Wondering what would have happened if Don Coryell had said yes to Arizonaby Anthony Gimino on Jul. 07, 2010, under Sports
As Arizona football fans know, the Wildcats are working on a couple of negative streaks.
There is the one about never having been to the Rose Bowl. And there’s the one about not producing an NFL quarterback during the entire length of the school’s existence in the Pac-10, starting in 1978.
In fact — let us repeat, just for the record — the last Arizona quarterback to throw a pass in an NFL game was Bill Demory in 1973, when he was subbing for injured Joe Namath with the New York Jets.
It all makes you wonder what would happened if the Wildcats had hired the man who would later be called the father of the modern passing game.
Just think: If the Wildcats had hired Don Coryell, would Arizona have become known as a passing school?
This story goes back to 1967, when athletic director Dick Clausen was looking to replace football coach Jim Larue. Clausen offered the job to Coryell, then the head coach at San Diego State.
Clausen, according to Abe Chanin‘s history of Arizona athletics, “They Fought Like Wildcats,” said, “Coryell came over to visit the campus, and I thought he was going to take the job.”
According to Chanin’s book:
Coryell came, liked what he saw, and it appeared that Arizona was going to get a top-level football coach. But when Coryell got back to San Diego it was a different story. His wife didn’t want to move from the shores of the Pacific Coast to the desert of Arizona, and besides San Diego State College offered him some inducements to stay, including a professorship for life. Clausen insisted there was still another reason Coryell decided against the Arizona job.
“As I said, I thought he was going to take the position,” Clausen explained. “He had looked over the schedules for football and talked to our president. Then Coryell told me, ‘I can handled the tough schedules, but not the president.’”
President (Richard) Harvill was not relenting in his belief that academics came ahead of football.
Clausen eventually hired Darrell Mudra, who lasted only two seasons. Coryell eventually left San Diego State for the NFL’s St. Louis Cardinals after the 1972 season, later earning his greatest fame with the San Diego Chargers and the Air Coryell offense.
From 1977 to 1985, the Chargers led the NFL in passing yards seven times. In the other two seasons, they were No. 2.
Coryell died July 1 at the age of 85.
Arizona has had a smattering of talented quarterbacks and some productive offenses in the more than four decades since Coryell turned down the UA job, but that side of the ball has often been the program’s biggest hang-up. Coryell continued to refine his pass-first attack over the years, while the Wildcats went on to mostly be known for defense.
Makes you wonder if Coryell could have established a different kind of tradition for Arizona.
It really is unfathomable that the Wildcats would be so quarterback-poor over the decades. Even new quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo told me in the spring that he was surprised to learn Arizona didn’t have a quarterback in the NFL right now.
Scelfo, who produced four NFL quarterbacks while an assistant at Tulane, is hoping to end that streak — perhaps with junior Nick Foles.
“We’ll get us one pretty soon here,” he said.