<strong>June 6, 2005</strong>
Source: <a href="http://www.signonsandiego.com/sports/canepa/20050706-9999-1s6canepa.html">San Diego Union Tribune</a>
If you're a coach, it may be easier getting into a Papal election than the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Being good is not enough to get you through the gates. You must win, for sure, but if you aren't a super champion, a Brown, Lombardi, Noll, Landry or Shula, you must be something else. A scientist.
You must disrupt the normal course of the game. You must be someone who will be copied by the copiers. There haven't been a gaggle of originals, which is why there aren't 100 coaches in the Hall. Which is why Hank Stram made it. Which is why Don Coryell should be in. But he isn't, and that's a travesty.
Stram, who passed away Monday at 82, did win, getting to two Super Bowls â€“ including the first, a loss to Green Bay â€“ with the Chiefs, and beating Minnesota in IV. But Stram, the most exuberant of coaches, also was an innovator. Winning one Super Bowl doesn't necessarily punch a ticket to Canton.
John Madden won one with the Raiders and he's far more famous than Stram. He isn't in. Tom Flores won two with the Raiders. He isn't in. Could be a Raiders thing, or the popular, preposterous notion that Al Davis is the only coach the Silver and Black has had since 1963.
Dick Vermeil, Mike Shanahan, Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick, Mike Holmgren, Brian Billick and Jon Gruden are Super Bowl-winning coaches who remain employed in the NFL (Joe Gibbs â€“ who won three with Washington, retired and returned â€“ is in the Hall). Belichick and Parcells, however, are cinches.
Only a few Hall of Fame coaches didn't win championships, Bud Grant and Marv Levy (four Super Bowl losses apiece) among them. Grant and Levy were great coaches, but they're not in the Hall because of innovations. Get to four Super Bowls, win or lose, and you can coach.
Stram's 136 wins with Kansas City and New Orleans wasn't Shulaesque. That's 41 fewer than Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer. But Stram was different. He introduced the moving pocket to open up passing lanes. He developed the stacked defense. He brought in a second tight end. "One of the most creative coaches," Schottenheimer says.
That's why Stram is in the Hall. That Super Bowl win wasn't enough. Nor was his personality. Madden has plenty of the stuff, and he's still waiting. Stram helped change football.
"We played some games against each other," says Coryell, the former Chargers and San Diego State coach/inventor. "Hank was a great person. He was so fired up during games; he was entertaining for me to watch. He used the sliding pocket, going off to one side or another, and he always had really good players. He had some good men. And he was a class guy."
When you look at Stram's credentials, you get the idea that Hall electors can be enamored with coaches who made a difference, which is why Sid Gillman (one title, the AFL in 1963 with San Diego) is enshrined. Gillman was a master of the modern passing game. So was Coryell â€“ perhaps even more so â€“ and yet he hasn't gotten beyond Canton's preliminary list of candidates, which he reached in 2004.
Coryell, inducted in the College Football Hall of Fame in 1999, remains the only coach to win 100 games at the professional and university levels. At SDSU, he broke collegiate ground, taking the forward pass to places it never before had reached. It's no secret why nearly all of his quarterbacks at State were double transfers, coming to San Diego from other four-year schools. They came to throw the ball and learn from a maestro.
Coryell's sin, I guess, was never reaching a Super Bowl with the Chargers. But during the period he was here, 1978-86, his blitzkrieg offense became the most feared in the history of the sport. The onslaught never stopped, mistakes be damned. Air Coryell had an audacious pilot in Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts, who more than once has told me he would have been out of football by 1979 had it not been for Coryell's arrival.
Coryell forced change that still can be seen today. When you watch a game and see mass defensive situational substitutions, you have Coryell to thank. The "geniuses" stole from him, including Bill Walsh, credited with the West Coast offense, and Madden, who coached under Coryell at SDSU. Gibbs, another Coryell disciple and Chargers assistant and offensive coordinator, is another, although Fouts told me if it were up to Gibbs, he might never have thrown the ball. But Coryell, you see, also believed in the run.
It was Coryell, backfield coach at USC under John McKay in 1960, who introduced the I formation to the college game. Last time we checked, it still was in use. Think about it. How far has offense progressed in the NFL since Coryell got out? He all but took it to the limit.
Three of his Chargers players â€“ Fouts, Kellen Winslow and Charlie Joiner â€“ are enshrined. And there are worse receivers inducted than Wes Chandler, less gifted runners than Chuck Muncie â€“ both were brilliant in Coryell's system. And there are Hall of Fame linemen no better than Fouts protectors Ed White, Doug Wilkerson and Russ Washington.
"Yeah, sure, I think about the Hall," says Coryell, now 80. "But it hasn't happened. It would be wonderful, but I don't lose sleep over it."
Losing sleep is for the rest of us.