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The day John Wooden changed Anthony Lynn’s coaching style

Chargers coach Anthony Lynn and UCLA men's basketball coaching legend John Wooden.
(Getty Images)

Anthony Lynn was just a rookie NFL assistant coach on the day that John Wooden forever changed his approach to his craft.

Wooden had been invited to speak to Lynn’s Denver Broncos during the 2000 season by the team chaplain, a friend of the retired UCLA basketball coach. Lynn had heard of Wooden but didn’t realize how iconic he was.

“I knew he was a winning coach and all that,” said Lynn, now the Chargers’ head coach, “and it was a privilege for him to come and speak to us, was kind of my take.”

Lynn was so taken by what Wooden had to say that he invited him to lunch afterward. As they sat in the team dining hall, Lynn proudly showed the old coach the thick scouting report he had assembled on the Broncos’ next opponent.

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“I was kind of going through it, section by section with him, all my work and what I added to it and everything,” Lynn said, “and at the end of all that he kind of looked at me and goes, ‘You did all that?’ And I said, ‘Yes, sir,’ you know, like he should have been impressed.”

Wooden told the young coach that he had never compiled a scouting report. Lynn was incredulous.

“I said, ‘You’ve won 10 national championships and won all these games and you’ve never done a scouting report on your opponent?’ ” Lynn said.

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That’s right, Wooden told him. He figured if he worried more about his team and prepared it the best he could, he wouldn’t have to fret about the opponent.

Lynn was initially unmoved.

“I thought, yeah, that’s cute,” Lynn said, “but I felt this work was really important and this is what we needed.”

Two years later, as he prepared another scouting report, it hit him, the true intent of what Wooden had said.

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“What he was trying to say, really nicely, was that you can can waste a lot of time worrying about the other team and you need to worry more about your damn team,” Lynn said with a laugh. “That has always stuck with me from that moment forward, and I don’t spend as much time on the opponent as I do my own team.

“I feel like he’s right — if you want to win a lot of games, if your team is more prepared and ready to play, then a lot of times that will take care of itself than worrying about the other team.”

Lynn came to be an admirer of Wooden in other ways, buying his books about leadership and character-building. He credits the late coach’s words with helping him in coaching, life and fatherhood. All thanks to one impromptu lunchtime encounter.

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“It’s hard to believe that he’s one of the best coaches in the history of sports and he had so much humility,” Lynn said. “I didn’t have a clue who he was at the time, to be honest with you.”


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