In a week of L.A. homecomings — Westbrook! Goff! — Anthony Lynn returns to less fanfare
Maybe. But then again, his whole L.A. experience was a little odd.
“I feel like I never had a normal season there,” Lynn said by phone this week. “We’re working out of temporary offices, playing in a high school stadium, then when we move to our new place, COVID hits.”
So, in a way, this might be his first normal NFL game here — one held in glistening SoFi Stadium, as opposed to a soccer venue in Carson, with spectators in the stands.
Of course, this is not the way the Lions wanted the situation to unfold. They’re winless and facing one of the league’s best teams, the 5-1 Rams, whose only true hiccup came against the undefeated Arizona Cardinals.
Lions-Rams isn’t a typical mismatch but instead is laced with emotion and intrigue, starting with last January’s rare quarterback-for-quarterback swap (sweetened by draft picks surrendered by the Rams). It’s former Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, who has claimed his spot in the L.A. constellation, and former Rams quarterback Jared Goff, who has yet to find his footing in Detroit.
Lions quarterback Jared Goff said he appreciated Rams coach Sean McVay admitting the trade that sent him to Detroit could have been handled better.
But a secondary story line is the return of Lynn, who was 33-31 in his four seasons with the Chargers, and 1-1 in the postseason. His Lions have suffered some agonizing defeats so far. They mounted a furious comeback in the opener against San Francisco before falling short and losing by eight. Detroit lost by two to Baltimore thanks to an NFL-record 66-yard field goal by the Ravens’ Justin Tucker. And two weeks ago, Minnesota beat Detroit by two with a 54-yard field goal as the clock expired.
None of that shows up in the standings, of course. The Lions are 0-6, and — as Lynn’s former boss, Bill Parcells used to succinctly opine — you are what your record says you are.
Lynn, a former NFL running back who won two Super Bowls with the Denver Broncos, had his playing and coaching career shaped by the likes of Parcells, Bill Walsh, Mike Shanahan and others. He has endured his share of highs and lows as a player, coach and off the field. He was nearly killed in August 2005 when he was struck by a car in Oxnard as a Dallas assistant coach after the Cowboys had broken training camp. When hit, he flew 40 to 50 feet into a parked Volkswagen, totaling that car. He recovered after suffering two collapsed lungs, three broken ribs, major facial and shoulder damage that required four surgeries, and temporary paralysis.
The fractured memory washes over Anthony Lynn in a series of gruesome snapshots.
Just as when he was a player, his toughness and stubborn tenacity have been hallmarks of his coaching career. At times, he has been too stubborn.
“I won more games than I lost and there were some times that I made some decisions that worked, that went against analytics,” he said, referring to his Chargers career. “I don’t know why, but people kind of dismissed those as, ‘The Chargers won in spite of Anthony Lynn …’
“I was viewed as a guy who was a throwback and really made decisions off my gut instead of information and research. It’s not totally true, but it’s not totally false either. I could have done a better job of asking or building an analytics department.”
Lynn doesn’t spend of a lot of time ruminating over his Chargers years. He’s focused on his current job. Likewise, he moved on quickly when asked earlier this season about speculation on social media that he might be a candidate for the USC coaching opening.
“My sister graduated from USC, half of my family is in California,” he said in September when asked by a Detroit reporter about the chatter. “All the guys that I played with went through USC, you know. So, of course, those guys have talked to me, and that’s flattering. But, to be honest with you, I’m surprised this even went public.”
Naturally, as well liked and respected around the NFL as Lynn is, being the offensive coordinator of an anemic team quickly douses that speculation. Still, it’s entirely possible that at some point he could wind up a college coach.
The legendary Walsh identified him as a potential coach back when Lynn played for the San Francisco 49ers in the mid-1990s.
“Bill Walsh had already retired at the time and was a consultant, but he was really running the whole damn offense,” Lynn recalled. “He came over to me one day and said, ‘I need to talk to you.’ When a coach comes to get you in the locker room, I thought, ‘Uh oh.’ I thought I was getting cut or something. He was like, ‘Relax, I want to go to lunch.’ He took me to a little sandwich shop and we talked about coaching.
“He told me he was developing this fellowship program for minority coaches and he had me pegged for a coach when I was done playing. He asked me if I was interested and I said, ‘You know, I’m going to coach, but I always thought I’d coach in high school or college. I never thought about coaching in the NFL.’”
The seed was planted. Lynn would go on to play for Denver, retiring after the 1999 season because of a neck injury. Shanahan hired him as a Broncos quality control coach the next day.
‘I’ve never been fired in my life’: Jared Goff and Anthony Lynn experienced simultaneous failure in L.A. They’re looking for a reboot with the Lions.
“Don’t get me wrong, my goal has always been to win a Super Bowl,” said Lynn, who over the next 15 years would work his way up to position coach, coordinator and ultimately head coach. “I’ve won two as a player, and I wanted to win one as a head coach. That was my plan.
“But at the same time, I think you have to help these young men. So when this is over, they’re prepared for the rest of their lives.”
Lynn’s coaching career has taken him from Denver to Jacksonville to Dallas to Cleveland to the New York Jets to Buffalo to the Chargers, to his current job in Detroit. He said he always has been drawn to the challenge of helping build a program from the ground up. At this point, there’s only one direction for the Lions to go.
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