Coryell was football pioneer, in every sense

Don Coryell was always known as “Air Coryell,” and rightfully so.

In the mid-1970s he helped lead the Cardinals to division titles because of the way his offenses threw the ball deep down the field. He later went to San Diego, and with a guy named Dan Fouts the Chargers ruled the West.

In today’s NFL, we witness aerial wars each and every Sunday. That wasn’t the case in Coryell’s era, when he was winning titles and setting records during his stints with the Cards and the Chargers by spreading the field and throwing the ball far more frequently than anyone else in the league.

I’ll never forget how Coryell took¬†¬†Kellen Winslow and made him into a chess piece, taking him off the line of scrimmage and moving him all around the field in different formations. Winslow went on to become one of three Hall of Famers for Coryell (along with Fouts and Charlie Joiner).

It wasn’t only offenses that Coryell engineered. His defensive lines in San Diego were also among the most talented in football.

It shouldn’t go without notice that the coaching tree that Coryell founded is as deep, and as varied, as any ever constructed. There were John Madden and Joe Gibbs, both Hall of Famers. Plus Mike Martz, Al Saunders, Ernie Zampese and Norv Turner, who continue to sing his praises about how to stretch the field offensively. Everyone on this list always gave credit to Coryell for their philosophy and knowledge.

Coryell was a true football pioneer and will probably go without much adulation, attention and acknowledgement … all the same things he shunned while he was still with us.

— Brian Baldinger

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