In his first official press conference as head coach of the Los Angeles Chargers, Anthony Lynn talked about the brand of football that fans could expect to see on the football field.
“We’re looking forward to showing you guys how fun it’s going to be to watch this football team, and how this football team is going to be physical, how this football team is going to play disciplined, not turn the ball over and win football games, not lose football games,” Lynn said. “I can’t wait to start, but right now I’m focusing on getting this coaching staff together. I’m trying to put a coaching staff together that’s going to relate to our players, connect with our players.”
That was four years ago. Four years later, Lynn is out of a head coaching job, his run with the Chargers officially coming to an end the day after the team concluded its 2020 season on a four-game winning streak. The Chargers firing Lynn after four seasons was not that much of a surprise to a lot of people. But it was and is a big deal.
First, let’s state the obvious. It’s clear that the Chargers want to win. Now. Being mediocre is not a tag the organization wants to be labeled with anymore. It’s a tagline that is hard to shake when there is documented history behind it. Lynn went 33-31 in his four years as head coach of the Chargers. In his first two seasons, Lynn produced winning marks, going 9-7 in his first year and 12-4 during the 2018 campaign.
The last two seasons didn’t quite pan out the way Lynn or the Chargers imagined. In 2019, the Chargers went into a dumpster fire and recorded a 5-11 mark. The Chargers were in the negative for the 2020 season, going 6-9.
So management decided to say good-bye to a head coach who was well-respected by his players, staff members, not just for his football acumen, but also for his humanity. Chargers owner Dean Spanos released a statement on the parting of ways between Lynn and the franchise.
“This morning I informed Anthony Lynn that we have made the decision to part ways with him as our head coach,” the statement read. “I’m not sure there is another person in this league more respected as a human being than Anthony, and I want to sincerely express my deepest gratitude for his leadership during a time of great change for our organization. As we all know, this is a results-driven business and, simply put, the results of the past two years have fallen short of expectations. Moving forward, we will redouble our efforts to both build and maintain a championship-caliber program. We have been innovative in many facets of our organization in recent years, and we need to carry that over to our entire operation. Our fans need to know that the Los Angeles Chargers are committed to consistent, winning football. The search for a new head coach will begin immediately.”
The 2020 season was almost a pick up of what happened the year before with the Chargers losing nine games by 10 points or less. What may have sunk in Lynn’s chances of guiding the Chargers to a successful 2020 season was done at the beginning and middle of the season. The Chargers lost four of their first five games out of the gate.
Those four losses totaled 18 points. And for good measure, there were two overtime defeats that Lynn and the Chargers absorbed. Taking a bye week helped as the Chargers came back strong to beat Jacksonville in a home game at SoFi Stadium.
“Our goal was to be 1-0 this week, we got that accomplished,” Lynn said after the Chargers had posted a 39-29 win against the Jaguars in Week 7. “It wasn’t pretty but we didn’t think it was going to be easy either. We needed this win in a bad way, they needed a win in a bad way and we found a way to get it done. So, I was proud of the guys for that but man, we have a lot of work to do and it’s going to take a lot of character, a lot of hard work to get it done. I feel good about this team and feel like we can get that done.”
After defeating a Jacksonville team that managed to post just one victory during the regular season, the Chargers would go out and lose their next three games before coming home to beat a New York Jets team that went 2-14 in 2020. Losing those three games (Denver, Las Vegas, Miami) in the middle of the season took the sails out of any playoff aspirations the Chargers may have had.
After the Chargers beat the Jets 34-28 in Week 11, Lynn highlighted a couple of things the team needed to improve on to stay on the winning side.
“Winning our one-on-ones, our individual battles,” Lynn said during a postgame press conference. “During the third quarter, I could have taken the penalty and went back to third and fifteen and given them [the Jets] two more shots, but I chose to decline it and was really counting on someone to step up and make a play and that would have, to me, getting the ball back right there we could have ended the game offensively.”
“We didn’t get that done and they ended up moving the ball down the field and scored later,” Lynn continued. “Just winning our one-on-ones and that’s something that the guys called it up at the end of the game in the locker room and that’s something they talked about and I was glad to hear them talk about that.”
The next two games the Chargers played against the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots would be symbolic of the team’s season. The Chargers fought and played hard against the Bills, but came up short in a 27-17 road defeat. In Week 13, the bottom came out from under Lynn and the Chargers with a 45-0 home loss.
It was not a good look.
“Let me just start out by saying that was one of the worst football games that I’ve ever been a part of in my 30 years in the National Football League as a player and a coach,” Lynn said in his opening remarks with media following the game. “It’s not acceptable. It’s not indicative of the men in the locker room. I watched closely —not one guy on that field quit. This team will re-group, will battle and will bounce back. We will make sure —I know that I will personally make sure —that will never happen again. That was unacceptable and embarrassing. I’ll do the best that I can to answer your questions, but I’ll tell you right now that I don’t have a lot to say.”
So, with all of this doomsday scenario that may have appeared to surround the Chargers, the team always had a fighting chance against their opponents. That New England game was pretty much an outlier of how the Chargers played under Lynn, which was fiercely competitive. Lynn was strong in developing young and raw talent like Tyron Johnson, Jalen Guyton, K.J. Hill Jr., Kalen Ballage, and Donald Parham Jr.
Of course, the development and meteoric of quarterback Justin Herbert into a star cannot be understated.
“I am glad we have the young man,” Lynn said after the Chargers had defeated the Denver Broncos 19-16 in the team’s last home game of the 2020 season. “He works his tail off, he listens. He goes out and he tries to execute the game plan to the best he can. I give him all the credit in the world. His position coach [Pep Hamilton, Shane [Steichen], they have done a good job with him. I’m pleased with his performance, but I would like to have a few more W’s.”
Lynn’s forte has always been connecting with the players. He was able to do that well as the head coach of the Chargers. Two words come to mind when you of the Chargers under Lynn: tough and competition. Unfortunately for Lynn and the Chargers that wasn’t enough to overcome a 12-20 record over the course of the last two seasons. Not even a four-game win streak could prevent the inevitable.
“The season didn’t go the way that we wanted it to, but it was good to see these young men finished what we already started and finish it out the right way,” Lynn said after the Chargers had defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 38-21 in the team’s finale. “Our goal was to go 4-0 this last quarter of the season, and that’s what we did. So, I take my hat off to them. They’ve very resilient. There’s a lot of character in that locker room. To go 4-0 after that New England game and the way we played that game, and the way we got be that game, I tell you it says a lot about those young men.”
With Lynn’s departure from the Chargers that means the National Football League’s diversity memo on minority hiring just took another nosedive.
Maybe it’ll pick back up. However, now with Lynn gone at the moment from the head coaching ranks, the NFL’s minority pool of leading men have shrunk down to three: Brian Flores of the Miami Dolphins, Ron Rivera of the Washington Football Team and Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Out of that makeup, only two are African American.
So, that’s one topic of discussion all together in itself. The Chargers, after all, took a chance and hired Lynn to be their head coach back in 2017. And by all accounts, if the team had managed to bottle up their success from the 2018 season in which they achieved a 12-4 record and advanced to the second round of the AFC playoffs, it’s a good hunch that Lynn would still be leading the team.