Remembering Don Coryell


The game of football is chock full of innovators, but very few distinguished themselves like Don Coryell.

The San Diego legend is the only coach ever to post triple-digit wins at both the pro and college levels. But more than just that, Coryell helped modernize the passing game, and push the professional sport to what it’s become today.

Coryell passed away yesterday at 85.

Three years ago, before playing Joe Gibbs and the Redskins, Bill Belichick was asked a slew of questions about Coryell. And the Patriots coach showed his appreciation for Coryell’s contributions.

“Well Don’s offense when he was out at San Diego, that was one of the
most explosive offenses I had seen, and still have,” Belichick said then. “They had Kellen
Winslow, Chuck Muncie and then the receivers were (Wes) Chandler, (John) Jefferson and (Charlie) Joiner. And they had Dan Fouts and they
also had a real good offensive line, too. They were good.

“Then Joe
Gibbs really took the Coryell offense, which was mainly a one-back
offense — as opposed to the West Coast offense, which had some one back
but it was really more of a two-back offense than a one-back
offense — and Gibbs took the Coryell system and, obviously, when he went
to Washington, had great success with it. Then that spread to Dan
Henning and Joe Bugel and guys like that who went on to be head coaches
and took that offense with them. I think that the Joe Gibbs offense is
much closer related to the Coryell offense than the West Coast offense

What’s really amazing is how Belichick could go on, naming all the people Coryell passed his ways on to.

“A lot of that goes with other teams hiring people from that system or
leaving it and going to the next team and taking the offense with them,” Belichick continued.
“It’s like what we’ve seen out of San Diego this year. We of course
played the Jets, which was (Brian) Schottenheimer, then we played San
Diego, which actually wasn’t San Diego, it was Norv Turner, but it was
San Diego because there was a lot of carryover there.

Then we played
Buffalo, which was San Diego, and then we played Cleveland, which was (Rob) Chudzinski, and that was San Diego. Now we’re playing Cam (Cameron) and that’s San Diego. The Norv influence between San Diego
and Dallas with (Jason) Garrett there, in seven games we’ve had a lot
of similarity in the offensive systems that we’ve seen, predominantly
San Diego but to an extent the Norv Turner system, which is somewhat
similar to the San Diego system.


“Again, that is a function of those
coordinators and head coaches going from one system into another and
taking it with them. That’s just like it was with (Bill) Walsh, (George) Seifert, (Mike) Holmgren, (Jon) Gruden, Ray Rhodes and then
all the other disciples that have come through, too, like (Mike)
McCarthy and those guys, Dennis Green. They all took the West Coast
with them.

“So it was prevalent and in terms of league-wide it was used
in high percentages throughout the season. I can’t remember exactly how
the Coryell system went, but my sense of it was that it didn’t break
apart too much. Now when Gibbs went to Washington then it was Dan
Henning, although his coaches stayed together for the most part for
quite a while. Bugel went to Arizona. Who else? But [Don] Coryell and
Sid Gillman, that was a very well thought out and excellent passing
system with a lot of production.”

And if you want to take it to another level, Coryell carries over some to the Patriots system as well.

See how Henning was referenced over and over by Belichick? Well, Henning was quarterbacks coach under offensive coordinator Charlie Weis with the Jets in 1998 and ’99, and thus some Coryell’s influence, no doubt, touched Weis, who installed his system with the Patriots starting in 2000.


More proof that if you’re judged by how many people you affected, Coryell had a truly enormous impact on the game.

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