Tuesday, April 21, 2009 | Don Coryell and Ernie Zampese, football coaching legends at San Diego State and with the Chargers, took in the Aztecs’ spring drills scrimmage Saturday, seated together as they watched from a golf cart.

Zampese was at the wheel, although Coryell has been the driving force behind so many of his former assistant coaches, including Pro Football Hall of Famers John Madden and Joe Gibbs. Both coached under Coryell at SDSU. Zampese was long recognized as one of the top NFL offensive coordinators.

I was talking with Coryell and Zampese about new SDSU head coach Brady Hoke as well as Madden retiring from broadcasting.

Madden and Zampese were junior college coaches at Allan Hancock College in San Maria before Coryell brought them to SDSU — Madden in 1964 and Zampese in 1967.

“John was going to be good no matter what he tried,” Coryell said. “I can’t imagine him sitting around retired from broadcasting. He’s going to have to go somewhere to watch games.”

Then Coryell and Zampese said something that was interesting when juxtaposed together.

First, Coryell told me he likes the dedication, energy and passion he sees in Hoke’s coaching style.

“He knows how to win,” Coryell said. “He can’t do it all in one year, but he will turn this around.”

Then Zampese — responding to my comment that Madden often has said on TV broadcasts that Coryell justified taking the SDSU job by saying the program had no place to go but up — pointed out that Coryell didn’t need a rebuilding period.

“Don won right away, and they were still winning when I got down there,” said Zampese, who later followed Coryell into the NFL and with the Chargers.

In 1960, SDSU was 1-6-1 under Paul Governali for the second straight year. It was SDSU’s fourth straight losing season.

In 1961, SDSU was 7-2-1 under Coryell. It was the first of 12 straight winning seasons before he went to the NFL with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1973. Coryell’s 104-19-2 record at SDSU landed him in the College Football Hall of Fame.

When Tom Bass left as Coryell’s defensive coordinator for the NFL following the 1963 season, Coryell asked Madden to join his staff after watching his Hancock defense play.

“I saw his team play a game, and they just tore around the field and played great defense,” said Coryell of Madden, who was Hancock’s head coach 1962 and 1963. “I found out John was the coach and asked him to come down. He was a ball of fire as a coach. He was extremely competitive. He got his players to do their best. He was a smart coach and he loved his players.”

Originally, Coryell and Madden wanted Zampese to come down with Madden in 1964. Madden had hired Zampese as an assistant at Hancock in 1962, but Zampese said he wanted to try being a head coach, so instead he replaced Madden at Hancock.

When Madden left SDSU for the Oakland Raiders in 1967, this time Zampese took up Coryell on his offer when Madden’s departure created an opening.

“I met Don through John,” Zampese said. “I remember coaching with John and nights would turn into weeks. We’d be talking at 12 o’clock at night. John could talk — he’d be doing all the talking. John was very into coaching. He wanted to be good and fought hard for everything he earned.”

As Coryell and Zampese were talking about Madden being such an excitable coach, you could see Hoke racing from the backfield to the line of scrimmage as he bellowed at players with praise or corrections.

“Teaching,” is the word Hoke says he prefers to use instead of yelling.

Coryell and Zampese liked what they saw, and it’s a style Madden would no doubt approve of.

Hoke has a long way to go before he can turn around SDSU and guide to the Aztecs’ to their first winning season and bowl bid since 1998.

But with Coryell having moved from Washington to San Diego since the death of his wife, Aliisa, in December to live with his daughter, Mindy Lewis, Coryell said he is looking forward to being a regular at San Diego State games. He’s only been able to see a handful in a recent years.

Coryell is 85 now, but one of his former SDSU players that went on to play in the NFL, Steve Duich, helps him get around town to SDSU practices and old friends.

Hoke, like SDSU’s coaches before him, believes its important his young players understand the legacy Coryell established at SDSU.

“I asked the kids before the scrimmage in a meeting who didn’t know who Don Coryell is,” Hoke said. “About 20 hands went up — the ones being honest. I think it’s important our players know the legacy Don Coryell left here and the benchmark for championships he set.

“It’s always important for present players to understand the legacy of past teams and the legacy they want to leave behind them.”

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 toms@sdhoc.com. Or send a letter to the editor.

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