San Diego football legend Don Coryell finally voted to HOF

Credit: SDSU Athletics

Credit: Ernie Anderson

For years and years, San Diegans waited patiently for Don Coryell to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The wait is over.

On Thursday, the Pro Football Hall of Fame recognized the longtime coach and pioneer of the sport. He was elected and will be enshrined in 2023. This was the 7th time (2010, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2019, 2020) Coryell was named a finalist to get into the HOF. It took 13 years, but finally, he will be celebrated with his peers.

Sadly, Coryell died in 2010, only a few months after discovering he was not elected on his first try at enshrinement. At the age of 85, Coryell passed away in La Mesa. At that time, most knew it would be a matter of time for the coach, but it took over a decade.

Don Coryell coached 12 seasons with the San Diego State Aztecs, taking over for a mostly obsolete program in 1961. The Aztecs were not good, but the native of Washington took little time to overhaul the recruitment process. San Diego State focused on two-year junior college athletes and was immediately rewarded as the team went 7-2-1 in Don Coryell’s first season at the helm finishing in 3rd place in the CCAA (California Collegiate Athletic Association).

State went on to finish in first place in eight of the next 11 years, with Coryell leading the team. He installed a new offensive scheme in the school. First, focusing on the I formation and the development of it. He was also a pioneer of using two tight ends in this power-running formation.

Most think of Coryell as a pass-only coordinator of the sport, but the truth is he cut his teeth by running the ball and utilizing a power running game. He was the father of the I formation and implemented the scheme at USC, where he first worked in the collegiate ranks in 1960. It was in his later years at State and his time in the professional league that Coryell opened up his playbook and became Air Coryell.

Credit: AP Photo

Current Pro Football Hall of Fame coaches John Madden, and Joe Gibbs coached under Coryell for three years at San Diego State. Madden and Gibbs were vocal that Don Coryell should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.¬†Each man praised their former boss for making them who they were on the field. Madden especially admired Coryell, “He has done so much for football and is responsible for so many innovations in the sport,” Madden said in July 2010.

As the coach of the San Diego Chargers and St. Louis Cardinals, Coryelle was 114-89-1. The success of a championship eluded the coach, but the Cardinals and Chargers did make it to the playoffs in six of his 14 years in the league. Dan Fouts enjoyed nine years with the coach as a Charger quarterback. Coryell was instrumental in the development of Fouts and his ability to pass the ball downfield. “I would not be here if it weren’t for Don,” Fouts said at his HOF enshrinement.

The Chargers’ offense led all the NFL (total offense) five different times under Coryell. Fouts and his receivers led all of the NFL six other times in passing. Those late 70’s and early 80’s teams were fun to watch.

Coryell’s enshrinement is more about what he brought to the game rather than the success he enjoyed. The veteran coach prided himself in creating a close relationship with his players and staff. The innovative thoughts and concepts he brought to the game were not his only positive traits.

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Don Coryell was the first coach to win 100 games at the collegiate level and 100 at the professional level. He created the I formation over 60 years ago and also pioneered the modern game of moving the ball downfield by passing. He was ahead of his time and a wonderful human being. The city of San Diego is lucky to have had him as their coach for over 25 years.

Cheers to the NFL and its voters for finally getting it right.

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