PROVIDENCE, R.I. — NFL teams in the market for head coaches this season all seem to be searching for the next Sean McVay, a young offensive guru. But shouldn’t some of them, at least, have been searching for the next Anthony Lynn?
Granted, this is not an original thought. Michael Silver, the former Sports Illustrated football writer now working for NFL.com, made the observation in a tweet a few days ago, and others have voiced similar thoughts on social media.
Lot of teams out there looking for The Next Sean McVay, which is cool (though there isn’t one)… not a lot looking for The Next Anthony Lynn
— Michael Silver (@MikeSilver) January 9, 2019
But it’s a conversation worth having on two different levels, underlined by the success of the Chargers’ second-year coach.
The elephant in the room is race. The Rooney Rule was instituted by the NFL to help give minority candidates an even shot in coach searches, but it hasn’t been particularly effective this hiring season. Five black head coaches lost their jobs this season (Hue Jackson in Cleveland, Todd Bowles with the Jets, Vance Joseph in Denver and Steve Wilks in Arizona, with Marvin Lewis stepping down in Cincinnati by mutual agreement). None were replaced by coaches of color, and now there are two black head coaches left in a league where 70 percent of the players are black: Lynn and Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin.
The more nuanced conversation? Most of those openings are going to young offensive coaches, the idea being to duplicate what McVay did for Jared Goff. The Rams’ coach seems too young to have a coaching tree, but one of his guys (Matt LaFleur) was hired in Green Bay, and another (current quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor) could get the job in Cincinnati.
Lynn was an offensive coordinator, and then an interim head coach, in Buffalo before the Chargers hired him early in 2017. He wasn’t necessarily a Quarterback Whisperer, though he did have some, uh, spirited conversations with Philip Rivers early on.
But he has done something else, something maybe more important in a game that still revolves around blocking and tackling: He has instilled a culture mental toughness and grit, and that has come in handy given the obstacles his team continues to face as, essentially, football’s nomads.
That condition was underlined again in recent days when reports surfaced (or were leaked) that, were the Chargers to get home field in the AFC championship game next week, the league would have sought to move it out of Carson and into a larger L.A. area stadium, likely the Coliseum.
It’s a moot point now, thanks to Kansas City (and the New England Patriots would have had something to say about it Sunday in any event), but I’m curious. If the optics of a championship game in Carson would have been bad, did the league ever consider what it would look like in a Coliseum that was three-quarters empty?
But we digress. The point is the Chargers not only have ignored the difficulties inherent in their situation but have made it work in their favor, as a 9-0 record outside of SoCal would attest. Melvin Ingram started using the acronym “ASAP” – any squad, any place – and the players have adopted it as their battle cry.
Having to use a silent count at home occasionally because of a preponderance of visiting fans? Being overshadowed by seven other L.A. area pro franchises, plus USC and UCLA, while going 12-4 in the regular season? Operating with a fan base that, since the move, may be loud and loyal but remains small? No big deal.
“We love playing on the road,” safety Adrian Phillips said a week ago in Baltimore. “We love everybody against us. We love that mentality, and we embrace it.”
Lynn, hired around the same time the team announced the move from San Diego in January 2017, guided his first team through relocation issues, the lack of a dependable kicker and an 0-4 start, yet the Chargers still were in the playoff race on the final day.
As Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick noted during one of his sessions with Boston-area media this past week, the Chargers finished that year 9-3, a jumping-off point for this season’s success.
“Relocating a franchise is not an easy thing to do,” Belichick said. “Dealing with … all of the other challenges that normal teams have in the National Football League (is) difficult, but when you throw relocation and international games and some other things that have come up along the way on top of that, I think that that organization has shown a lot of resiliency, mental toughness and certainly a very high level of performance over a sustained period of time.
“… Best record in the AFC this year. That’s not easy to do. They’ve earned it.”
Now this franchise with a history of self-inflicted wounds in the playoffs tries to continue the reinvention process in the cold, foreboding atmosphere of Gillette Stadium on Sunday, against the closest thing the NFL has to a dynasty.
“I don’t think it matters where they (the Patriots) play,” Lynn said this week. “They’re a pretty good football team. But it’s definitely hard to play there. They have a great fan base and they’re loud, and they’re undefeated there this year (8-0).”
Then he added this:
“We don’t have to overcome their mystique at all. Mystique’s not gonna help them Sunday.”
Now that’s Coach of the Year material.
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