SAN DIEGO — It can't be easy for him. As a man whose great passion in life is the science of advancing the football, it can't be much fun for Don Coryell to sit and merely think about the yardage to be made once all the talent at his disposal is healthy of mind, flesh and spirit.
"We'll have more weapons than we've ever had when everybody gets well," the Charger coach, buoyed by Sunday's 31-20 win over Kansas City, said Monday.
And he hinted at the possibility that quarterback Dan Fouts, hobbled by a knee injury for the last three games, could return to the lineup as early as this Sunday, when the Chargers play the Minnesota Vikings. It's also possible, Coryell said, that tight end Kellen Winslow could play this week, but it's doubtful wide receiver Wes Chandler will be in uniform.
Combining veteran talents like Fouts, Winslow and Chandler with newcomers such as Gary Anderson, Tim Spencer, Lionel James and Trumaine Johnson would add dimensions to Air Coryell that just might wipe the habitual look of gloom from the coach's face.
Alex Spanos, Charger owner, is thrilled about the potential of the offense and the improvement of his defense.
"This was the most encouraging sign I've seen for all the millions I've spent, that we beat Kansas City without Fouts, Winslow and Chandler," Spanos said from a phone aboard his private plane en route to New York.
"And let me tell you something else. I was so proud of our defense. If anyone had any question about my decision to make Dave Adolph my defensive coordinator, those questions should be answered now.
"One more thing, please. Contrary to what Larry King reported on NBC-TV, there's no way I was going to fire Don Coryell if we didn't beat Kansas City. That was a ridiculous report."
Patience, fortunately, is something most people learn by the time they reach their 60s, and Coryell, 61, has his share. Wisely, he isn't going to force all this talent into the lineup until everyone has completely recovered from their wounds and made other adjustments, such as mastering a few more pages of the playbook.
Coryell's wait is made slightly easier by the unexpected effectiveness of backup quarterback Mark Herrmann, who has completed 73% of his passes and orchestrated his first win in six attempts as a starter in the National Football League.
"He's been a lot better than we anticipated," Coryell said. "There aren't too many guys with a completion average like that. He's getting better every day. The offensive linemen were blocking like demons for him Sunday."
Granted, there were flaws in Herrmann's performance. He fumbled twice in the first half, giving Kansas City possession in Charger territory. Those fumbles occurred because Herrmann pulled back too soon from center Don Macek after taking the snap, Coryell said.
But the flaws were offset by Herrmann's speedier delivery of his throws and his growing confidence in the second half. He engineered two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter after the Chargers fell behind, 20-17.
Herrmann's progress aside, the job will revert to Fouts the second the All-Pro signals to Coryell that he is prepared. And Coryell is cautiously optimistic that could be this week.
"We all know how courageous and tough Dan is," Coryell said of his quarterback, who is recuperating from a knee injury he suffered against Cleveland in the season's fourth game. The prognosis was that he would miss from three to six weeks.
"It's going to depend on what Dan wants and how he feels," Coryell said. "But I certainly feel more comfortable with Mark if Dan isn't ready yet."
It's very doubtful that the Chargers could get Chandler back this week. The wide receiver suffered a deep cut in his Achilles tendon when he was stepped on in practice last Thursday. In his absence, veteran Charlie Joiner responded with his finest game of the year, catching 6 passes for 118 yards and 1 touchdown.
More difficult to predict is the status of Winslow, who seems almost completely recovered physically from the devastating knee injury he suffered a year ago against the Raiders. Winslow could be reactivated this week, but the decision won't be made until the tight end has practiced more.
"He's had his bumps and bruises and his knee has held up fine," Coryell said. "We'll talk it over with Kellen and make the decision together. Kellen won't play unless he can make a contribution. He has to be better than our other tight ends."
The "others"--Eric Sievers, Pete Holohan and Chris Faulkner--constitute perhaps the strongest secondary group of tight ends in the league. Sievers has made 26 catches and scored 5 touchdowns, and Holohan has 19 receptions and 1 touchdown.
The passing game is going to be even more dangerous once Anderson has had time to learn more of the offense and Johnson fully recovers from a hamstring injury.
Even as he was thinking about the firepower soon to be his, Coryell wasn't ignoring the reality of what happened Sunday.