Wednesday, August 24, 2022

We Were Wrong—Coach/Contributor Hall of Fame Nominee is Don Coryell

 By John Turney 
Don Coryell
Three days ago we boldly predicted that Robert Kraft would emerge as the Coach/Contributor as selected by that Hall of Fame Committee. We blew it. 

Kraft made it to the cutdown to four (along with Don Coryell, Mike Holmgren, and John Wooten) but it was Coryell who got the ultimate support. Kraft will have to wait at least another year.

Don Coryell came to the NFL in 1973 after twelve seasons at San Diego State University where he never posted a losing season and had a 104-19-2 record, won three national championships, and three bowl games.

His NFL coaching record was 111-83-1 and had a winning percentage of .572 and yes, he was unable to win the big one but it was his mark on the game that will soon be recognized with his posthumous Gold Jacket and Hall of Fame bust. It was Coryell's seventh time as a finalist.

In 1974 Coryell was the NFL Coach of the Year and took the Cardinals to post-season play for the first time since 1948. In five seasons with the Cardinals, he won 43 regular-season games. In the five previous seasons, they won 29. And in the five seasons after he left the Cardinals won 28 games (with the caveat that 1982 was a strike season. 

The same story can be illustrated with the Chargers. They were not very good immediately before or immediately after he coached there. 

This year the Hall of Fame combine to Coaches and Contributor categories and though nothing was specified it may be that Coryell could have benefitted from the change because he could be considered both a coach and a contributor—A kind of "combined" candidate. If so, it would be fitting because it was Coryell's mark on the NFL's passing game that was his calling card.

When Coryell came to the NFL he brought offensive line coach Jim Hanifan with him from San Diego State to teach the Cardinals offensive line a new short-set technique where the offensive linemen would attack defensive linemen aggressively rather than taking passive deep sets. 

It was a new, violent approach. When being taught this way of playing Dan Dierdorf said to his coach, "Are they going to let us play this way?" They did and it worked—no line allowed less pressure and fewer sacks in the NFL than did the Cardinals. 

That set a foundation for the pass protection for Jim Hart who's been a fair quarterback in his first seven seasons but under Coryell was a four-time Pro Bowler and threw for the third-most yards and touchdowns among NFL quarterbacks in that five-year span and the Cardinals went to the playoffs twice (1974-75) and narrowly missed in 1976. Hart was also the UPI NFC Offensive Player of the Year in 1974. 

The Coryell offense moved to San Diego in 1978 and became known as "Air Coryell". In eight of his nine seasons in San Diego, his offense was ranked fourth or better, being number one five times. (With the Cardinals his offense was top five twice). 

His passing game ranked even better—Starting in 1977 through 1985 Coryell's passing offense had these NFL rankings—second, first, first, first, first, first, first, second, and first. His 1974-76 Cardinals offenses were in the top seven as well. 

During his tenure with the Chargers no team passed for more yards (nearly 7,000 yards more than the team that ranked second), scored more points, or gained more yards. 

The Chargers were just ahead of their time. They were the first to have three 1,000-yard receivers in one season and they were the first to have a quarterback throw for 4,000 yards in multiple seasons. 

We could go on and on with the statistical mark on the NFL but it was more of what people said about his influence on football that made the real mark. 

Upon Coryell's passing in 2010 Joe Gibbs stated, "Don is the father of the modern passing game," "He was extremely creative and fostered things that are still in today's game because he was so creative. You look around the NFL now and many teams are still running a version of the Coryell offense."

When the Rams were setting offensive records in St. Louis with the Greatest Show on Turf coach Mike Martz credited Coryell, "It all began with Don, to be honest with you. We just expanded upon what Don did.”

Don Fouts explained that the Coryell offense was a vertical passing game, built on looking deep first and then going elsewhere if the "bomb" was not there. He added that Coryell spread out defenses and "forced teams to defend the entire field."

Again we could go on. 

So, we were wrong in predicting Kraft but pleasantly surprised. Coryell is worthy of this honor (and we expect the committee as a whole will give Coryell the prerequisite 80% "yes" votes early in 2023 to make him part of the Class of 2023. 


  1. Your prediction (wrong again, as most of your rare predictions are) of Kraft was “bold?” It was probably the safest prediction you could make.

    1. We get some right. We got 4 of 5 in the Class of 2022. We got Art McNally right last year. Went five for 5 for the Class of 2021.

      And if you read the article we admitted we were wrong. It's just a fun excecise . . . nothing earth shattering anyway. Lighten up.

    2. Low hanging fruit. “We” remember you going 1-3 straight up and against the spread in the Conference Championship games last season, but that’s a whole other level of difficulty. Just a tip: people don’t want bold predictions. They want accurate ones.

    3. So salty so early in the season, Mark?

  2. From Brian wolf ...

    Coryell is deserving of this honor and Congratulations to his family. Surprised Holmgren was in the top four ...

    Parker still awaits his call ...

  3. great news...(anybody but another owner...)....agree with Brian...what's so great about Holmgren that 20 other coaches haven't achieved?

  4. Long overdue. Too bad they are still screwing Gradishar (who should have been elected in the 90's at the latest).