(EDITOR'S NOTE: Each weekend during the offseason a guest columnist weighs in on the NFL -- past, present or future. This week it's frequent contributor and historian John Turney of Pro Football Journal, asking what more is needed to put Don Coryell in the Hall of Fame. It's a good question.)
What does a guy have to do?
Don Coryell fans must be asking that question in the wake of results from the newly-formed coaches’ category. Former Raiders’ and Seahawks’ coach Tom Flores is the first nominee, which isn’t surprising. But where was Coryell?
According to reports, he wasn’t one of the top two finishers. And from all indications he didn’t have much traction within the top five.
Now that IS surprising.
He had been a five-time modern-era finalist as well as a finalist for this year’s Centennial Class. Flores was a one-time modern-era finalist, as well as a finalist for the Centennial Class, too. But none of the other favorites – Buddy Parker, Dick Vermeil or Mike Holmgren – had been a modern-era finalist once.
Then again, neither had former Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher. Yet he was one of two Centennial Class coaches (Jimmy Johnson was the other) elected for induction this year.
Not that long ago NFL contributors and coaches did not have their own categories to enter the Hall of Fame. They competed with the players. Some got in that way. Others were close but did not.
There were legitimate concerns that it wasn’t fair to compare coaches and contributors to players; that the roles were simply too different to include them on the same ballots. That was good and fair thinking.
So, the Hall-of-Fame board of trustees made separate categories for contributors and coaches. The contributor category, initiated in 2014, has been dominated by owners … and recent owners at that. Yes, there have been general managers, as well, and all worthy. But the order was odd, since George Young – elected to the Centennial Class -- almost got in under the old system, slugging it out with players and big-name coaches like Shula, Noll and so on.
Now, with the recently-created coaches’ category, it seems fair and logical that coaches who were in the same predicament would be able to take their rightful place in the Hall of Fame. But, that has not happened. Not yet. With the Centennial Class of 2020 there have been coaches that jumped the queue.
All that have gotten in -- and who will get in -- including Tom Flores, are worthy. It’s just been a question of order. And that begs the question: Will Don Coryell be forgotten and left behind?
Some of the finalists in the 2020 Centennial Class had never made the modern-era Final 15, and they’re certainly worthy of the Hall. But that’s not the issue. This is: Why is Coryell getting leap-frogged when he’d done so well competing with current players so many times? Where did the support go?
Hopefully, he is not forgotten.
The “knocks” on his career are well-known. He didn’t win the Super Bowl, didn’t reach a Super Bowl and was 3-6 in the playoffs. Fair enough. But there are coaches in the Hall of Fame without Super Bowl wins, including George Allen, who was 2-7 in the playoffs.
Coryell was an innovator, but he was more than that. He was a coach who turned around the St. Louis Cardinals and the San Diego Chargers and made both into offensive juggernauts—not just good, but record-setting offensive teams.
It isn’t necessary to go through all his credentials, the testimonials from his players and opposing coaches. The Hall-of-Fame “resume” is there. That was proven by being a finalist so many times. He has the credentials. The question is: Why has he been passed over when the going is easier now than it was when he was a Top 15 modern-era finalist?
Understandably, he couldn’t break through that class of Champ Bailey, Tony Gonzales, Ty Law, Kevin Mawae, and Ed Reed. Not many coaches could. In 2016 he reached the Top 10 before bowing out when Tony Dungy, Brett Favre, Kevin Greene, Marvin Harrison and Orlando Pace were elected.
You get the point. It goes on like that in all years that he made the Hall’s list of finalists.
There is a room … and a need … for innovators like Coryell to be recognized. They shaped the game as we see it today, and it is puzzling why he seems to be losing some momentum. Here’s hoping some of that is regained.