Longtime offensive coordinator Ernie Zampese dies at 86

Kevin Whitlock / Massillon Independent / USA TODAY NETWORK

Ernie Zampese, offensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers’ “Air Coryell” attack and for the Dallas Cowboys’ Super Bowl XXX title team, died Monday at 86.

Hank Bauer, who played for and coached with Zampese, announced his passing on social media.

Zampese also worked as the offensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots during his 24 years in the NFL.

He was recognized this summer by the Pro Football Hall of Fame with an Award of Excellence.

Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman, in his Hall of Fame induction speech in 2006, called Zampese “one of the best offensive minds and greatest people that this game has ever known.”

Zampese began his coaching career in 1962 when he was hired by John Madden at Hancock Junior College in Santa Maria, Calif.

He worked as an assistant coach at Cal Poly (1966) and San Diego State (1967-76) before breaking into the NFL as a scout for the New York Jets from 1977-78.

Zampese joined head coach Don Coryell’s staff with the Chargers in 1979, coaching the wide receivers there until 1982. He was the associate head coach in charge of the passing game from 1983-84 and the offensive coordinator from 1985-86.

Led by quarterback Dan Fouts, wide receivers like Charlie Joiner, John Jefferson and tight end Kellen Winslow, the Chargers led the NFL in passing almost every season under Zampese’s watch.

“Regarded as the best offensive mind in football by John Madden, Don Coryell and nearly all his contemporaries, Ernie Zampese was among the most important offensive coaches in NFL history,” the Chargers said in a statement. “Throughout his years with the Chargers in roles that included receivers coach, assistant head coach and offensive coordinator, the Bolts consistently boasted the league’s most feared passing attack.

“Decades removed from those ‘Air Coryell’ teams, his influence on the modern NFL — from X’s and O’s to the players and coaches he touched — can still be felt. Above all else, Ernie just loved what it meant to be a coach. He loved to mentor. He loved to teach. And everyone Ernie met loved him back. We’ve lost a good one today, and our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Joyce, son Ken and the entire Zampese family.”

Zampese worked as the OC for the Rams (1987-93), Cowboys (1994-97) and Patriots (1998-99). He later served as an offensive consultant with the Cowboys (2000-01), Rams (2002) and Washington (2004).

His son, Ken Zampese, is currently the quarterbacks coach for the Washington Commanders.

“We mourn the loss of Ernie Zampese, father of QB coach Ken Zampese, and one of the most innovative offensive minds throughout his long NFL coaching career,” the Commanders said in a statement. “Our hearts are with Ken and the entire Zampese family.”

–Field Level Media

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