Chargers coach Anthony Lynn didn’t want an inspirational moment. It’s not why he went back.
He just wanted an envelope with proof that he reached the goal line 30 years later. No fanfare — just printed confirmation that he finally had finished something he started a lifetime ago.
“I don’t think anybody even knew I was back in school,” Lynn said. “That’s how I liked it. It’s how I wanted it. I just wanted my papers in the mail. FedEx it to me. That’s how I wanted to go about this.
“I never meant to walk. I never meant to talk about it.”
But here he was, the day before he walks across the stage at Nevada Las Vegas to receive his degree in interdisciplinary studies, talking about his secret plans over the past year to complete the coursework he began at Texas Tech in 1988.
Saturday, Lynn will receive his diploma — joined by his family, his mother, and Chargers owner Dean Spanos — and miss the final two days of rookie minicamp to do so.
“I was the first person in my family to go to [college], and my mother sat there and watched my son graduate, watched my daughter graduate,” Lynn said. “And I just think she’s going to enjoy watching her son graduate.”
Going undrafted after four seasons at Texas Tech, Lynn left Lubbock, Texas, six credit hours shy of a degree in exercise sports science. He signed a contract with the Denver Broncos, and they quickly made it clear that his best shot for success meant spending his summer in Denver.
“I didn’t know any better,” Lynn remembered. “My coach, I told I was going back to school. We were talking about plans, and I was going to make the team. I said I had to go back to school.
“He said, you go back to school and you’re not making this team. He was just telling me the truth — an undrafted free agent isn’t going to make the team. So, yeah, that’s pressure.”
The plan to go back continued to move further and further away from reality as Lynn carved out a career as a professional football player before grinding his way up the coaching ladder.
But in 2014, a seed was planted.
“Dave Szott, a really good friend of mine, talked about how he went back 15 years later and how he finished,” Lynn said about returning to college. “And his wife was with him, and I remember she looked at me and said, ‘Coach, you should do the same. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t do that — no excuses.’
“And that just kind of gave me a little push, and inspired me to go back, or at least investigate it.”
He worked with a firm and discovered, because of changes in his program, the six hours he needed to graduate had expanded to 30. As Lynn chased head-coaching jobs, he didn’t want to be distracted by schoolwork. But after the Chargers hired him in January of 2017, he got to work.
Lynn discovered UNLV offered the necessary flexibility and online coursework for him to finish in three semesters. And, without saying much to anyone, he enrolled.
“Football has always been my No. 1 priority, and sometimes that’s good, sometimes that’s bad. But I chose football over education,” Lynn said. “And I kind of did that a few years later when I had a chance to go back, I chose football over education.
“So this time, I thought at some point, no more excuses, just go back and get it done.”
Lynn took courses in sociology and psychology, in public health and exercise, and sports science, doing his final project on a wide array of issues facing NFL players upon retirement.
“The more I researched, the topic of mental health kept coming up, and the more I learned about mental health, it kind of gave me awareness ... mental health is broader than what I thought,” Lynn said. “Things like identity crisis, things like boredom with athletes post-career, and how that can lead to other sicknesses and sometimes [be] fatal.
“So that’s probably the biggest thing I learned, and my capstone project was about athletes transitioning to post-career, and how to be more successful in doing that.”
When Lynn was confronted with a similar situation this offseason, he offered a different course of action.
Former undrafted free agent Austin Ekeler was permitted to miss the team’s first round of voluntary workouts so the running back could continue work toward his degree at Western State Colorado University.
Being an example for his players, inspiring others, wasn’t why Lynn decided to go back to school. But that’s what happened.
“I just wanted my papers. Mail me my damn diploma, I’ll give it to my mom, and I’m done,” Lynn said. “When I told my counselor, when I told her what my plans were — she had just assumed that I was walking the whole time. I never assumed I was walking.
“The disappointment on her face when I told her I wasn’t coming, it was tough. I thought about it. She made me rethink it. I decided to walk because if it could inspire one person, then it’s worth it.
“Dave Szott inspired me. Maybe if I inspire one, then it’s worth it.”
Follow Dan Woike on Twitter @DanWoikeSports