A Coach and Innovator, Don Coryell: Pioneer of the NFL's Modern Passing Game

Robert CobbCorrespondent IJuly 3, 2010

SAN DIEGO - DECEMBER 1:  Head coach Don Coryell and quarterback Dan Fouts #14 of the San Diego Chargers discuss strategy on the sidelines during a game against Buffalo Bills at Jack Murphy Stadium on December 1, 1985 in San Diego, California.  The Chargers won 40-7.  (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)
George Rose/Getty Images

Fellow sports fans:   

Indebted is defined as being bound to, grateful for, or being beholden to someone or something.  

NFL Hall of Famers such as Dan Fouts, John Madden, and Joe Gibbs certainly owe a great deal of gratitude to Don Coryell for bringing his new and revolutionary passing attack, known as "Air Coryell," that was never before seen in the NFL at that time and is now used in some form by every team in the NFL today.    

You remember the Ram's "Greatest Show on Turf" with Mike Martz, Kurt Warner, and Issac Bruce? Coryell's fingerprints are all over it right down to his DNA.

What about TE's Antonio Gates, Jason Witten, and Dallas Clark splitting out wide, that is a splice right off of the Coryell gene pool. 

Or what about QBs Tony Romo, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Phillip Rivers throwing for over 4,000 yards—yup, that has Don Coryell written all over it. 

And last but certainly not least, what about multi-purpose RBs such as Ray Rice and Chris Johnson catching passes out of the backfield and even lining up as a wide receiver, that is all Coryell.    

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Basically, all the high-scoring 30-27 games you see today that feature tight ends split out wide, running backs coming out of backfields as an extra receiver, and QBs throwing for 350-400 yards a game (as well as teams using three, four, or even in some cases five WR sets) are forever indebted to the innovations created by Don Coryell.

And although some players and fans might not know who he is, they most certainly have been exposed to his innovations to the modern passing game that we see today.  

From his humble beginning at Whittier College to helping Chargers Hall-of Famer QB Dan Fouts light up scoreboards, Coryell was way ahead of his time in an era that was more run oriented and defense minded.  

He transformed perennial doormats in San Diego State and St. Louis into offensive air shows and helped lead the San Diego Chargers to four division title games and the 1980 and 1981 AFC Championship Games.  

To further emphasize the influence of Coryell's offensive wizardry, consider that his Charger's team led the league in passing from 1978 to 1983 and also in 1985; furthermore, his "Air Coryell" offense led the league in total offense from 1980-83 and 1985. 

WR John Jefferson became the first wide receiver to average 1,000 yards receiving in his first three seasons in the league.

WR Wes Chandler still holds the NFL record of averaging 129 yards a game receiving. 

All of that while leading future Hall of Famers such as Charlie Joiner, Kellen Winslow, Dan Fouts, and Dan Dierdorf.

Much has been made about Coryell's case for the Hall of Fame and considering the high-scoring aerial circus legacy he has left along with his 111-83-1 record—Don Coryell was the Chuck Yeager of NFL coaching, for being daring, brave, and innovative and I think Canton may finally take notice.  

Tune in to "Gametyme" at our new time of 8pm (EST) to hear more about Don Coryell and his lasting impact on the NFL today. http://blogtalkradio.com/itsgametyme  


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