The Los Angeles Chargers finished the 2020 regular season 7-9, boasted a talented (though injury-hampered) roster, and unearthed a gem of a rookie quarterback. However, this Chargers season will mostly be remembered for what could (or should) have been, epitomized by blown leads and mind-boggling game-management gaffes. It wasn’t surprising that Los Angeles fired coach Anthony Lynn on Monday, parting ways with the 52-year-old after four seasons. The move vacates one of the league’s most attractive jobs.
Lynn was hired by the Chargers in 2017, the same year they moved from San Diego to Los Angeles. Lynn’s rise from assistant to head coach was meteoric—especially when considering the hurdles faced by Black coaches. In 2015, he followed Rex Ryan from the Jets—where he served as New York’s running backs coach and later as an assistant head coach—to the Bills. During his second season at Buffalo, Ryan was fired, and Lynn took over interim head coaching responsibilities late in the season. He was hired by Los Angeles that offseason, at a time when the Chargers were positioned to win with Philip Rivers still behind center.
“Anthony has a commanding presence and brings a no-nonsense approach,” Chargers general manager Tom Telesco said at the time of Lynn’s hire. “He is going to be a great leader, and we’re confident he’s going to lead the Chargers to great success that our fans have come to expect out of this organization.”
Expectations were high, and initially, Lynn appeared capable of living up to them. L.A. went 9-7 in his first season and 12-4 in his second, the franchise’s first time eclipsing double-digit wins since 2009. In 2018, he guided the Chargers to their first postseason appearance since 2013, including a wild-card victory against the Ravens. But the Chargers’ fortune changed in 2019, best evidenced by a 2-9 record in one-score games and a 5-11 overall record. Rivers left in free agency the following offseason. L.A.’s bad luck continued this year; the club went 5-7 in one-score games and finished third in the AFC West, but much of the misfortune was due to Lynn’s mismanagement. Thus, there was writing on the wall all season for Lynn’s exit, despite Chargers owner Dean Spanos stating Monday that he doesn’t think “there is another person in this league more respected as a human being than Anthony.”
“I want to sincerely express my deepest gratitude for his leadership during a time of great change for our organization,” Spanos added. “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.”
Statement from Dean Spanos pic.twitter.com/aR8z0OqnEG— Los Angeles Chargers (@Chargers) January 4, 2021
Entering the season, Vegas wasn’t particularly bullish on the Chargers, giving the team a projected win total of eight. But L.A. had tangible star power that suggested they could surpass that. Defensive end Joey Bosa, former All-Pro defensive back Derwin James, receiver Keenan Allen, tight end Hunter Henry, pass rusher Melvin Ingram, former All-Pros in defensive back Desmond King and cornerback Chris Harris, former Pro Bowl offensive linemen Trai Turner, and Bryan Bulaga formed a very intriguing core. It’s worth noting that James was lost for the season before it started, Ingram has missed nine games, King was jettisoned to the Titans for pennies, and Harris has missed seven games. Despite those absences, though, the Chargers looked competitive, if not good, for large stretches, including promising performances against the Chiefs (who they lost to in overtime), Buccaneers, and Saints (also lost to in overtime) within the first five weeks of the season. The problem is that, as Spanos noted, this is a results-driven league. The Chargers opened the season 1-4. Losing games—not to mention blowing four double-digit leads in the first seven games of the season—is very rarely tolerated without consequence. Lynn and the Chargers dug themselves a 3-9 hole that they were unable to climb out of, despite rattling off four consecutive wins to end the year.
“It’s hard to believe that it’s already over,” Lynn told reporters after L.A.’s Week 17 victory against the Chiefs. “It seemed like it just started. The season didn’t go the way we wanted it to, but it was good to see these young men finish what we started to finish it out the right way.”
Much of the credit for the relatively strong finish can be attributed to Justin Herbert, whose ascension could have been used as a reason to retain Lynn for another year. Lynn was initially hesitant to start Herbert, which makes some sense. Being patient with a rookie QB following an abridged offseason and no preseason is reasonable. However, Herbert proved that he was ready, defying expectations immediately upon entering the lineup. He’s had a historic campaign in which he’s thrown for the second-most rookie passing yards ever (4,336) while breaking the rookie record for touchdown passes (31). That somehow wasn’t enough to produce meaningful wins or save Lynn’s job. Neither was the potential argument for retaining Lynn, whom Herbert experienced success under, for continuity’s sake. Perhaps that’s for the better.
“I really believed in coach Lynn,” Herbert told reporters, “and I enjoyed our time together.”
Now, whoever steps into the Chargers’ head-coaching role inherits a dream scenario. Unlike other openings, such as the Jets’ and Jaguars’, L.A.’s comes with a 22-year-old franchise QB who’s already proved what he’s capable of, rather than hoping an incoming rookie passer can achieve the same. Additionally, the aforementioned veteran core on the roster should help this team compete in the AFC immediately. Telesco, who’s been the Chargers’ GM since 2013, is 60-68 in eight years, with only two playoff appearances. The next coach will be the third of his tenure. Last offseason, he was aggressive in shaping his roster. The roster’s foundation is there. The next step is results.
“Moving forward, we will redouble our efforts to both build and maintain a championship-caliber program,” Spanos stated. “We have been innovative in many facets of our organization in recent years, and we need to carry that over to our entire operation.”