Ernie Zampese of ‘Air Coryell’ Chargers, Cowboys, dies at 86


Ernie Zampese, one of the architects of the Dan Fouts-led “Air Coryell” offense with the San Diego Chargers and point guard Troy Aikman for the last of the Dallas Cowboys’ three Super Bowl titles in the years 1990, died. He was 86 years old.

Washington commanders announced the death Monday without providing further details. Zampese’s son, Ken Zampese, is the Washington quarterbacks coach.

Zampese joined Don Coryell’s team in San Diego in 1979, beginning an eight-year run in which Fouts and the Chargers led the NFL in passing yards six times. The Chargers made the playoffs the first four years, reaching the AFC Championship Game twice.

After seven seasons as offensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams, Zampese joined the Cowboys in 1994 to lead an offense led by Aikman’s “Triplets,” running back Emmitt Smith and wide receiver Michael Irvin.

Dallas beat Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl a year later, and Zampese was in charge of offense for two more years before spending two seasons as New England’s offensive coordinator.

Zampese ended his career with four seasons as a consultant: two in Dallas (2000-01) and one each with the St. Louis Rams (2002) and one in Washington (2004).

The Pro Football Hall of Fame presented Zampese with an Achievement Award this summer.

Fouts and Aikman are in the Hall of Fame along with Smith, Irvin and a pair of Chargers passers in receiver Charlie Joiner and tight end Kellen Winslow.

“Ernie Zampese was one of the most brilliant offensive minds in the history of the game,” Aikman wrote on Instagram along with a photo of him and Zampese at practice. “Many of his offensive concepts are still used to this day.”

A day after Commanders rookie running back Brian Robinson Jr. was shot in what the NFL team described as an attempted robbery or carjacking, Ken Zampese learned his father had died.

“Some things, obviously internally, we just pray for our guys,” quarterback Carson Wentz said. “We are a family and we want it to stay that way and we pray for everyone as they go through trials off the pitch.”

Zampese was an assistant at Cal Poly in 1966 before spending a decade at San Diego State. He broke into the NFL as a scout with the New York Jets in 1977 before moving to the Chargers. Coryell is a finalist for the Hall of Fame Class of 2023.

After four years as receivers coach on the Coryell team, Zampese served as assistant head coach in charge of the passing game for three seasons and then offensive coordinator for one.

He joined the Cowboys after Norv Turner went to Washington as head coach, the same year of the acrimonious split between owner Jerry Jones and coach Jimmy Johnson.

Jones hired Barry Switzer and Dallas lost the NFC Championship Game to San Francisco in Zampese’s first season before winning the franchise’s fifth Super Bowl. The Cowboys haven’t even reached an NFC title game since the 1995 season.

“Norv was a student under Ernie, but Ernie is, to this day, one of the best, if not the best in the business, in terms of developing quarterbacks and designing and developing Super Bowl championship offenses. “said the executive vice-president of the Cowboys. Stephen Jones said on his radio show Monday.


AP Team writers Joe Reedy and Stephen Whyno contributed.


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