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Sports Then and Now

Don Coryell Deserves Spot In The Hall of Fame

Posted on July 02, 2010 by Dean Hybl

Innovative head coach Don Coryell has passed away at the age of 85.

Sad news last night that former NFL coach Don Coryell has passed away at the age of 85. Though Coryell has yet to pass muster with the selection committee for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, his innovative career is certainly worthy of enshrinement in the Hall of Fame.

Unfortunately, when Coryell finally gets the HOF bust he has deserved for more than 20 years, he will join other deserving former players and coaches including Bob Hayes, George Allen, Gene Hickerson and Hank Stram as Hall of Famers who waited way too long for enshrinement and either had passed away or where too ill to fully enjoy their moment in the sun when it finally came.

Coryell almost made it into the HOF this past February as he was named as a finalist for the first time since retiring from coaching in 1987. Unfortunately, the selection committee maintained their track record of bad decision making and chose to recognize Dick LeBeau and Russ Grimm instead of the deserving and ailing Coryell.

While LeBeau was a solid player with the Lions and has been a good defensive coordinator (though an awful head coach) and Grimm was a key member of the great Redskins offensive lines of the 1980s, neither had the same kind of impact on the NFL of today as Coryell.

Though the game had been played for more than 50 years when he became an NFL head coach, Don Coryell ultimately established a passing attack that was well beyond anything that had preceded it in league history.

Coryell developed his wide open passing attack while serving as the head football coach at San Diego State. Among his pupils was future Cleveland Browns great Brian Sipe.

He won more than 100 games as a college head coach (104-19-2) before venturing to the NFL in 1973 to take over the woeful St. Louis Cardinals. Within two years he had the Cardinals in the playoffs and had made Pro Bowlers out of quarterback Jim Hart, running back Terry Metcalf and receiver Mel Gray.

After three double digit victory seasons (in the days of a 14 game season) and two playoff appearances, Coryell was dismissed following a 7-7 record in 1977.

However, he soon landed with the San Diego Chargers and, as they say, the rest is history.

Over the next decade, “Air Coryell” became the most prolific passing attack to that point in NFL history. Coryell turned quarterback Dan Fouts into a Hall of Famer and created a stable of offensive weapons that made the Chargers one of the top offensive squads in football.

San Diego won 12 games during the 1979 season and then in both 1980 and 1981 reached the AFC Championship Game. Unfortunately, they never were able to reach the Super Bowl and that is likely part of the reason that Coryell has never been honored with Hall of Fame selection.

He won 111 games as an NFL head coach and was the first coach in NFL history with more than 100 wins at both the college and professional levels. During both of his head coaching tenures in the NFL, Coryell took teams that had been at best mediocre before his arrival and turned them into playoff contenders. Both teams went back to their struggles following his departure.

One important component of the Pro Football Hall of Fame is recognizing innovation. Coryell had as much to do with establishing the modern passing game as any other person and is very deserving of being immortalized in Canton.

The Hall of Fame selection committee has now waited too long for Coryell to be there when he is inducted, but I hope they won’t let many more years pass before recognizing his greatness and contributions to the sport.

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