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Dan Fouts and the Air Coryell Chargers’ Long Game Comes Up Short, Revolutionizing Football

The log house Dan Fouts has resided in for nearly forty years, which he refers to as the house he will never leave, is situated on a volcanic ridgetop in the remote Oregon backcountry. The house remains hidden by seven snowcapped mountains and sits on 40 acres of ponderosa pines. As he grows older, Fouts has grown to appreciate this refuge more and more.

Fouts, now 72 years old and no longer employed in broadcasting, reflects on his playing days and whether any regrets remain. With a laugh, he admits, “I wish I had been kinder to my teammates.” In the past, Fouts had a reputation for being ruthless and unforgiving, often losing patience and displaying a fiery temper. Former teammate Hank Bauer recalls moments when they had simply had enough of Fouts, stating, “We all had our moments where you’d just had enough of him.” Fouts was notorious for wearing a hat that read “MFIC” (Motherf—er in charge), although nobody needed to be reminded. “He knew it, we knew it, everybody knew it,” Bauer adds.

However, Fouts had his reasons for his behavior. He believed that having a cocky and arrogant quarterback was essential for success. He once told a reporter, “If you don’t have a cocky, arrogant QB playing for you, then you’re in trouble.”

During the late 1970s and 80s, the San Diego Chargers were a team ahead of their time. Beyond their star quarterback, they were known for being colorful and controversial. The franchise faced off-field challenges that seem like fiction today, including rumors of an alleged shooting involving Fouts during one of his Pro Bowl seasons, which was believed to have been covered up by local police. Additionally, the team’s former owner accused some players of being high on cocaine during the 1981 AFC Championship Game.

Fouts vividly remembers the day it all began, September 25, 1978. The Chargers had suffered a humiliating loss to the Packers the day before, and their coach, Tommy Prothro, decided to quit. As the team gathered for a meeting, Fouts muttered something under his breath when the new coach, Don Coryell, was introduced. Fouts recalls thinking, “Holy sh–, this is amazing.” Up until that point, Fouts had a disappointing NFL career and was seen as a bust. He struggled with conflicts between the Chargers’ coaches and their aging starting quarterback, Johnny Unitas. Unitas, who saw Fouts as someone who would fetch him a beer, did not view him as a threat. Fouts finally got his chance when Unitas injured his shoulder, but the team didn’t win a single game that year.

However, Coryell’s arrival brought hope. Known as a disciple of Sid Gillman, the father of the forward pass, Coryell’s offensive system sought to exploit defenses in new and innovative ways. They aimed to air it out on every play, primarily with deep shots down the seams. Fouts was a perfect fit for this timing-based offense that relied on rhythm and trust. He was instructed to throw to spots, not players, and his ability to throw with touch and anticipation made him excel in this system. Fouts would take hit after hit, but he would get back up and continue playing. His teammates respected his toughness and admired his dedication.

Despite his demanding nature, Fouts held himself to the highest standards. He saw it as his duty to take hits for the team, even if it meant risking injury. Fouts explains, “If I only had a half-second to throw, I was gonna stay in there, regardless of what happened after that half-second.”

With a roster filled with offensive talent, such as Jefferson, Joiner, Muncie, and Winslow, the Chargers continued to add more weapons to their explosive offense. Coryell’s fingerprints can still be seen in the modern era of the NFL, as his system revolutionized offenses. The Chargers became known as the Air Coryell Chargers, emphasizing deep passing plays and utilizing pre-snap shifts and motions to identify defenses.

Overall, Fouts’ legacy as quarterback for the Chargers remains as a tough leader who demanded excellence from his teammates while holding himself to the same high standards.

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