Don Coryell was named as a Hall of Fame ballot finalist, along with Junior Seau and 13 other former players and coaches from the "modern era". Jimmy Johnson and Tony Dungy were the other two coaches named as finalists. The finalists must receive 80% of the votes from a 46 person selection committee to be enshrined in Hall. The selections will be announced on January 31, 2014 during an "NFL Honors" TV show in the run-up to the Super Bowl.
Does He Get In This Time?
While Seau is a sure fire lock for the Hall, Coryell has been here before in 2010 and did not make it. He has been eligible for nomination and enshrinement since 1992. While personally I do hope he makes it, this is not something we Bolts fans can be counting on.
This subject came up last spring, and I wrote about it at that point. You are all welcome to review it at your leisure. With three coaches nominated this time, Coryell certainly had the largest impact on how the game is played. Among Coryell, Dungy, and Johnson, there are a lot of differences in terms of accomplishments, but the largest impact to the way the game is played is without question, Coryell’s.
Dungy led the Colts to one title in 2006. His "Tampa 2" defensive scheme is still frequently used in the NFL. His .668 winning percentage with Tampa Bay and Indianapolis is among the best ever for NFL coaches all-time. His 9-10 playoff record is not fantastic, but even appearing in 19 playoff games is an achievement most coaches would envy.
Jimmy Johnson did not bring any new innovations into the league (in fact, his offensive coaches were Coryell disciples and Dan Fouts recalls being able to name the plays that Aikman was running while watching the Cowboy’s super bowl wins). Johnson did win two super bowls in the early 1990’s and has a 9 – 4 playoff record. That 69.2% winning percentage is much better than his 55.6 overall regular season winning percentage.
Those are certainly impressive accomplishments, but so are Coryell’s, even though many of them are second hand accomplishments. Joe Gibbs and John Madden both cite Coryell as their primary influences and those coaches have 4 Super Bowl rings between them. Dan Fouts, Charlie Joiner, and Kellen Winslow are all in the Hall of Fame and all three have repeatedly stated that they would not be there except for Coryell.
He Should Be Voted In This Time
Between the Chargers and St. Louis Cardinals, Coryell’s all-time record is 111-83-1, with a playoff record of 3-6. His 111 NFL wins and 124 wins in the NCAA at SDSU and Whittier make him the only head coach to ever record more than 100 wins in both college and the NFL.
While he is mostly associated with the innovations to the passing game known as "Air Coryell", you can also see his influence when teams are trying to get that tough yard or two at the goal line and in 1or 2 to go situations when they line up in an "I" formation. Coryell and Jim McKay developed that formation at USC in the late 1950’s. What is also forgotten is that Coryell coached the St. Louis Cardinals into the playoffs in 1973 and 1974, after they had failed to make the post-season since 1947. Similarly, when he took over in San Diego, he led the Chargers into post-season in his first full season (1979) after a 14 year absence from the playoffs.
It is in the passing game though that his influence still remains. The West Coast offense, the Erhardt-Perkins system, and the vertical passing game used by Norv Turner all incorporate various degrees of the Coryell passing offense. His primary innovations include the route tree, a system for QB’s to read where a pass would be open, the timing route, and the use of tight ends as a primary target when that player was the best receiver on the field.
You see Don Coryell when a QB throws a ball to a receiver before the pass catcher makes a break. You see it when Rob Gronkowski or Julius Thomas gets isolated on slower LB’s or smaller safeties. You see it in combination routes, sight adjustments between QB’s and receivers, wheel routes, and seven step drops when the QB’s head is on a swivel.
For his impact in how the game is played and how every skill position player on a team is coached today, Don Coryell should be in the Hall of Fame. It is unfortunate that he did not live to see it, if it actually happens, as it should.