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Tuesday, July 1, 2008 | Aug. 2 is almost here, and the day will mark the induction of another class of Pro Football Hall of Famers that is missing someone.
Hall of Fame? Don Coryell has yet to get his due. Is it because he wasn’t as funny as John Madden or as scholarly as Bill Walsh?
Yes, it’s true — Coryell didn’t win a Super Bowl, like Madden and Walsh, although the Chargers advanced to two AFC Championship games. One loss was skewed by a fluke bounce of the ball to Oakland Raiders tight end Raymond Chester for a touchdown and the other by Antarctic conditions in Cincinnati.
But if George Allen, a defensive genius, is in the Hall of Fame — Class of 2002 — is Coryell any less deserving?
Listen to Dan Fouts, the Chargers’ Hall of Fame quarterback.
“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.”
Listen to Brian Sipe, Coryell’s quarterback at San Diego State that went on to be the NFL MVP with the Cleveland Browns in 1980.
“When I went to the Browns in 1972, Don Coryell’s offense was ahead of anything I saw in the NFL. I think the only reason I had the career I had, is I was so quickly able to step in and know what I was looking at. The NFL was easy for me. I felt like I was taking a step backward in terms of preparation.”
Coryell, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, is still the only coach to win 100 games in college and 100 games in the NFL.
His NFL record was 114-89-1 with the St. Louis Cardinals (1973-77) and the Chargers (1978-86). His college record at San Diego State (1961-72) was 104-19-2.
His NFL teams won five division titles, in addition to those two AFC Championship games.
In 1979, he led Chargers to playoffs for first time since 1963. In 1974, he led the Cardinals to the playoffs for first time in franchise history.
His passing attacks were ranked No. 1 in the NFL seven times. He originated the “digit” play-calling system still used by many NFL teams.
Listen to 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.”
Listen to Willie Buchanon, a Pro Bowl cornerback and 1972 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year with the Green Bay Packers, who was an All-American cornerback for Coryell at SDSU.
“When I got in the NFL, it was easy after playing at San Diego State. I learned everything I knew from Don Coryell, Ernie Zampese and Claude Gilbert. We had a system. Coryell developed the tight end as a wide receiver when he split Tim Delaney 5 yards out. They call the passing games today the West Coast offense. That was Don Coryell’s system.”
A list of testimonials could go on an on from those that believe Coryell belongs in the NFL.
But Fred Dryer, a Pro Bowl defensive end in the NFL that was an All-American for Coryell at SDSU, cites new evidence. Dryer suggests looking at Coryell’s players with the Cardinals and Chargers and checking their Pro Bowl trips before and after they played for Coryell.
It’s quite revealing:
- DAN FOUTS (Chargers), 1973-1987, Hall of Fame: Pro Bowls before Coryell: none; Pro Bowls with Coryell: (6) 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1985.
- CHARLIE JOINER (Chargers), 1969-1986, Hall of Fame: Pro Bowls before Coryell: (1), 1976; Pro Bowls with Coryell: (2) 1979, 1980.
- DOUG WILKERSON (Chargers), 1970-1984: Pro Bowls before Coryell: none; Pro Bowls with Coryell: (3) 1980, 1981, 1982.
- CHUCK MUNCIE (Chargers), 1976-1984: Pro Bowls before Coryell: none; Pro Bowls with Coryell: (3) 1979, 1981, 1982.
- JOHN JEFFERSON (Chargers), 1978-1985: Pro Bowls with Coryell: (3), 1978, 1979, 1980; Pro Bowls after Jefferson was traded to the Packers: (1) 1982.
- WES CHANDLER (Chargers), 1978-1988: Pro Bowls before Coryell: (1), 1979; Pro Bowls with Coryell: (3) 1982, 1983, 1985.
- DAN DIERDORF (Cardinals), 1971-1983, Hall of Fame: Pro Bowls before Coryell: none; Pro Bowls with Coryell: (4) 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977
Pro Bowls after Coryell: (2) 1978, 1980.
- JIM HART (Cardinals), 1966-1984: Pro Bowls before Coryell: none
Pro Bowls with Coryell: (4) 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977; Pro Bowls after Coryell: none.
- TOM BANKS (Cardinals) 1971-1980: Pro Bowls before Coryell: none
Pro Bowls with Coryell: (3) 1975, 1976, 1977; Pro Bowls after Coryell: (1) 1978.
- TERRY METCALF (Cardinals), 1973-1977, 1981: Pro Bowls with Coryell: (3) 1974, 1975, 1977; Pro Bowls after Coryell: none.
- JIM OTIS (Cardinals), 1970-1978: Pro Bowls before Coryell: none;
Pro Bowls with Coryell: (1) 1975; Pro Bowl after Coryell: none.
Don Coryell, plain and simple, belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Tom Shanahan is voiceofsandiego.org‘s sports columnist. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions and an occasional writer for Chargers.com. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or send a letter to the editor.