The sad truth about Don Coryell’s Hall of Fame candidacy: it’s running out of steam

Shortly after Don Coryell was elected to the Professional Football Hall of Fame Class of 2019, I told another manager I didn’t think the former Chargers and Cardinals head coach would reach. one day Canton. He wasn’t so sure. He believed that if Hall created a category that separated coaches from modern-day players, Coryell not only had a chance but was a virtual lock.

And I accepted.

But we were wrong. Barring a philosophical change among Hall’s voters, Don Coryell’s Hall of Fame candidacy is kaput.

It’s hard to admit for someone so worthy of the Hall of Fame that the Canton Selection Committee made Coryell a finalist more times (6) than any coach, including a year ( 2016) when he propelled it into the top 10 of the modern era. But that’s the inescapable conclusion after what has happened over the past two years.

Because what has happened is that Hall has actually created a separate category for head coaches, and Coryell is nowhere on their radar.

The centennial class of 2020 were the first to try it, removing two coaches for the induction. Neither was called Don Coryell. They were Jimmy Johnson and Bill Cowher, and they were inducted this summer. Next, the Hall announced that it would continue to create a separate 2021-24 coaches category, with one nominee per year. This, it seemed, bode well for Coryell.


When the coaching committee voted on the 2021 class, Tom Flores was their choice. Coryell, I was told, was not second or third. Then the committee met last Tuesday for the 2022 promotion and chose Dick Vermeil. Coryell was again nowhere in the Leader Board of the Seven Candidates.

When I expressed my confusion over how someone the Hall’s Selection Board kept coming back to as a Modern Era finalist could be fired so easily, I was given the familiar explanation: the playoffs. Coryell was 3-6 in the playoffs and never made it to a Super Bowl. With coaches and shifts measured on jewelry, I was told, his chances of reaching Canton were… well, negligible.

Ouch. Okay. But here’s what I don’t understand: If you can dismiss Coryell so easily based on his playoff resume, how can you support George Allen as a Hall of Fame contender? He was 2-7 in the playoffs and reached the Super Bowl once. He lost. Still, he was elected to the hall in 2002.

It’s not a hit on Allen. It’s a defense from Coryell. If playoff records and Lombardi trophies are the yardstick for coaches – and more than one voter said so – then how come they didn’t stop a coach from reaching Canton when do they prevent another from entering?

“Is it just because he didn’t bring his team to the Super Bowl?” Wes Chandler, a former Chargers star receiver, said in a June interview on “The Eye Test for Two” podcast (Wes Chandler: “My Heart Bleeds” that Don Coryell is not signed up for Canton – Sports Illustrated Talk Of Fame Network). “Is that really what it’s based on?” Or the impact you have had on the game? My heart bleeds that this guy deserves this recognition. “

Coryell has had more regular season wins (111) than Flores (97) and Johnson (80) and a higher winning percentage (.572) than Johnson (.556), Flores (.527) and Vermeil (.524 ). He’s also been a Hall of Fame finalist more times than the three combined. Yet because he didn’t reach the Super Bowl, he’s no longer seen as a top contender for Canton?


Kellen Winslow, Dan Fouts, and Charlie Joiner also didn’t reach the Super Bowl. They’re all in the Professional Football Hall of Fame because of… what? Excellency. Yes. But because of Coryell too. He resurrected the Chargers as he had previously done with the St. Louis Cardinals, turning two doormats into playoff contenders who combined for five-division championships, with the Chargers appearing twice in title games. conference.

Of course, he did more than that. He revolutionized the passing game with a fast-hitting offense that became known as “Air Coryell” in San Diego, where the Chargers led the league in spending seven of eight years and forced defenses to s adapt. And while he didn’t produce any Lombardi trophies, his cronies did – with Joe Gibbs, Ernie Zampese, Norv Turner and Mike Martz combining for seven.

“In the offense with which we won the Super Bowl in 1999,” said Vermeil, citing the St. Louis Rams, Super Bowl XXXIV winners, “the foundation was Don Coryell. The philosophies of the course, the passing game … It all comes from the founder, Don Coryell. The genius. “

Like Vermeil, Joe Gibbs lobbied for Coryell. John Madden too. And Tony Dungy.

“If you’re talking about impact on the game,” Dungy said, “training other coaches – John Madden, Bill Walsh, Joe Gibbs, to name a few – and influencing the way things are. well, Don Coryell is probably on the same level as Paul Brown. He was a genius. “

If and when Vermeil is inducted into Canton – likely in 2022 – it’s four Hall of Fame coaches pushing Coryell, two calling him a “genius.” They can’t all be wrong. Yet the voters in the room continue to push others before him with such regularity that his candidacy, as it stands now, is DOA… unless something unforeseen happens.

So make it happen.

Last month I wrote that Clark Shaughnessy, who popularized the T-roster and, like Coryell, was one of seven coaching candidates for the 2022 class, had no chance in Canton unless he was also considered a contributor (How Clark Shaughnessy Reach the Pro Football Hall? Here’s a Solution – Sports Illustrated Talk Of Fame Network). His arrival on Tuesday only confirmed my conviction.

But Shaughnessy is not alone. Coryell needs to join him in taking the plunge, because citing his impact on the game – how he changed the offensive and defensive patterns – doesn’t resonate with voters who are focused on wins and losses. Today’s NFL looks different because of Don Coryell, just as it looks different because of Clark Shaughnessy. So if they cannot be rewarded for their innovations as head coaches then reward them for their innovations as contributors.

“Don is the father of modern passing,” said Martz. “You’re looking around the NFL right now, and so many teams are running some version of the Coryell offense. Coaches added their own touches, but it’s still Coryell’s offense. He has followers all over the place. the league. He changed the game. I don’t know why this was not recognized by the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Neither do I. What I do know is the sad truth: a once strong candidacy is running out of steam.

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