- Bill Williamson, ESPN Staff Writer
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He was frail and weak, but he stood out like a legend should.
It had been 24 years since he last roamed the field, yet the San Diego crowd roared when his name was announced as part of the Chargers’ 50th anniversary team last season.
“Air Coryell” will always fly in San Diego.
Thursday night was a sad one for the Chargers when Don Coryell died at the age of 85. He had been in poor health for quite awhile.
Coryell coached the Chargers from 1978-86. Led by quarterback Dan Fouts, his teams were among the best passing teams in the NFL for years. Coryell was known as a passing-game innovator and he led the Chargers to AFC championship games in 1980 and 1981.
While Coryell’s bid for entrance into the Pro Football Hall of Fame fell short in February, he had a lot of support for enshrinement. Fouts led the push for his former coach wrote a letter of support to every voter in the on the Hall of Fame committee, urging them to vote in Coryell.
The Chargers are still rooting for his enshrinement.
“We are terribly saddened by the passing of Coach Coryell," said Chargers president Dean Spanos said in a statement Thursday night. "He revolutionized the game of football, not only in San Diego, but throughout the entire NFL. Don Coryell was a legend not only with the Chargers but throughout San Diego. Though unfortunately he did not live long enough to see it, hopefully one day his bust will find its proper place in Pro Football’s Hall of Fame. He will be missed."
It is always difficult for coaches who never won a Super Bowl ring to get into the Hall of Fame because of the backlog of great players waiting for enshrinement. But since Coryell had such a huge influence on the passing game, I think he has a chance to eventually get in.
“He was ahead of his time in the downfield passing game,” said Gary Horton of Scouts Inc. shortly before the February Hall of Fame vote. “He was a terrific student of the game. He understood matchups and defenses. Coryell was that first guy to say, 'Let’s go vertical and make some big plays.' He still has an influence on the game.”
As the Chargers' crowd showed last season, Coryell will always be beloved in San Diego.
6dEric D. Williams