Don Coryell Named Pro Football Hall of Fame Finalist

Don Coryell
Don Coryell
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Preseason Week 3 - Don Coryell, former head coach of the St. Louis Cardinals and San Diego Chargers and perhaps the most influential offensive coach in pro football history, was nominated as the lone finalist in the coach/contributor category for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2023.

Coryell was nominated from a pool which included Roone Arledge, Mike Holmgren, Frank Kilroy, Robert Kraft, Art Modell, Buddy Parker, Dan Reeves, Art Rooney Jr., Mike Shanahan, Clark Shaughnessy and John Wooten.

Coryell will still need to be approved by the general selection committee sometime in January, but such approval is generally considered a formality now that coaches, contributors and seniors do not count toward the committee's annual five-inductee maximum.

Coryell’s long road to enshrinement is an instructive example of how the PFHoF voting procedures of the past gummed up the works and sometimes left overqualified candidates by the wayside. 

For decades, players, coaches, owners and “contributors” were lumped into one finalist category, forcing the selection committee to make some nearly impossible choices. When Coryell was a finalist in 2010, he shared a ballot with Emmitt Smith and Jerry Rice, for example, and was “snubbed” along with players like Cris Carter because there was simply no room at the inn. Coryell then got stuck at the semifinalist stage for many years as everyone from Bill Parcells to George Young to Paul Tagliabue got crowded onto the same ballot as the players.

Even when extra space was added in the finalist pool for non-players, Coryell’s less-than-historic 111-83-1 record as a head coach, with a 3-6 postseason record, still shunted him behind Tony Dungy, Jerry Jones and Eddie DeBartolo. Chuckle at the owners if you like, but there’s a long precedent of inducting owners into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. (The always cash-strapped institution itself never objects to flattering the super-wealthy). There was no precedent for inducting influential coordinators who became B-tier head coaches, and some voters of the past were reluctant to set such a precedent, lest everyone from Buddy Ryan to Norv Turner come knocking. 

Coryell pioneered just about everything from the I-formation to many of the fundamental tenets of the modern passing offense, with many of his contributions coming when he coached at San Diego State and influenced the likes of John Madden, another head coach/contributor who waited decades for enshrinement. Coryell, who passed away in 2010, was a highly qualified Hall of Famer, but his was always a square-peg candidacy. And there’s no room for square pegs when there are only five names on a ballot, and one-to-three are usually reserved for recently-retired superstars. 

Now that the Hall has cleaned up its selection process and Coryell has a nomination all to himself, his legacy and unique contributions will finally get their due.

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16 comments, Last at 28 Aug 2022, 12:25pm

#1 by LyleNM // Aug 24, 2022 - 11:29am

Very long overdue.

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#2 by Bryan Knowles // Aug 24, 2022 - 12:18pm

Coryell is the platonic definition of a contributor. The game simply would not be the same without him. He was never good enough (or, at least, successful enough) as a head coach to really warrant inclusion, but without Air Coryell, you don't get the Triplet Cowboys or the Greatest Show on Turf Rams. You don't get anywhere near the number of trips sets or pass-catching tight ends.  Defenses and defenders look different today because of what Coryell was able to cook up.


And now I can shift my "let that guy in!" yearly shout to Clark Shaughnessy.

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#8 by Aaron Brooks G… // Aug 24, 2022 - 2:40pm

He'll never in a million years get in, but take a peek at Jock Sutherland. Every team he coached got better when he arrived and worse when he left.

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#11 by andrew // Aug 25, 2022 - 1:23pm

What if you added him and Jeff George to the same team for  a year then both left?



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#12 by Aaron Brooks G… // Aug 25, 2022 - 3:25pm

The team would have to divide in two, like the Steagles.

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#3 by ImNewAroundThe… // Aug 24, 2022 - 12:38pm

Mike Holmgren, Robert Kraft (spa scandal can make him wait idc really), Art Rooney Jr., and Mike Shanahan.

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#5 by Mike B. In Va // Aug 24, 2022 - 2:04pm


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#6 by Aaron Brooks G… // Aug 24, 2022 - 2:36pm

It's about fucking time!

There was no precedent for inducting influential coordinators who became B-tier head coaches

There was, but they had to sneak LeBeau in as a player.

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#7 by KnotMe // Aug 24, 2022 - 2:39pm

Hopefully they air mailed the notification letter to him. 

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#10 by Raiderfan // Aug 24, 2022 - 8:37pm

“perhaps the most influential offensive coach in pro football history, ”

Paul Brown and Bill Walsh (and, yes, Clark Shaughnessy) have entered the chat, laughing their a**** off.

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#15 by JimZipCode // Aug 27, 2022 - 3:55pm

Paul Brown and Bill Walsh (and, yes, Clark Shaughnessy) have entered the chat, laughing their a**** off.

No one would object if we listed Coryell among the most influential offensive coaches.

As an aside, I had never heard of Shaughnessy until I read Bill Walsh's (first) book.  Walsh writes somewhere in there, “We didn't do anything that Clark Shaughnessy wasn't doing” long ago.  I was like, who?  But he mentions that one of the cool parts of getting a job at a place like Stanford (back in the days before digital & YouTube et al), was the chance to dig into their film archive of old games & old plays.

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#13 by Will Allen // Aug 27, 2022 - 9:19am

A guy whose principal accomplishment was inheriting his dad's real estate business, and being willing to sign checks before the salary cap fully kicked in, then was caught cheating on the salary cap, is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 

Hell, why not give Jim Irsay an ugly yellow blazer?

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#14 by JimZipCode // Aug 27, 2022 - 3:52pm

Hell, why not give Jim Irsay an ugly yellow blazer?

If by some misbegotten miracle Robert Irsay got into the Hall, I would lead a legion of Baltimore fans to Canton to burn that place to the ground.

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#16 by phillyangst // Aug 28, 2022 - 12:25pm took this long for the late Don Coryell to receive his due. His offensive football innovations have enhanced the game to much of what we see today. Coryell's concepts helped produced championship teams (Washington-'82,'87,'91; Dallas-'92,'93,'97; St. Louis Rams-'99) and Hall of Fame to good players (i.e., Kellen Winslow I, Jay Novacek). Air Coryell is as influential as the BWO (Bill Walsh Offense). I enjoyed watching his Charger teams along w/ teams that used his blueprints to win. I hate to say this being an Eagles fan, but the '90s Cowboys teams best executed Don's playbook.




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