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Don Coryell never won a Super Bowl as an NFL head coach. His .572 career winning percentage was good but not exactly inspirational. And after coaching his final game in 1986 he was sometimes considered for the Pro Football Hall of Fame but never made it in 25 years.
That’s fine because Don Coryell is now likely headed to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Coryell on Tuesday was selected by the Hall’s Coach/Contributor committee as its finalist for consideration for induction into the Hall. That final decision will be made in a vote of the Hall’s 49 selectors after the NFL’s regular season.
So Coryell, who passed in 2010 at age 85, isn’t exactly in the Pro Football Hall of Fame yet.
But because a vast majority of selectors respect the work of the committees that select coaches, contributors and senior finalists, it is exceedingly rare for one of those not to take the last step into the Hall of Fame once they’re tapped as finalists.
So Coryell’s next stop is all but certain to be the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a member of the 2023 class which will be enshrined next summer in Canton, Ohio.
The coach/contributor committee determined Coryell was its pick out of a pool that featured Roone Arledge, Mike Holmgren, Frank Kilroy, Robert Kraft, Art Modell, Buddy Parker, Dan Reeves, Art Rooney Jr., Mike Shanahan, Clark Shaughnessy and John Wooten.
And why, you may ask, is Coryell joining up to five modern era finalists as well as Joe Klecko, Ken Riley and one-time Super Bowl MVP Chuck Howley for likely Hall enshrinement?
Don’t think won-loss record.
The Reason Don Coryell Belongs In The Hall Of Fame
Think about the mark Coryell left on the game more than the one he made in games.
Coryell revolutionized the passing game in the late 1970s and ’80s to the degree his attack was named “Air Coryell.”
Air Coryell as used by the Chargers led the NFL in passing seven of eight years. Coryell was the architect behind the one-back formation, developed the “joker” tight end, pioneered the use of option routes, and advanced of the use of pre-snap motion and running back screens.
You want to know why defenses began to substitute out linebackers and strong safeties for one or two extra cornerbacks in what became known as nickel and dime packages? Because defensive coaches were trying to keep up with Coryell’s pass offense.
“He was way ahead of everyone in terms of innovation,” Mike Martz said in the Tim Layden book Blood, Sweat and Chalk. “There was this unspoken set of rules that you played by on offense. And everyone was running generally the same kind of plays. The formations were the same. The concepts were the same. Coryell changed all that.
“People immediately said, ‘You can’t do that.’ Well, you can do that, and he did it. His whole approach to the game was different. He was going to beat you with the ball at any time. He had this aggressive mindset. He was always attacking the defense, never going into this conservative mode where you try to win through attrition.
“And that’s where football was at that time in history. Now, 40 years later, you’re seeing the second and third generations of coaches running Coryell’s system.”
Don Coryell’s Success Beyond Xs and Os
All this while Coryell, who never won that Super Bowl, was planting a coaching tree that would bear Lombardi Trophies as fruit.
Joe Gibbs, John Madden, Ernie Zampese, Norv Turner and Martz all won Super Bowls. All coached under Coryell at one point in their careers.
That’s not all. Coryell turned the Chargers and the St. Louis Cardinals before that from doormats into perennial playoff contenders. Those teams combined for five division titles, with the Chargers twice playing in the AFC Championship Game.
That resume and the legacy Coryell authored through his system and his assistants made him a Hall of Fame finalist six times, more than any coach. No, he didn’t get far enough those times to kick in the doors in Canton.
But that’s coming now. It’s practically a lock.
Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero