The originator of the high-powered "Air Coryell" offense has passed away.
Former Chargers and Cardinals head coach Don Coryell died at 3:15 p.m. PDT Thursday at the age of 85 at Sharp Grossmont Hospital in La Mesa, just outside San Diego. The cause of death wasn't disclosed, but he had been ill for a long time.
"We are terribly saddened by the passing of Coach Coryell," Chargers president Dean Spanos said in a statement released by the team. "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. He will be missed."
Coryell was an innovator in the passing game, creating matchup problems for defenses in the 1970s and '80s and thus making cover skills much more essential for defensive backs and linebackers. His Chargers teams led the league in total offense 5-of-6 seasons from 1980-85.
"Coach Coryell deserves to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and it's a shame that he is not," former Chargers TE Kellen Winslow Sr. told NFL.com in 2008. "So many offenses that are being run today are variations of Air Coryell. 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."
After coaching 12 seasons at San Diego State, Coryell moved to the NFL, first elevating the St. Louis Cardinals into a playoff team and then achieving the same objective with the Chargers.
In 14 NFL seasons as an NFL head coach, he compiled a regular-season record of 111-83-1, a .572 win-loss percentage. His teams won five division titles and twice played in the AFC championship game, but they never made it into a Super Bowl.
Coryell is the only coach to record 100 or more wins at both the college and professional levels and is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. He was a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2010 but wasn't elected.
Coryell's staffs at San Diego State included Joe Gibbs, John Madden, Claude Gilbert, Ernie Zampese, Tom Bass, Rod Dowhower and Jim Hanifan.
"He hired me (as DB coach) in 1967," Zampese told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "He's the finest head football coach I've ever been with, really something, a tremendous guy to work with. He hired you to do a job and he expected you to do it."
Related link: Innovative Coryell deserves Hall berth
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