SAN DIEGO -- An emotional John Madden said Monday at a memorial service for Don Coryell that something was missing -- the late coach isn't in the Pro Football Hall of Fame while some of his notable players and former assistants are.
"You know, I'm sitting down there in front, and next to me is Joe Gibbs, and next to him is Dan Fouts, and the three of us are in the Hall of Fame because of Don Coryell," Madden said, pausing to compose himself while delivering a eulogy at San Diego State's basketball arena. "There's something missing."
That was a recurring theme at Monday's service for Coryell, the innovative coach whose Air Coryell offense produced some of the most dynamic passing attacks in NFL history. He died July 1 at age 85.
Coryell was a finalist for the Hall of Fame in February, but was not selected for induction.
"I'm Dan Fouts, and I never thought I'd ever say, 'Good job, John Madden,'" Fouts said as he began his eulogy.
Fouts was the quarterback who made Air Coryell fly with the San Diego Chargers in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Gibbs played for Coryell at San Diego State in the early 1960s, and he and Madden were assistant coaches with the Aztecs.
Madden later became a Chargers nemesis as coach of the Oakland Raiders.
The former players and coaches remembered Coryell as more than just a mastermind, or a "mad scientist" as safety-turned-pastor Miles McPherson called Coryell.
They recalled his loyalty to players, coaches and family members. They remembered his competitiveness, and how he could work up a hatred for opponents during game week. Gibbs remembers Coryell throwing oranges at his SDSU players during a halftime tirade.
Others attending included Hall of Famers Kellen Winslow and Charlie Joiner, two of the key players during the Chargers' Air Coryell years; former offensive coordinator Ernie Zampese; several former Chargers who wore their old jerseys; and San Diego State's football players, who filed in together, all wearing their jerseys.
Most of the speakers said Coryell should be in the Hall of Fame. Although Coryell's teams never made it to the Super Bowl, his innovations remain part of the NFL today. Coryell is the first coach to win 100 games in college and pro football. He also coached the St. Louis Cardinals.
"As for the Hall of Fame, as coach said, we're there because of Don. No question," Fouts said. "I would not be standing here today if not for Don. But don't worry, he'll get in. The voters will get it right," Fouts said to cheers from approximately 2,000 people. "Wouldn't it be great if we could have this type of celebration, this type of feeling, and move it to Canton, Ohio, one day?
"But you know, more than the recognition in the Hall of Fame, it's the life that Don led, how he lived, the people he touched, and the extraordinary memories and feelings he leaves us with. That will be his legacy," Fouts continued. "Having known Don Coryell makes us all better people and we must strive to emulate his spirit and emulate him in our own lives and share it, as coach did, with and share it everyone he met. That is what he would have wanted. Coach, we love you, we thank you, my fiend. You may have taken your last breath, but you will be in our hearts. We love you."
Before the service, Winslow said it was "embarrassing" that Coryell isn't in the Hall of Fame.
Fans can't watch the NFL today "and not see Don Coryell's influence," Winslow added. "And that's why he should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, as an innovator and as a contributor to the game. You can put a dollar figure on his value to professional football. It's called a TV contract. That's because it's entertainment."
Madden said he thought Coryell would get in this year.
"Sometimes it's just getting there, and I feel in Don's case, he will be," Madden said before the service. "So it's not, 'Is Don a Hall of Fame coach or not?' It's just, 'When does he go in?' It's just a shame that he didn't go in before now."
McPherson, who was with the Chargers from 1982-85 is now the pastor at The Rock church in San Diego. He wore a No. 24 Chargers jersey.
"Today I'm a defensive back for Don Coryell," McPherson said.
McPherson read off a list of Hall of Fames Coryell belongs to -- at San Diego State, the University of Washington, San Diego Chargers, and the College Football Hall of Fame.
"The NFL needs to put him in the Hall of Fame," McPherson said.