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Ernie Zampese, innovative offensive coach, dies at 86

Dallas Cowboys QB Troy Aikman

UNITED STATES - JULY 20: Football: Dallas Cowboys QB Troy Aikman with offensive coordinator Ernie Zampese during training camp, Austin, TX 7/20/1994 (Photo by Patrick Murphy-Racey/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images) (SetNumber: X46583)

Sports Illustrated via Getty Ima

Ernie Zampese, whose innovative offensive philosophy and emphasis on the passing game was decades ahead of its time, has died at the age of 86.

Zampese’s four-decade coaching career included stints as the offensive coordinator of the Chargers, Rams, Cowboys and Patriots. He was never an NFL head coach and seemed fine with that, preferring to stay hyper-focused on designing a great passing attack. John Madden, who gave Zampese his first coaching job as an assistant at Allan Hancock Junior College in Santa Maria, California, would say decades later that Zampese would be the head coach he’d want if he owned an NFL team.

“I think that he is probably the top offensive brain in football today,” Madden said. “If I were an owner I would hire Ernie Zampese to be the head coach.”

After leaving Allan Hancock Junior College Zampese would replace Madden as an assistant on Don Coryell’s San Diego State staff, and it was his long partnership with Coryell, first at San Diego State and then with the San Diego Chargers, that was the most fruitful period of Zampese’s career. During Zampese’s time as the Chargers’ receivers coach, assistant head coach and offensive coordinator, the Chargers routinely had the NFL’s most prolific passing attack.

Zampese would later earn a Super Bowl ring as the Cowboys’ offensive coordinator, and he ended his career as an offensive consultant in Washington.

Coryell, who was just named a Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist, called Zampese the sport’s best offensive coach.