I'll never forget the first time I saw a Coryell coached team. I was 9 years old, and sitting at home when I turned the television to a football game. The San Diego Chargers were whooping up on the Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers. I was entranced. I'd never even heard of the Chargers to that point. (keep in mind this was pre-espn, and pre-cable) The Chargers moved the ball up and down the field on the champs, and ended up winning the game 35-7.
As a young boy from South Dakota who had no team of my own to support, I became a charger fan that very day. Little did I know what an innovative mind was behind the success of what became known as "Air Coryell".
Coach Coryell was the first coach to win 100 games at both the collegiate and professional level. He was the father of the modern passing game. Under his guidance the Chargers led the league in passing for 6 consecutive years (1978-1983) His prolific offensive mind led to Hall of Fame careers for Dan Fouts, Charlie Joiner, and Kellen Winslow.
The two major factors in deciding how great a coach is would be their impact on the game, and the memories of the players and fans who were around him. Don Coryell was successful in both areas.
Consider the men who coached under him at one time or another. Both John Madden and Joe Gibbs went on to win Super Bowls as head coaches. Ernie Zampese and Al Saunders were both Super Bowl winning coordinators, and the coaching tree goes on and on... current coaches such as Norv Turner and Mike Martz still run basically the same Coryell offense.
Upon hearing of Coach Coryell's death, former charger player and broadcaster Hank Bauer said "I feel like I lost a member of my family and the unique thing about that is that there are probably two million people in this city who feel the same way. That's the kind of impact that Don Coryell had here. For anyone who ever played or coached for coach Coryell, and I had the honor of doing both, it's an unbelievable loss."
Hall of Fame Quarterback Dan Fouts said, "I would not be in the Hall of Fame myself had it not been for my nine years as Don's quarterback ... It was Coryell - with his revolutionary vision, his unique style of leadership and his successful implementation of the most innovative offense the NFL had ever witnessed - that led me and my teammates, Kellen Winslow and Charlie Joiner, to the steps of the Hall of Fame."
While he won't get as much notice as Bill Walsh did because he never won a Super Bowl, Don Coryell will live on as a man who changed the way the game was played. Hopefully, the Hall of Fame voters will finally see fit to enshrine a true coaching legend.