Class of 2023
NFL Coach of the Year
A coaching “lifer” with nearly a dozen stops on his career path at all levels of the game, Don Coryell consistently turned around losing programs through offensive innovation and maximizing the talent on his rosters.
After a lengthy college career, Coryell was named head coach of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1973 and one year later led the team to its first 10-win season since the 1948 Chicago Cardinals reached the NFL title game. The results earned him NFL Coach of the Year honors. His 1975 team went 11-3, giving the franchise double-digit wins in consecutive seasons for the first time since it joined the NFL in 1920. The 1976 team also posted 10 wins. All three teams finished in the top 10 in offense leaguewide, a Coryell standard that would reach new heights at his next job — with the San Diego Chargers.
Those teams, which would feature future Hall of Famers DAN FOUTS, KELLEN WINSLOW and CHARLIE JOINER running the “Air Coryell” offense, led the NFL in passing seven out of eight seasons (second the other year) and never finished outside the top five in total offense. The Chargers won AFC West Division titles in 1979, 1980 and 1981 and reached the AFC Championship Game twice.
Coryell’s frenetic early coaching career included two years at high schools in Hawaii and stints at the University of British Columbia, at a junior college in Washington state and at Fort Ord in California.
He replaced George Allen at Whittier College in California and won championships in all three of his seasons before heading to USC as an assistant. In 1961, he became head coach of San Diego State and immediately reversed a longtime losing team’s fortunes, winning four conference titles and posting a 104-19-2 record in 12 seasons. Hall of Fame coaches JOE GIBBS and JOHN MADDEN served as assistants.
Coryell was the first coach to win more than 100 games at both the collegiate (127-24-3) and professional (114-89-1) levels. He was inducted into the Chargers Hall of Fame and the College Football Hall of Fame.
He also served the country during World War II, first enlisting, then later attending officer’s school and training as a paratrooper. He received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Washington, where he played defensive back and won two light-heavyweight boxing titles.
1980 AFC — Oakland Raiders 34, San Diego Chargers 27
1981 AFC — Cincinnati Bengals 27, San Diego Chargers 7
AWARDS AND HONORS
NFL Coach of the Year
1974 (AP, SN, PW)
NFC Coach of the Year
1974 (UPI, PFWA)
AFC Coach of the Year
Full name: Donald David Coryell
Birthdate: Oct. 17, 1924
Died: July 1, 2010
Birthplace: Seattle, Washington
High school: Lincoln (Seattle, WA)
Elected to Pro Football Hall of Fame: Jan. 17, 2023.
Other members of the Class of 2023: Rondé Barber, Chuck Howley, Joe Klecko, Darrelle Revis, Ken Riley, Joe Thomas, Zach Thomas, DeMarcus Ware.
Coaching background: Head coach at Farrington High School (Honolulu, HI), 1952; head coach at University of British Columbia, 1953-54; head coach at Wenatchee Valley College, 1959; head coach at Fort Ord, 1956; head coach at Whittier College, 1957-59; assistant coach at University of Southern California, 1960; head coach at San Diego State, 1961-1972; head coach of St. Louis Cardinals, 1973-77; head coach of San Diego Chargers, 1978-1986.