SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Santa Barbara Dons football legend Ernie Zampese who later became famous for his offensive mind in the NFL passed away at the age of 86.
Zampese played for the Dons from 1951-'53 and was named CIF Player of the Year in his senior season rushing for close to 900 yards with 19 touchdowns. He also passed for over 1,000 yards with 14 touchdowns.
After playing at USC from 1955-1956 Zampese went back to Santa Barbara and worked as a postman.
But in 1962 he returned to football as an assistant coach under John Madden at Hancock College in Santa Maria.
After becoming head coach of the Bulldogs in 1964 he decided he liked being an assistant more and went to Cal Poly as a backfield coach in 1966.
From 1967- 1975 he was an assistant coach at San Diego State and he jumped to the NFL in 1976.
He made a name for himself as one of the architects of the Dan Fouts-led "Air Coryell" offense with the San Diego Chargers.
Zampese joined Don Coryell’s San Diego staff in 1979, starting an eight-year run during which Fouts and the Chargers led the NFL in yards passing six times. The Chargers made the playoffs the first four years, reaching the AFC championship game twice.
After seven seasons as the offensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams, Zampese joined the Cowboys in 1994 to direct an offense led by the “Triplets” of Aikman, running back Emmitt Smith and receiver Michael Irvin.
Dallas beat Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl a year later, and Zampese was in charge of the offense two more years before spending two seasons as New England’s offensive coordinator.
“Ernie Zampese was one of the brightest offensive minds in the history of the game,” Aikman wrote on Instagram with a picture of Zampese and him at a practice. “Many of his offensive concepts are still being used to this day.”
Zampese ended his career with four seasons as a consultant: two in Dallas (2000-01) and one each with the St. Louis Rams (2002) and Washington (2004).
The Pro Football Hall of Fame gave Zampese an award of excellence this summer.
(The Associated Press contributed to this article).