Peyton Manning took to the air on the sixth episode of Peyton’s Places season four to honor recent NFL Hall of Fame inductee Don Coryell. Peyton’s Places is an ESPN+ program that follows Manning as he travels around the country exploring the history, culture, and incredible stories behind America’s Game. Peyton’s Places is produced by Peyton Manning and Jamie Horowitz and NFL Films for ESPN+.
In this episode, titled “Air Coryell,” Manning took over an aircraft hangar in San Diego, the city the Chargers called home for over 50 years. It was a fitting venue to honor the coach who took football airborne.
Don Coryell coached the Chargers from 1978 to 1986. He is known for developing a passing-centric offensive strategy at a time when passing the football was rare. This strategy, known as “Air Coryell,” earned the Chargers three consecutive AFC West Championships and brought them to the postseason four years in a row. Coryell’s Chargers still hold a record for leading the NFL in passing yards for six straight seasons.
Peyton Manning welcomed former Chargers Dan Fouts, Charlie Joiner, Kellen Winslow, and Wes Chandler to the hangar to talk about how their former coach changed football forever.
“The NFL is now a pass-first league,” Manning said. “And the fundamentals of ‘Air Coryell’ using all five receivers, constant motion and formations, throwing deep and that passing tree are fundamental to just about everyone.”
Wes Chandler demonstrated that he still knows Air Coryell’s routes by heart, mapping them out for viewers. The system was based on nine routes denoted by nine numbers. Brilliant in its simplicity, Air Coryell allowed players to learn and execute plays quickly, unlike word counts that Manning compares to memorizing an encyclopedia.
“The second week in, I knew everything that it was to know,” Chandler said.
Peyton Manning remarked on just how groundbreaking Air Coryell was. While other coaches had passing strategies, Don Coryell wasn’t imitating what they had done. He was blazing a new trail.
“What was unique to me is, it truly was his system,” Manning said. “He didn’t work for Paul Brown or Vince Lombardi and kind of copy their system. This was his stuff.”
Manning added: “That’s why, in August of 2023, Don Coryell finally got his bust in bronze.”
Coryell never won a Super Bowl for the Chargers, keeping him on the sidelines for Hall of Fame induction for years. But in 2023, his contribution to the game could no longer be ignored.
“The focus on the contribution side is what tipped it in his favor,” said Dan Fouts, a Hall of Famer himself. “The voters that were against him no longer had an argument.”
Unfortunately, Don Coryell wasn’t present for his induction ceremony. He passed away in 2010. But the legacy he left behind is perhaps more influential than that of any other coach. Air Coryell is at the heart of every passing play in the game today.
Peyton’s Places was created by Jamie Horowitz and Peyton Manning, the co-founders of Omaha Productions. The show – now in its fourth season – remains one of the most popular shows on ESPN+ and is beloved by NFL executives.
Through the years, Peyton’s Places has covered topics from iconic football moments to the fantasy football craze, and Manning has welcomed guests to the show such as Patrick Mahomes, David Letterman, and Joe Namath.
Peyton’s Places has spun off several more Places programs, all produced by Manning, Jamie Horowitz and Omaha Productions. Each Places covers a different sport and is hosted by a star athlete, such as John McEnroe, Abby Wambach, and Ronda Rousey.
“Air Coryell” brought Peyton Manning face-to-face with some of his football idols and paid respect to one of football’s most influential coaches of all time, Don Coryell.
Watch new episodes of Peyton’s Places on ESPN’s streaming service, ESPN+.