"It's the thing we think we can do best," Coryell said.
When you look at Coryell's record over the years, things start jumping out at you, things he might admit grudgingly. They're landmark events that reflect the mind of an innovative genius.
Take the Power-I formation, which came into vogue at the big colleges in the 1970s. Coryell used it in 1955 at Wenatchee Valley, a junior college in Washington, to turn a winless team into one that was undefeated and went to the Potato Bowl. He recruited from Hawaii, where he had coached high school ball for two years, and from Canada, where he had coached for another two. "The team from everywhere that came from nowhere," is what they called them.
"Oh, I'm sure I didn't invent the Power-I," Coryell says. "We just called it backs-left and backs-right. We kind of went to it because some people got hurt."
Tommy Nugent and Frank Leahy share credit for inventing the pure, three-back, I formation, Coryell is told.
"Is that so?" he says. "I certainly wasn't aware of it at the time."
At Whittier College, where Coryell coached from 1957 to 1959, his offense produced the small colleges' second-leading runner. Max Fields, and their total-offense leader in Quarterback Gary Campbell. But it wasn't until he was well into his 12-year stint as head coach at San Diego State (1961-1972) that the world began to hear of Coryell.
He had spent 1960 as an assistant at USC, and he knew he couldn't compete with Southern Cal and UCLA for talent. If he was going to have a chance against the bigger schools, he'd have to come up with something different. Air Coryell was born. Sprinters and hurdlers came to San Diego State to learn how to be corner-backs and flankers. Quarterbacks came because they knew it was a finishing school for the NFL. Brian Sipe, Don Horn, Dennis Shaw, they all got their education there. They had guys like Isaac Curtis and Gary Garrison to catch their passes, like Claudie Minor, now of the Broncos, to block for them.
Three of Coryell's teams went unbeaten. In 1966 they were drawing 40,000 people a game into Aztec Stadium while the Chargers were drawing 25,000 at Balboa. San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, which was completed in 1967, was built as much to accommodate San Diego State as to house the Chargers. Coryell was on his way.
"When I went to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1973," he says, "we used the San Diego State offense. We still use it with the Chargers, same numbering system, same method of calling plays."