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Chargers fire coach Anthony Lynn after failing to make playoffs again

Chargers coach Anthony Lynn stands on a field.
The Chargers have parted ways with coach Anthony Lynn following the team’s 7-9 season.
(Doug Murray / Associated Press)

He handled his first professional season sublimely, Justin Herbert navigating his way to historic production as if he were a veteran.

On the first day of his first offseason, the young quarterback experienced another fast-approaching reality of NFL life. His head coach was fired.

The Chargers dismissed Anthony Lynn after a season in which they won their final four games to finish 7-9 but couldn’t undo the damage of a brutal midseason swoon.

“I really believed in coach Lynn,” Herbert said. “I enjoyed our time working together. Tough situation. But I believe in this locker room. I believe in this organization. And I know going forward we’re going to be better.”

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Lynn, 52, was 33-31 (plus 1-1 in the playoffs) in four seasons with the Chargers. After going 21-11 with a playoff victory in his first two years, Lynn’s teams slid to 12-20.

The 2020 Chargers opened with a 16-13 victory at Cincinnati, but things quickly turned as they lost seven of eight amid a storm of blown leads and poor game management.

Owner Dean Spanos expressed respect and gratitude for Lynn in a statement but also noted an insufficient number of wins.

“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,” the statement read in part.

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“…We have been innovative in many facets of our organization in recent years, and we need to carry that over to our entire operation.”

Among the names that figure to be attached to the Chargers job are three prominent offensive coordinators: Kansas City’s Eric Bieniemy, New England’s Josh McDaniels and Buffalo’s Brian Daboll.

Bieniemy was a running back for the team in the early 1990s and on Monday reportedly interviewed for the head-coach openings in Atlanta and Detroit.

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McDaniels played collegiately at John Carroll, the same school where Chargers general manager Tom Telesco played.

Daboll and Telesco attended the same high school — St. Francis — in western New York three decades ago.

Among the other assistant coaches expected to draw interest are the Rams’ Brandon Staley, Tennessee’s Arthur Smith, Carolina’s Joe Brady and Indianapolis’ Matt Eberflus. The Chargers also have been linked to former Dallas head coach Jason Garrett, who just finished his first season as offensive coordinator of the New York Giants.

Particularly with Herbert, the Chargers opening has appeal. The No. 6 overall pick in April, Herbert emerged in 2020 as a potential franchise cornerstone.

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Still, the team squandered leads of at least 16 points in four consecutive games, an NFL record. That streak didn’t include an 11-point advantage the Chargers blew in a Week 2 loss to Kansas City.

They also suffered the worst defeat in franchise history, falling to New England at home 45-0 on Dec. 6. In that game, they lined up three times for punts with the wrong number of players on the field, Lynn later calling the performance “embarrassing.”

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert talks with head coach Anthony Lynn.
Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert said he appreciated the leadership of head coach Anthony Lynn, who was fired Monday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

“He’s a players’ coach,” running back Justin Jackson said. “We really, really loved having him here, appreciated his leadership. Obviously, it’s a business. … I wish him nothing but the best. I think he’s an amazing, amazing guy.”

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At one point, dating to last season, Lynn’s teams lost 16 of 18 one-score games, the only victories coming when the opposing kickers missed late field goals. They also dropped nine consecutive AFC West games.

Starting in late November, the Chargers made glaring play-call mistakes in a loss at Buffalo and a victory over Atlanta, further bringing into question the direction of the franchise.

Through it all, Lynn never lost the admiration of his players. Several Chargers on Monday praised his influence both on and off the field and his fair, even-handed approach. It was not unusual to see Lynn spend time during workouts instructing members of the practice squad.

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert has impressed many during his rookie season, except himself. That’s why teammates believe he’s their future leader.

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“Great man, great human being,” safety Derwin James said. “Taught me a lot as a leader. I have nothing but respect for him.”

After James suffered a season-ending knee injury in August, he said Lynn was the first person to visit him, showing up at James’ front door.

Jackson recalled the leading role Lynn took during the national unrest in May following the death of George Floyd. Lynn canceled the Chargers’ lone scheduled scrimmage at SoFi Stadium in late August after another round of protests. Instead of practicing, he and his players discussed the country’s ongoing social issues live on the NFL Network.

“That takes a lot to put some things on the line and stand up for something you believe in,” Jackson said. “He was always willing to do that. … It’s inspiring.”

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Lynn also remained loyal to his players and assistants to the end. He vowed to start the season with veteran Tyrod Taylor, with whom he had a history, as the starting quarterback and never wavered despite Herbert’s potential.

After Taylor was injured and Herbert took over in Week 2, Lynn wanted to give Taylor another shot as the starter until Herbert’s performance demanded otherwise.

The Jacksonville Jaguars fired coach Doug Marrone. Denver Broncos president of football operations John Elway said he will no longer serve as the team’s GM.

Lynn also made only one coaching adjustment — moving George Stewart from special teams coordinator to senior analyst —- even with all the game-management problems he and his staff experienced.

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“I feel like I became a better football player because of him,” Herbert said. “I’m really thankful for him giving me an opportunity.”

The continued development of the Chargers’ young quarterback will play a significant role in the team’s ongoing search. During his time at Oregon, Herbert played for three different head coaches as the Ducks weathered an unsteady stretch.

“I think what you have to do is rely on the guys around you and rely on this locker room,” Herbert said. “It’s definitely a tough situation, but we’ll see what happens over the next couple days.

“I think any time you get to live through an experience it helps you. Unfortunately, I had to live through that for a couple years at Oregon. … Nothing’s going to make it easier. But I know … the guys are going to stick together through this.”


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