(EDITOR'S NOTE: To access the Wes Chandler interview, click on the following attachment: https://www.spreaker.com/user/fullpresscoverage/eyetest-20210602-1058)
Don Coryell is not in the Pro Football Hall Fame, but that changes in a heartbeat if one of his star players, wide receiver Wes Chandler, is ever allowed to present the former head coach to the Hall’s board of 48 selectors.
That’s not a promise. It’s a guarantee.
As a guest on the latest “Eye Test for Two” podcast on fullpressradio.com, Chandler made such an impassioned, forceful and persuasive plea in support of Coryell’s candidacy that those listening will question why he’s not already in Canton.
Trust me, I listened. So did Ira Kaufman, a co-host of the broadcast. We’re Hall-of-Fame voters, and we were moved by the power of Chandler’s words when asked what he'd tell voters reluctant to induct the former Cardinals’ and Chargers’ coach.
“He changed my life,” he said. "Had a great impact on my career. (I have) nothing but the greatest respect for the person that he was."
The third overall pick by New Orleans in the 1978 draft, Chandler was traded to San Diego in 1981 to replace John Jefferson, and it was with the Chargers that he flourished -- producing over 1,000 yards receiving in eight games during the strike-shortened 1982 season, including an NFL-record 129 yards per game.
Coryell was Chandler's coach for six of his seven seasons with the Bolts and made such an impact that, when Chandler addressed Coryell's Hall-of-Fame candidacy over three decades later, he was emotional, bowing his head as he struggled to collect his thoughts.
But when he did … it was powerful.
“The impact that he made on the game changed how defenses saw the passing game,” Chandler said. “He was an innovator. At that time … and during that time … there were only two offenses that most teams marveled at: It was the number system and the West Coast system. One of those guys, with all due respect, is already in the Hall.”
That would be San Francisco’s Bill Walsh, who devised the West Coast offense and was elected to Canton in 1993. The number system belonged to Coryell, and he’s still waiting on the Hall. A six-time finalist, including a Top-10 entry in 2016 when he just missed the final cut, Coryell was supposed to be a slam dunk if and when the Hall devised a separate coaches’ category.
Well, they devised one for the Centennial Class of 2020, and Jimmy Johnson and Bill Cowher were elected. Then they created a separate coaches’ vote for 2021-24, and Tom Flores was the first inductee.
All are worthy, but here’s the rub: Prior to the Centennial Class, no coach waiting on Canton was favored more than Coryell by the Hall’s board of selectors. He’d been a five-time finalist, including four of the previous five years. Johnson and Flores each had been finalists once. And Cowher? He’d never been one.
Plus, none was lumped in a conversation with Bill Walsh when it came to Canton -- until, that is, Chandler addressed Coryell’s candidacy.
“I think just for the innovation in and of itself, (and) not going to the Super Bowl, defined who these two gentlemen were,” he said. “By all means, Don Coryell changed the game.
“A lot of teams started running the number system because it was easier for players to adapt to. All you had to do was learn the tree that went from the single receiver to the double, and you told both backs what to do. And that is easy as pie.
“Where (with) the West Coast, you had to learn lines, ropes, boards. You had to learn those things, right? And it was a system that was a little bit different. It was high-low. It was rubs. It was everything innovative that you had to adapt to from the defensive perspective. But when it came to the ball getting down the field, it was the number system that changed the game and how the game would be played.”
Chandler should know. He had exposure to both systems. He was the Chargers' most dangerous wide receiver from 1981-87 before ending his career in 1988 with San Francisco, retiring after four games.
Plus, he's up on his history -- citing the 1980s’ Washington Redskins, 1990s’ Dallas Cowboys and the Rams’ “Greatest Show on Turf” as illustrations of teams that flourished with Coryell’s offense. Former Chargers' assistant Joe Gibbs won three Super Bowls in Washington. Dallas won three with Norv Turner and, later, his mentor, Ernie Zampese, calling the plays, while Mike Martz – who called Coryell “the father of the modern passing game” -- was the offensive coordinator in St. Louis when the Rams won Super Bowl XXXIV.
“When you look at those (teams),” Chandler said, “they ran these systems. There are lot of players who are in the Hall … and a lot of coaches who got accolades … because of this, and the very person who brought this is in is not in the Hall.”
Yeah, I know, hard to fathom.
The question, of course, is: Why? And that’s where it gets sticky. The knock on Coryell is not that he didn’t win a Super Bowl; it’s that he didn’t get to one. He was 3-6 in the playoffs, twice advancing to conference championship games. Three of his star players – quarterback Dan Fouts, wide receiver Charlie Joiner and tight end Kellen Winslow – didn’t get there, either.
Yet they’re in Canton.
Former coach George Allen is there, too, and take a quick look at his record: He was 2-7 in the playoffs and, yes, he went to a Super Bowl. One. And he lost it. That’s not a knock on Allen. It’s a defense of Coryell. If playoff records didn’t keep one coach from entering the Pro Football Hall of Fame, why do they keep another – an innovator, no less – out?
“Is it simply because he did not get this team to the Super Bowl?” Chandler asked. ”Is that what it’s really based on? Or the impact you had on the game? My heart bleeds for the fact that this guy deserves that recognition.”