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High hopes for Chargers despite missing playoffs

High hopes for Chargers despite missing playoffs
Chargers coach Anthony Lynn led his team to a 9-3 finish this season. (K.C. Alfred / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Anthony Lynn had just finished his first season as an NFL head coach. He had his first win; he blew his first lead. And Sunday, he had to deliver his first "last" speech.

He looked around the locker room and saw a team that had just dominated a football game, 30-10 winners against the Oakland Raiders. The group had come close to a spot in the postseason but fell just short.

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"I'm so proud of you men," he began. "I can't tell you how many times I would pray during this season that God would give me words to inspire you."

But before he could continue speaking, a wave of emotion hit hard.

"But you guys, you really inspired me and the rest of the coaches on this staff," he said, his voice starting to crack. "You never stopped believing in yourself. You never stopped believing in one another. You stayed committed to the process. And you competed. You always competed.

"And I love you for that and I appreciate you."

No one in the room questioned Lynn's authenticity because it's probably his biggest strength.

As Chargers players packed up their lockers Monday and held their final meetings of the season, there was a sense of community that ran through the locker room. Players walked around the room and signed footballs for one another. And Lynn deserves some credit for that.

"It's hard to get the sense of being like a family when you're in the NFL because it's so business oriented. But he brought that family closer together," safety Adrian Phillips said. "He made it that way. He made players want to play for one another and show that you care for one another and about one another. It just felt genuine — a lot more genuine.

"When you're on a team that's genuinely playing for one another and putting your body on the line, you can take it the distance."

There's hope the Chargers can keep a large portion of the team together in 2018, building on a 9-3 finish to the season.

Lynn said he'd like defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and special teams coordinator George Stewart to return.

"We'd like to keep this together if we can," Lynn said. "I know some guys, the contracts are up. We're working on that right now. We're trying to keep this staff together, this nucleus together, because I think we got better as a coaching staff as the season went on. We hit some bumps there early and midway through the season, but things are a lot smoother right now. I think we understand each other."

The Chargers had no problems understanding Lynn in his first year with the team. His no-additive style of communicating and honesty — sometimes brutal honesty — played well inside the locker room with the Chargers' young players and veterans.

"I thought he did a heck of a job," quarterback Philip Rivers said. "I told you early on, just getting to know him, his presence in front of them room and his command, the focus, very matter-of-factness that he spoke with – his vision for this team was very clear early on. I think that did nothing but solidify and hold true throughout the whole year.

"I think we're still growing as a team and growing with the head coach. He's growing with us. There's no doubt when there's change there and it's new. It does take a little bit of time. You grow together and have more and more trust and more and more understanding. I thought that did nothing but grow in the right direction."

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And Lynn will continue to grow, too. He closed his speech Sunday night by telling his team that they were able to put the foundation in place for a bright future. And one day later, as he walked through the Chargers' offices in Costa Mesa, he felt that even more deeply.

"You come into the next day of work and the whole organization is a little down," he said. "That's kind of encouraging because that just tells me that everyone's standards and expectations are much higher. We do this for one reason, and that's to get in the tournament and try to win the prize."

It didn't happen this year – but there's real hope for the future.

Twitter: @DanWoikeSports

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