Public services July 12 at Viejas Arena on SDSU campus
By Chris Mohr
July 5, 2010 (La Mesa) - Don Coryell, football coaching legend at the collegiate and professional levels, died Thursday (July 1) at Sharp Grossmont Hospital in La Mesa after an extended illness. He was 85.
Often credited as the father of the modern passing game, Coryell's offensive play schemes are used in one form or another throughout the NFL. These schemes also influenced defenses, which were forced to adapt to an increase in passing offense from their opponents.
Coryell's coaching career got off to a fast start as head coach of Whittier College from 1957 to 1959. All three teams he coached there won conference titles. He moved on to become an assistant at USC in 1960, before taking over the head coaching job at San Diego State in 1961.
Aztecs teams enjoyed a level of success under Coryell that the program has been unable to duplicate since he left after the 1972 season. His overall record: 104 wins, 19 losses and two ties. This included undefeated seasons in 1966, 1968 and 1969.
Many who either worked or played under Coryell at San Diego State went on to success in the NFL. Brian Sipe (Grossmont H.S. 1966) and Haven Moses were All-Pro selections as NFL players. Assistant coaches John Madden and Joe Gibbs both won Super Bowls as NFL head coaches and are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Coryell established a pattern of rejuvenating struggling teams throughout his career. The Aztecs were 7-24-2 during the four seasons that preceded his arrival at San Diego State.
When he left San Diego State after the 1972 season for his first head coaching job with the St. Louis Cardinals, he took over a team that was only 8-18-2 in the previous two seasons. Coryell quickly turned the Cardinals around with divisional titles in 1974 and 1975.
On September 25, 1978, Coryell became the head coach of the San Diego Chargers. His hiring took a back seat to the tragic events of PSA flight 182, a flight that ended with a crash in North Park that morning, killing 144 people and leaving no survivors.
The hiring of Coryell came after the Chargers were 1-3 in the first month of the 1978 season under Tommy Prothro. In those four games plus the three seasons that preceded Coryell's hiring, the team was a disappointing 16-30.
Although the Chargers did not make the playoffs in 1978, they were 8-4 in the final 12 games, and finished with a 9-7 record, entering the 1979 season with renewed optimism.
The 1979 Chargers would win the AFC West division for the first time since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. They continued to make the playoffs following the 1980, 1981 and 1982 seasons.
Many players thrived under Coryell's high powered offenses in San Diego. Dan Fouts, Kellen Winslow and Charlie Joiner were enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for their impressive play on offense. Winslow was revolutionary as a pass catching tight end at a time when most tight ends were blockers who caught an occasional pass.
The performance of these players along with others like John Jefferson and Wes Chandler led to addition of 'Air Coryell' to the pro football vernacular. Although Coryell did not win a Super Bowl, his innovative offenses changed the game, making him deserving of consideration for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, Coryell has never received the votes needed for enshrinement.
Public services for Coach Coryell will be held Monday, July 12, 2 p.m. at Viejas Arena on the campus of SDSU. The doors will open at 1 p.m. In lieu of flowers, the Coryell family requests that contributions be sent to: The Don Coryell Scholarship Fund, in care of The Campanile Foundation, 5500 Campanile Drive, San Diego, CA 92182-4313.