Ernie Zampese, the longtime assistant coach who served as offensive coordinator in Dallas from 1994 to 1997 and then returned for a second stint with the team as a consultant, has passed away.
The 86-year-old spent nearly three decades on NFL coaching staffs, but his crowning achievement was helping to lead Troy Aikman and the 1995 Cowboys to a win over Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XXX, the third championship in four years for the dynasty.
Aikman paid tribute to Zampese earlier Monday with a post on Instagram.
Troy Aikman pays tribute to former Cowboys OC Ernie Zampese: “One of the brightest offensive minds in the history of the game- many of his offensive concepts are still being used to this day.” pic.twitter.com/kFYCN5w8hN
— Jori Epstein (@JoriEpstein) August 29, 2022
“Lost a good one today,” Aikman wrote. “Ernie Zampese was one of the brightest offensive minds in the history of the game – many of his offensive concepts are still being used to this day. He was my offensive coordinator in Dallas from 1994-’97. One of my most memorable moments was winning Super Bowl XXX in Tempe, AZ in 1995 and Ernie getting the Super Bowl ring that had alluded [sic] his HOF career. A friend and mentor to so many.”
Prior to joining the Cowboys, Zampese rose to prominence with the San Diego Chargers. While there, he helped create the famed “Air Coryell” offense for quarterback Dan Fouts, a prolific scheme that led the NFL in passing yards six times in his seven seasons with the team. (The year they didn’t lead the league, they finished second.)
Chargers head coach Don Coryell got most of the credit for the offense that bore his name, but he called Zampese “the best offensive coach I know.”
Norv Turner, who had his own very successful run as Cowboys OC, echoed that sentiment.
Ernie Zampese passed away this morning at the age of 86, one of the most influential offensive coaches in NFL history.
"Ernie was doing stuff in the 70's and the 80's that people today think are new and it isn't," said Norv Turner. "If Don Coryell were here today, he'd tell you."
— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) August 29, 2022
Yet, for all his football brilliance, Zampese never helmed a team of his own, at any level of the sport.
“He had no real ambition to be a head coach,” Turner said, per Mortensen. “He just wanted to coach. He loved teaching, creativity, game plans.”
Just two months ago, Zampese was named a recipient of one of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s inaugural Awards of Excellence.
Zampese’s son Ken, currently the quarterbacks coach for the Washington Commanders, accepted that award in Canton over the summer on Ernie’s behalf. Ken was reportedly excused from the Commanders by Washington head coach Ron Rivera over the weekend to visit his ailing father.