Anthony Lynn, the Chargers new head coach, will be challenged to succeed in the country’s second largest media market. If he wins, he’s in. If he doesn’t, the fan base and media will circle like buzzards over wounded prey. He’s in a tough spot leading a team that still hasn’t been embraced in its new market.
Lynn has spent the past 14 seasons as a running back coach. Having played in the NFL for six seasons, he has earned respect as a specialist in that position.
Just four months ago, the former Texas Tech all conference alum, was working under Bills offensive coordinator Greg Roman. Former head coach Rex Ryan promoted Lynn over Roman after two early losses. Lynn was appointed interim when head coach Rex was fired before Week 17.
The first-time head coach has agreed to a four-year deal with the team, although by NFL standards that agreement is a goal not a guarantee. The Chargers have only been to the playoffs once in the past seven seasons.
“I’m having a hard time even putting into words how excited I am to be the new head coach for the Los Angeles Chargers,” Lynn said. “I know there’s a lot of work to be done and I’m going to give everything I have to the Chargers, the Spanos family, and the City of Los Angeles.”
Taking over for ousted coach Mark McCoy, Lynn inherits a playoff-ready roster. The Chargers have a franchise quarterback in Philip Rivers and considerable talent around him like pass rusher Joey Bosa, veteran corner Jason Verrett, and wide receiver Keenan Allen. The depth of talent is solid on both sides of the ball say analysts, especially if Lynn can get more than average production out of the offensive line.
“He’s had a number of great coaching influences in his life and as a former player who won two Super Bowls, Lynn knows first-hand what championship pedigree is all about. We couldn’t be more excited to have him lead our franchise into this exciting new era of Chargers football,” Chargers president of football operations John Spanos said in a press release.
Black coaches still lag in league opportunities
Largely due to the “Rooney Rule” opportunities for minority head coaches have grown in recent years. It’s a slow burn though. With the addition of Lynn, the NFL will have eight minority head coaches this season. The list includes Denver’s Vance Joseph, Cincinnati’s Marvin Lewis, Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin, Detroit’s Jim Caldwell, Cleveland’s Hue Jackson, the Jets’ Todd Bowles and Carolina’s Ron Rivera. That is the most minority coaches the league has had at the start of any season.
Instituted in 2003, the Rooney rule requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate for head coaching jobs, and has been expanded to include general manager positions as well. At the time, there was one minority head coach.
It forces teams to at least consider, if not hire minority applicants for head coaching positions. That “intention” hasn’t carried over from the hiring process into other aspects of the league’s employment process.
When Todd Bowles took on the Jets job in the 2015 offseason, he became the first-time hire of a minority coach in the last five hiring cycles.
The path has to be disrupted
Hiring of NFL head coaches and all other positions depends largely on who is doing the hiring. When Tony Dungy left coaching, he took with him a pipeline to other minority coaches, coordinators and assistants.
During the past 20 years, a little in excess of 40 percent of all minority head coaches could be traced back to Dungy.
The traditional path to NFL head coach or GM often starts at the offensive end and the coordinator level. For coaches of color, that path needs to be disrupted. Many never get opportunities to be coordinator.
Currently, 80 percent of the NFL’s 85 offensive coordinators, quarterbacks coaches and offensive quality control coaches are White, including all 37 with the word “quarterback” in their titles. There are 32 defensive coordinators in the league. And 23 of them are White.
Moreover, 94 percent of head coaches hired over the past 20 years (133 of 141) had been NFL coordinators, pro head coaches (including interim) or college head coaches previously.
Just across town, the Rams hired Sean McVay. In an exercise of hiring what you know, let’s look at the career trajectory of the league’s youngest head coach.
—McVay’s grandfather, John, coached the Giants from 1976-78. He was close friends with Jim Gruden Sr.
—Jim’s son, John Gruden, hired McVay fresh out of college at the age of 24 to be a coach’s assistant in Tampa Bay.
—After Gruden left Tampa Bay in 2008, McVay was hired by John’s brother, Jay Gruden as wide receivers coach for the Florida Tuskers in the United Football League.
—After that, McVay got a job with Mike Shanahan as the tight ends coach with the Washington Redskins.
—Under Shanahan and his son, Kyle, McVay was eventually promoted to offensive coordinator when he was reunited with Jay Gruden in 2013.
Chargers coach Anthony Lynn’s opposition
Despite being a benefactor, Lynn doesn’t fully support the Rooney Rule.“I think it’s good to get in front of the decision-makers and let them hear what you have to say,” Lynn said, in December to Mike Rodak of ESPN.com. “But at the same time, I think some people take advantage of it. I’m not for it. Hire the best man for the job. That’s all I want.”
“[The rule] has its pros and cons. If I didn’t do the interview in New York, maybe my name wouldn’t be circulating right now, I don’t know.”
The opportunity to participate in the process is key for some minority coaches, because without doing so they absolutely wouldn’t get a job. Well, unless they happen to have family ties to the pipeline. Even then, nothing’s guaranteed.