1973: Knox | 1974: Coryell | 1975: Marchibroda | 1976: Gregg | 1977: Miller | 1978: Patera | 1979: Pardee | 1980: Knox | 1981: Walsh | 1982: Gibbs | 1983: Gibbs | 1984: Knox | 1985: Ditka | 1986: Parcells | 1987: Mora | 1988: Ditka | 1989: Infante | 1990: Johnson | 1991: Fontes | 1992: Cowher | 1993: Reeves | 1994: Parcells | 1995: Rhodes | 1996: Capers | 1997: Fassel | 1998: Reeves | 1999: Vermeil | 2000: Haslett | 2001: Jauron | 2002: Reid | 2003: Belichick | 2004: Schottenheimer | 2005: Smith | 2006: Payton | 2007: Belichick | 2008: M. Smith | 2009: Lewis | 2010: Belichick San Diego State University Aztec Hall Of Fame Inductees 1988
Laurel (Brassey) Iverson, Volleyball 1974-1981 | Willie Buchanon, Football 1970-71 | John Butler, Football 1933-35 | Don Coryell, Head Football Coach 1961-72 | Fred Dryer, Football 1967-68 | Gary Garrison, Football 1964-65 | Gene Littler, Golf 1949-52 | Haven Moses, Football 1966-67 | Graig Nettles, Baseball 1964-65; Basketball 1964-65 | C. E. Peterson, Football Coach 1921-29; Basketball 1921-26; Track Coach 1922-1946 | Milton Phelps, Basketball 1939-41 | Art Preston, Football 1949-51; Baseball 1950-52 | Arnie Robinson, Track 1970-71 | Dennis Shaw, Football 1968-69 | Brian Sipe, Football 1969-71 | Willie Steele, Track 1947-48; Basketball 1947; Baseball 1949
Tim Delaney, Football 1968-70 | Art Linkletter, Basketball, Swimming 1932-34 | Judy Porter, Basketball 1980-83 | Tom Reynolds, Football 1969, 1971
Steve Copp, Basketball 1973-76 | Chuck Courtney, Golf 1960-61 | Tom Dahms, Football 1947-49 | Monte Jackson, Football 1973-74 | Angela Rock, Volleyball 1981-84
Barbara Barrow, Golf 1974-77 | Bud Black, Baseball 1978-79 | Tony Pinkins, Basketball 1955-57 | Bob Smith, Track & Field 1949-50 | Charlie Smith, Baseball Coach 1934-64 | Deby (La Plante) Sweezey, Track & Field 1979-80
Tom Ables, (Honorary) | Michael Cage, Basketball 1981-84 | Vidal Fernandez, Soccer 1977-79 | Ann Lebedeff, Tennis 1972-74 | Tom Nettles, Football 1966-68 | LaTanya Sheffield, Track & Field 1983-86
Patricia (Mang) Jordan, Softball 1987-88 | Chris Marlowe, Volleyball 1972-73; Basketball 1970-73 | Bill Schutte, Football 1947-55 | Nate Wright, Football 1967-68 | George Ziegenfuss, M-Basketball Coach 1948-69
Marcelo Balboa, Soccer 1988-89 | Bob Brady, Basketball 1952-54 | Claudie Minor, Football 1972-73 | Micki Schillig, Tennis 1980-83 | Frank Scott, M-Golf Coach 1948-83
Paul Mott, Football; Basketball; Track & Field 1925-1928 | Ramona Pagel, Track & Field 1983-1984 | Todd Santos, Football 1984-1987 | Eric Wynalda, Soccer 1987-1989
Vicki (Cantrell) Maniglia, Women's Volleyball 1980-1983 | Kenny Hale, Men's Basketball 1941, 1946-47 | Joel Kramer, Men's Basketball 1974, 1976-78 | Duncan McFarland, Men's Volleyball 1973
Lennie Clements, Golf 1976-1979 | Laura DeSnoo, Track&Field 1983-1986 | Harry Hodgetts, M-Basketball 1937-1941 | Carol Plunkett, W-Tennis Coach 1976-1994 | Wendy Wheat, W-Volleyball 1977-1980
Norm Nygaard, Football 1952-54 | Falisha Wright, Women's Basketball, 1992-95 | Joe Gibbs, Football Player, Coach, 1961-63, 65-66 | 1940-41 Men's Basketball National Championship Team | 1987 Men's Soccer NCAA Runner-Up Team
1973 Men's Volleyball Team (national champions) | Marla Runyan, Women's Track & Field 1988-1991 | Al Skalecky, Men's Basketball 1966-1968 | Nicole Storto, Women's Tennis 1990-1993
Henry Allison, Football (1969-70) | Kern Carson, Football (1961-63) | Bernie Finlay, Men's Basketball (1958-60) | Lynn Kanuka, Women's Track and Field (1980-82) | 1987 Men's Rugby Team (national champions)
Bob Breitbard, Local Sports Pioneer (1938-40 Player, 1945 Coach) | Kim Goetz, Men's Basketball (1978-79) | Cynthia MacGregor, Women's Tennis (1983-86) | Neal Petties, Football (1961-63) | Craig Scoggins, Football (1965-66)
Bob Cluck, Baseball (1966-67) | Mike Dodd, Men's Basketball (1975-79), Men's Volleyball (1978-80) | John "Jake" Duich, Football (1935, 1937-38) | Steve Duich, Football (1966-67) | Jay Gutowski, Football (1953-56) | Bobby Meacham, Baseball (1979-81) | Rachel Scott, Water Polo (1995-98)
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