Innovative former NFL OC Ernie Zampese dies at age 86

Ernie Zampese, offensive coordinator for the Chargers' "Air Coryell" attack in San Diego and for the Dallas Cowboys' Super Bowl XXX title team, has died at the age of 86.

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

His son, Ken Zampese, is 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. Our hearts are with Ken and the entire Zampese family," the Commanders tweeted Monday.

Ernie Zampese was recognized earlier 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."

He paid tribute again to Zampese on Monday, posting on Instagram that "many of his offensive concepts are still being used to this day."

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

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 to '78.

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

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

The Chargers said in a statement Monday that "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."

Fouts said he owed much of his success to Zampese.

"He meant a great deal,'' Fouts told The Associated Press. "Obviously, the way that he and Don Coryell worked together to develop this amazing passing attack and offense. But you know, even more than that, I mean, everybody loved Ernie.

"He was a fearless person as far as how he taught the game and how he called the game. And I owe him a tremendous amount.''

Coryell, who died in 2010, was named a finalist this month for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's class of 2023.

Zampese 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, is one of the best, if not the best in the business, in terms of developing quarterbacks and designing and developing Super Bowl championship offenses,'' Cowboys executive vice president of personnel Stephen Jones said on his radio show Monday.

Zampese worked as the offensive coordinator 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).

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.