Former Husky and Innovative Coach, Coryell Dies at 85

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Don Coryell, the innovative coach whose AirCoryell offense produced some of the most dynamic passing attacksin NFL history, has died. He was 85.

The San Diego Chargers confirmed Coryell died Thursday at SharpGrossmont Hospital in suburban La Mesa. The team did not releasethe cause of death, but Coryell had been in poor health for sometime.

"We've lost a man who has contributed to the game of profootball in a very lasting way with his innovations and with hisstyle," Hall of Famer Dan Fouts, the quarterback who made AirCoryell fly, said from Oregon. "They say that imitation is thehighest form of flattery - look around, it's there."

Coryell was one of the founding fathers of the modern passinggame. He coached at San Diego State from 1961-72 and went 104-19-2.He left the Aztecs for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1973. With JimHart at quarterback, the Cardinals won division titles in 1974 and'75 behind Coryell.

Fouts said he became friends with Coryell after the two werefinished with football.

"It's not just me," Fouts said. "All his players, Aztecs,Cardinals, Chargers, to a man, would tell you that he was theirfriend."

Coryell returned to San Diego when he was hired by the Chargerson Sept. 25, 1978, the same day a Pacific Southwest Airlines jetcrashed into a North Park neighborhood after colliding with a smallplane, killing all 137 people on the two planes and seven people onthe ground.

"It's crazy that when you look back at the history of thiscity, he got hired on the same day as that PSA crash," said HankBauer, who was a running back and special teams star with theChargers then. "That really was one of the darkest days in thiscity's history and it became one of the brightest days in thehistory of sports.

"He walked in and met our team for the time and he was justthis little bundle of energy, flying around the meeting. He said,'You know what? We're going to have fun, and we're going to cry andlaugh and battle our (behinds) off, but we're going to have fun.'We had fun for a lot of years."

From 1978-86, Air Coryell - led by Fouts - set records and ledthe NFL in passing almost every season. Coryell guided the Chargersto the AFC championship game after the 1980 and '81 seasons, but henever reached the Super Bowl.

The lack of a Super Bowl on his resume may have hurt Coryelllast winter in voting for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was afinalist for the first time, but was not selected for induction.

"He revolutionized the game of football, not only in San Diego,but throughout the entire NFL," Chargers president Dean Spanossaid in a statement. "Don Coryell was a legend not only with theChargers but throughout San Diego. Though unfortunately he did notlive long enough to see it, hopefully one day his bust will findits proper place in Pro Football's Hall of Fame. He will bemissed."

The big stars of the Air Coryell years - Fouts, tight end KellenWinslow and wide receiver Charlie Joiner - all ended up in the Hallof Fame. Winslow was used more as a pass catcher than a blocker,and sometimes would be split out wide, as would running backs.

"Don once said, 'If we're asking Kellen to block a defensiveend and not catch passes, I'm not a very good coach,' " Bauersaid.

One of the lasting images of the Coryell years was an exhaustedWinslow being helped off the field by two teammates after theChargers' epic 41-38 overtime victory in the playoffs over theMiami Dolphins on Jan. 2, 1982. Despite cramping up in the heat andhumidity, Winslow caught 13 passes for 166 yards and one touchdown,and also blocked a potential game-winning field goal.

Bauer said Coryell changed the way opponents had to playdefense, "And you see it today. "When we started splitting Kellenout, for instance, teams didn't know what to do. He was a widereceiver in a tight end's body. So a lot of teams started playingzone against us and we started picking them apart. Some teams triedto put a safety or linebacker out there and play man-to-man, and welicked our chops and went with Kellen.

"Because of Air Coryell, nickel and dime defenses became anevery-game proposition," Bauer said. "He changed the way the gameis played today."

Fouts said Air Coryell meant many things.

"I don't know that it's so much one thing that you could pointto," Fouts said. "It was an attitude of fearlessness andaggressiveness and of fun. He was not afraid to try new things. Hewas not afraid to attack the entire length and breadth of afootball field. He wanted his players to enjoy it."

In 14 NFL season, Coryell had a record of 111-83-1.

Coryell is the first coach to win 100 games in college and profootball and is a member of the college Hall of Fame.

"Here's the secret to Don - outside of the Xs and Os, hisplayers and his family were the most important things in theworld," Bauer said. "It had nothing to do with money or fame. Itwas all about family, team and winning and the game, and respect."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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