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Tuesday, June 9, 2009 | This finally might be the year the LaDanian Tomlinson-Philip Rivers-Shawne Merriman Chargers make it to a Super Bowl.
That’s not exactly going out on a limb, but if they do, Chargers coach Norv Turner said something last week that made me think there isn’t a more fitting coach to lead the Bolts to an NFL championship than their third-year head coach.
It only seems right that when the Chargers finally win a Super Bowl it should be with an Air Coryell-inspired offense. And no one in the NFL than Turner is more true to Don Coryell’s widely copied passing game that later came to be known as the West Coast offense.
He learned it from Ernie Zampese, a Coryell disciple at San Diego State and with the Chargers, when their time overlapped as assistants with the Los Angeles Rams from 1987 to 1990.
Turner explained Coryell’s offense and why he belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame when he spoke at the Hall of Champions (my day job). Coryell, 85-years-old and a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, is still the only coach to win 100 games in college (San Diego State, 1961-72) and the NFL (St. Louis Cardinals, 1973-77, and the Chargers, 1978-86).
Turner mentioned he recently called Dan Fouts, the Air Coryell pilot that is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, to talk about the letter Fouts wrote to Hall-of-Fame voters advocating Coryell’s enshrinement in Canton, Ohio.
“Coryell put together a system in the ’60s that was so well thought out it endured through the 70s, 80s, 90s and today,” Turner said. “I think the offense that we’re running is closer to what the offense was in the ’60s than anyone.”
Other than late Hall-of-Famer Sid Gillman, whose career preceded Coryell, every branch of the so-called West Coach Offense, including that of late Hall-of-Famer Bill Walsh, stems from Coryell’s offense.
“If you think of his offense as something that was created in the ’60s and it’s stood the test of time nearly 50 years later, that’s pretty amazing,” Turner said. “It was cutting edge in the ’60s and it’s still on the cutting edge. You can take it anywhere you want to go because it’s the most player friendly system you can coach.”
Coryell developed the passing tree offense, with its easy-to-teach number system, out of necessity. In his days at Montezuma Mesa, San Diego State relied on junior college transfers that turned over the roster every two years.
“The thing I like about the system is it doesn’t restrict players,” Turner said. “That’s what a lot of systems do to players. Ernie always told players, ‘If you do something well, we’ll find a way you can do it in this offense.”
Turner went on to make his case that Coryell belonging in the Hall of Fame with a comparison to Michael Irvin.
Stay with me on this one, because it makes more sense than it sounds on the surface.
Irvin was one of the NFL’s great wide receivers when he played for the Dallas Cowboys. His career included Turner’s time serving as the Cowboys’ offensive coordinator under Jimmy Johnson before Turner later coached against Irvin as the Washington Redskins’ head coach.
But Irvin’s off-the-field problems meant he didn’t get voted into the Hall of Fame until his second year of eligibility, so there was a time when it looked like he might be left out for his reputation.
“Some people think Michael Irvin didn’t belong in the Hall, and a lot of people called me about what I thought,” Turner said. “I said, ‘Do you think Darrell Green was a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer?’”
Turner said the response from the Hall-of-Fame voters was agreement Green was a Hall-of-Famer as one of the game’s greatest cornerbacks.
“I said, ‘Well, let me explain something to you. Darrell Green never covered Michael Irvin, and he still can’t cover Michael Irvin. If Darrell Green is in, Michael Irvin should be in.”
And here’s where Turner made the fitting Irvin comparison to Coryell.
“I feel the same way about Coach Coryell,” he said. “If you looked at the guys he coached against n and some of them have passed away — the Don Shulas, the Chuck Nolls and others that had to prepare for his teams, I promise you they would vote for Coach Coryell to be in the Hall of Fame.”
Correction: The original version of this column implied that Don Shula was deceased. He, of course, is not. We regret the error.
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 email@example.com. Or send a letter to the editor.