24 Hours with Anthony Lynn (Head Coach – Chargers)

Ricky Henne, Chargers.com (http://www.chargers.com/24hrsLynn)

6:35 a.m. – The first rays of morning light slice through the overcast sky as Head Coach Anthony Lynn pulls his Land Rover into the Chargers’ facility.  Dressed in a black pullover sweater and a pair of dark pants, he gives the receptionist a friendly wave as he ascends the spiral staircase.  A quiet hallway greets him until he turns the corner to the coaching area.  At this early morning hour, the coaches’ offices on the second floor of the team’s facility are already a hotbed of activity.   Down below, players trickle in ready for the day ahead. The head coach boots up his computer and lets out a big grin clicking through his emails.  Only two more OTAs remain after today’s session, and he has something up his sleeve for Friday:

“I’ve been waiting for today.  I’ve got a surprise for the team I’ve been working on for a while.  A little treat for when OTAs are over.  I’m telling them later after practice, and they don’t have a clue.”

6:49 a.m. – Down in the food tent, Lynn piles his plate with his usual – bacon, oatmeal and eggs – and grabs a seat in a corner next to Running Backs Coach Alfredo Roberts.  He’s telling him about letting fans on the inside for a day in his life when Denzel Perryman strolls in and shouts out, “COACH!”  Lynn shoots him back a smile and fires back a pair of deuces.  The head coach takes a swig of orange juice and jokes to Roberts how fans will be disappointed in the day-to-day life of an NFL coach:

“They think it’s glamorous, but they’ll see the higher you go, the less hands on football coaching you actually get to do!  It’s a different (role) being a head coach, but I was expecting it. Still until you go through it, you don’t fully understand it.  I did a lot of research and spoke to a lot of head coaches, and they tell you all this, but until you go through it you don’t really believe it.  And now I’m telling everybody, like they all told me, sometimes it feels like you get to do everything but watch football! And while that’s not literally the case, sometimes it just feels that way.”

The two laugh as their conversation shifts to “the good old days” when Lynn and Roberts played in the league.  They swap tales of some of the game’s biggest names and those who time forgot.  Eventually, the conversation turns to Cortez Kennedy, the Hall of Famer who passed away one week prior.  Lynn almost spits out his orange juice over a story Roberts tells about “‘Tez”:

“I love just chopping it up with the guys.  As coaches, we spend a lot of time together.  It’s important that we all get along and enjoy each other.  And man, we’ve got some stories to tell from back in the day!”

7:12 a.m. – When you walk into Lynn’s office you are immediately drawn to a long wooden desk that adorns one side near the window overlooking the practice fields. In front of him is a big white board with roster information, play calls and other pertinent facts.  To his right is a pair of white couches with a coffee table. Above them are four framed pictures of the team’s greatest players in action – Lance Alworth, Dan Fouts, Junior Seau and LaDainian Tomlinson. Another photo of Seau punishing a Raiders running back is plastered next to the doorway.   On the table near the couches is a pile of books the head coach is encouraging everyone in the organization to read.  Each book by Patrick Lencioni is titled “The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business”:

“A friend of mine gave me this book, ‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team’. It’s about leadership.  It’s about dysfunctional organizations, what leads to them and how to prevent them.  I started reading it on a plane, and I just couldn’t put it down.  I’m telling you, I never finish books like that.  But I couldn’t put it down.  This book is the next by the same author and supposed to be just as good.  I plan on reading it over the summer.  I had a bunch ordered, and I gave them to all of the coaches.  Philip saw it and I gave one to him last week.  He says he’s just about done with it. There are lots of good talking points.”

If you learn one thing about Lynn, it’s just how much he values organizational health, clarity, accountability and transparency. That’s why one of his first tasks after forming his staff was hiring a consultant to help establish a culture and learn what makes each coach tick. They all met with the consultant in an individual setting before taking a Myers-Briggs questionnaire to discover their personality type and core values. They also spent a significant amount of time meeting with the consultant in a group setting, deciding together what was important to them as a staff.  They charted ground rules for healthy conflict while learning about one another.  As a result of the meetings and questionnaire, the consultant put together what Lynn dubs his “call sheet.”  Just like the piece of paper he’ll use on game day, he has a laminated two-sided printout with information on each and every coach.  It’s filled with charts and graphs, outlining each coach’s values and personality traits.  It showcases the best way to communicate with each individual while reminding Lynn of their strengths and weaknesses.  The results also explain the best way each coach responds to motivation and criticism. Each member of the staff owns a copy as well.  At this moment, before embarking on the rest of the day, Lynn sits back in his chair and reads every inch of the document:

“This is my call sheet.  I look at this every morning. Communication, accountability and transparency are pillars of organizational health.  This is something I value deeply, and what I said I would emphasize when I interviewed for the job.  I met with each coach and explained the point of the exercise.  We had a lot of conversations together, and by the time we were finished, we learned so much about one another and what we value.  About the type of men we are. We came out of this with stronger relationships, and we charted ground rules for healthy conflict.  Because let’s be honest; when the season comes along we are going to have disagreements.  That is healthy.  What we don’t have is time to get bogged down in conflict. What comes out of those disagreements and understanding our ground rules for healthy conflict is what will help us in the moment.” 

7:20 a.m. – Lynn puts down his call sheet and walks over to a small wooden cabinet near the doorway.  Inside is a whiteboard with some of the team’s most coveted, confidential information – the depth chart.  All 90 players are listed on individual magnets complete with vital data. The head coach’s eyes immediately go to one of the cornerback spots where he picks up a name from near the bottom of the rotation and places it second.  The name is Michael Davis. Lynn went to sleep last night with a plan to put the undrafted rookie to the test.  With Jason Verrett and Casey Hayward sitting out portions of the offseason program, the younger cornerbacks have had chances to show their worth.  One player catching Lynn’s eye is the young kid out of BYU.  Before heading home the night before, Lynn discussed putting Davis with the first team with Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley and Secondary Coach Ron Milus. Simply put, he wants to see if Davis can have the same level of success:

“This kid’s been impressive.  He’s got size.  He’s fast.  Now we’ve got to see what he can do in a different setting. So we’re going to throw him in with the ones today and see how he responds.”

7:24 a.m. – Lynn makes other tweaks to the depth chart before closing the cabinet doors. He heads back to his desk and pulls out another laminated piece of paper.  This one is a copy of the entire roster.  Lynn places an emphasis on knowing each of his players on an intimate basis.  He doesn’t want to just know a face and a number, but understand who all of them are as human beings.  The amount of players he needs to know on this deep a level is one of the biggest changes in his first year as a head coach:

“As a running backs coach/offensive coordinator, the guys in my room were the ones I really knew everything about.  I knew the guys at other spots, but I didn’t know everything about them.  I want to make sure I know everything about each guy on this roster.  So we’re talking 90 players right now instead of just one side of the ball or a group.”

To help him along, Lynn has a laminated roster with pertinent information on every guy.  It is constantly updated with new information by Offensive Assistant Coach Mark Ridgley, who spends extended hours handling administrative duties alongside Lynn in addition to his work with the running backs:

“I don’t want the players to just be faces and a number.  I want to know each of them as a man.  I want to connect with them on a personal basis. That’s important to me, so I look over this (document) each morning.”

8:12 a.m. – With a cup of coffee in hand, Lynn makes his way for his daily stroll through the trainer’s room.  He chats with the players as they’re getting taped up and attended to.  He also meets with Head Trainer Damon Mitchell to get updates on players’ rehabs.  After 10 minutes, the head coach changes into his attire for the rest of the day – a powder blue Chargers polo, navy shorts and a cap emblazoned with the team’s gold bolt.  Back in his office, Lynn is greeted by General Manager Tom Telesco and members of the team’s PR staff.  Today’s OTA marks the first practice open to the media in two weeks, and the team has an update to provide on the status of Mike Williams.  The wide receiver was diagnosed with a mild disc herniation in his lower back and will be held out of the final two weeks of the offseason program:

“We know this is going to be the story of the day, so we want to let the media know the new information since they were last here. When something like that happens we’ll talk with our public relations staff, who do a great job, and let them know we’ve got this news coming out.  I’m as straight forward as possible when it comes to the media.  This is their job, and I believe they do a great job of educating and informing.”

8:53 a.m. –  What’s another big difference in being a head coach?  Everyone wants a piece of you.  Lynn only put his phone down for a few moments but he already has 20 missed texts.  This is hardly an abnormality but a regular occurrence since he was named head coach on January 13.   In fact, he received over 450 texts and 400 emails that day so he had to shut his phone down:

“It can be a lot sometimes, but I understand.  The thing is, I’m the kind of person who wants to respond to every single call and every single text.  If you don’t hear back from me, then you know something is wrong!”

After responding to his message, Lynn makes a request he’ll ask only once for the rest of the day.  For some alone time.  Each morning he finds 10 minutes to read some scripture and pray.  While being a head coach is a 24/7 job, this part of his morning routine is non-negotiable.

9:06 a.m. – Lynn just finishes reading scripture when he gets a phone call from the receptionist.  His guest has arrived.  The head coach pops up from his seat and moves with purpose to meet his longtime friend, Dennis Thurman.  A legendary cornerback for the Cowboys from 1978-85, Thurman coached alongside Lynn for the last eight years with the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills.  The pair chop it up in his office, reminiscing about old times with hearty laughs.  Thurman will take in the action from the sideline at practice, so Lynn fills him in on the Chargers’ squad and who to keep an eye on:

“Dennis is one of the better secondary coaches I’ve ever been around, and he did a good job with the defenses when I was on those other teams.  When he called and asked if he could come by and catch up, of course I said yes. He’s an old friend and is just checking in.  It was good to see him today.”

9:45 a.m. – While nearly 90 players stretch it out on the field prior to the start of practice, Lynn is summoned by Roberts to review a drill.  While he’s coached in the NFL since 2003 following the culmination of a lengthy career highlighted by a pair of Super Bowls, this marks Roberts’ first time coaching running backs.  As such, he often picks Lynn’s mind, who is a noted running backs guru.  This time, he wants clarification on a new drill they’ve devised and plan to use during individual period.  Always eager to help, Lynn spends the next few minutes working through the details with Roberts:

“Alfredo is doing a great job.  He is a very good teacher and communicator.  This is his first time coaching running backs, which obviously I have a lot of background in.  So there are drills I ask him to do. Sometimes he has questions, so I’m happy to help him out.  Sometimes there are things he thinks I can articulate better.  I knew when I hired him I would help in that area, but after a while he’ll take it and run with it.  He already is for the most part.  You could put him anywhere and he can coach.  But I want to be hands on in certain areas, and that is definitely just one of them.”

10:02 a.m. – Individual period is underway.  Lynn surveys the scene, bouncing from position to position to keep an eye on all 90 players.  Then, something catches his eye as he briskly moves towards the wide receivers. “Hey! Somebody toss me a ball!”  With that, the head coach sets up shop next to Kevin Duddy, a member of the team’s equipment staff serving as quarterback for the drill.  Instead of catching one ball, the wideouts will now have to catch two. Lynn’s presence brings an extra jolt of energy from the wide receivers, particularly Keenan Allen who tells the coach he’s got some zip on his throws:

“I just saw that there was an opportunity to be more efficient.  Instead of catching one balls, I thought the guys could be catching two.”

10:48 a.m. – Lynn challenged Michael Davis by putting him with the first team, and the BYU product is having a heck of a day. He’s made a number of plays on the ball and been in the receiver’s hip pocket.  Lynn stands about 40 yards behind the defense during practice, letting the action come to him.  Davis just had a strong breakup on a pass intended for Keenan Allen, drawing cheers from his fellow defensive backs.  “You can’t shake him!” Jahleel Addae shouts toward KA13.  Lynn simply jots notes down onto a piece of paper. A couple plays later a referee on the sideline throws a flag.  Offsides.  ‘Hey, who was it!?’ Lynn yells out.  “Let us know who it was!” The head coach writes down the player’s number, and another player replaces him for the rep.  The team has no time to waste on a penalty. A short while later the head coach gets into a spirited discussion with Mitchell Paige.  The wide receiver out of Indiana is getting a look at punt returner, and Lynn calls him over to walk through some corrections.  Paige heads back to his position as Lynn takes out his pen and paper. So what is he writing down?:

“I take notes when something catches my eye.  I keep track of the plays so I don’t lose track of the play count, but really I’m taking notes.  Sometimes it’s something I want to say after practice.   It may be something I want to put in my files.  I keep files on everybody.  It’s something I started doing as a running backs coach with my group, and now it’s something I do with everybody.  Everybody is in my group now, so there are many files.  It helps me when I want to look back and evaluate a person in his role and how he’s doing.  Sometimes it’s good to peek at some old notes you took just to be fair.”

11:15 a.m. – Assistant Equipment Manager Chris Smith blows the horn.  Practice is over. Lynn assembles the players, coaches and staff in the middle of the field.  He lets them know they’ll have a team meeting at 1:30pm.  Not on the schedule, it’s clear the players are wondering what it’s all about.  Little do they know that Lynn will reveal a surprise he’s been working on for some time.  For now, he calls on Joey Bosa to break the team down.  At the end of each practice, the head coach calls on one player for the distinguished honor:

“When someone had a good day, or has been doing things the right way, that’s when we’ll let him break the team down. The guys enjoy it, too.  They each have something different they say when they do it.  It’s a small thing, but it recognizes those who earn it.”

11:18 a.m. – Lynn remains on the field, huddling up with Telesco, President of Football Operations John Spanos and Executive VP of Football Administration/Player Finance Ed McGuire.  The Bolts’ brain trust meet following the culmination of every single practice:

“I’ve never done that before, and I really enjoy it.  It’s good.  It gives us a chance to go over what we saw and be on the same page on what went down at practice.  We talk a bit about personnel, but mainly it is what just happened on the field.  Another thing I like about that is, it is a helpful reminder about everything that happened before I speak to the media.”

The head coach heads straight to the podium where he’s peppered with questions by the media.  Beat writers Dan Woike from the Los Angeles Times and ESPN’s Eric Williams lead the way, asking him about the Mike Williams news, why Michael Davis ran with the ones and a litany of other questions:

“I don’t mind dealing with the media.  It’s a big part of my job and a very important part of it.  The media has done a lot for our game.  Now, are there times I’d rather be on the field or watching film? Sure. But I understand it’s important to be open about our team.  The media is doing their job, and part of the responsibility when you sit in this chair is talking to them pretty much every day.  I take it seriously.  I’m embracing it the best I can.  They are a powerful way to get your message across certain times, too. I do all I can to help them do their job, and this is a big part of mine.”

11:30 a.m. – Lynn had 20 missed texts in the morning after only a short period of time, so you can imagine the number of emails and messages he has waiting at his desk when he returns from practice.  The head coach spends the next hour returning them, including talking with the Saints and Rams about the joint practices they plan to hold during training camp.  Lynn plans to spend a significant portion of the afternoon outlining each training camp practice down to the minute, and he needs clarification from both teams before proceeding.  Meanwhile, offensive and defensive coaches huddle in their respective rooms, breaking down the film from today’s practice. Throughout the remainder of the day, Lynn can’t go a few minutes without staffers entering his office.  Whether members of his coaching staff, the front office or business operations, everyone needs to talk to the head coach.  It’s what comes with being essentially the CEO of the company.  Sometimes he just laughs:

“Like I told you, some days it seems you do everything but deal with actual football on the field.”

12:47 p.m. – It’s just over an hour and a half since practice ended and Lynn finally gets a chance to put on the film.  He alternates days watching offense or defense first. Today he wants to take a look at the offense.  Two balls hit the ground during the day’s session and he wants to know why.  It’s been eating at him, so he wants to get to the bottom of it.  He watches one play when his phone buzzes. On the other end of the line is a representative from Camp Pendleton.  As a reward for all the hard work the team has done, Lynn has arranged for some team building with a paint ball outing.  It’s set for Friday after the final OTA practice, and is a light-hearted way to build bonds.

“I knew I wanted to reward the players after the OTAs with something that also serves as team bonding.  We’re going to have fun with it, and really use it as a way to strengthen ourselves as a team.  We have some competitors on this team, but the big thing is for us to let loose for a bit while reinforcing the trust and bonds we’ve built.”

1:17 p.m. – The Bolts provide well-balanced, nutritional meals for the players and staff.  They have a nearly two-hour window in their schedules to get some lunch.  However, between phone calls and meetings, Lynn has no time to make his way to the food tent.  Instead, he reaches into his drawer and pulls out a piece of jerky. He laughs as he takes his first bite:

“Some days, you’ve got to go with Plan B!”

1:30 p.m. – Philip Rivers sits front and center in his usual seat in the team meeting room.   The coaches line the side of the room as the players file in.  They murmur wondering what this last minute team meeting is all about. Lynn stands in the front, smirking as he calls the room to attention.  He begins by telling the team how proud he is of the work they’ve put in, but they aren’t done.  They have a few more practices to go, and he has high expectations for them.  This Friday, however, they have some off-field “work” to do. Up flashes a photo of Camp Pendleton.  A few players groan, thinking they are going to have to go through some rigorous army exercises.  Lynn lets that thought linger for a moment, then he tells them they’re going to have some fun and play some paint ball.  The room explodes with cheers.  An avid paintball fan, Denzel Perryman is the most vocal as he already begins talking trash to his teammates.  Lynn explains they will break up into six teams for some good natured fun to celebrate all the work they’ve put in.  It will end with a BBQ lunch before heading back to the facility.

2:12 p.m. – The second play during practice has been queued up on Lynn’s screen for two hours by the time he’s finally able to watch it.  He watches it back a couple times, writing down how the lineman needs to recognize the linebacker coming free and kick inside.  Lynn jots down a few more notes before moving onto the third play.  He watches it back twice.  While his main focus is on the offense, something the defense did catches his eye.  Lynn puts the remote down and rushes to Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley’s office. “I’ll be back in two minutes,” he says.  He returns 24 minutes later:

“That’s Gus.  You go in and talk to him, and you get into engrossing conversations.  They are very deep.  They are about football, and then they turn into life.  He is a very thoughtful person, and he is that way as a coach, too.  So we start talking about a play, then it turns into a philosophical discussion on what we want out of that (scheme).  It’s a good dialogue.  He’s an incredible coach.”

Lynn placed a premium on bringing in veteran coaches with a wealth of experience under their belts.  He believes he hit not just a home run but a grand slam in Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley and Special Teams Coach – Assistant Head Coach George Stewart.  It’s impossible to be in three places at once, so he relies on each man to lead their phase of the ball.  Lynn makes his own notes and constantly communicates with his staff.  As he jumps back into his chair to watch the rep over again on tape, he explains just how fortunate he is to have these three men to rely on:

“It’s huge to have those guys.  Look, I enjoy calling plays.  I really, really do.  But I can’t be the head of this organization in my first year and call the plays.  I know I need to be a head coach first, and maybe down the line one day I will call the plays.  I mean, I am always going to have input.  But it was important to have guys I trust know they will do what they have to do and not worry about any of that.  It frees me up to handle all the other things.”

2:51 p.m. – Lynn’s about to start the fourth play from practice when Ridgley appears at the door.  It’s time to put the finishing touches on next week’s mini camp itinerary.  They go over the last details for about 10 minutes before moving into the meat of what they must get done – the training camp schedule.  For the next three hours, the two hammer out every single practice and meeting down to the minute.  When they’ll install no-huddle.  When they’ll emphasize red zone.  What they need to have in place before their first joint practice with the Rams. How they’ll work out the multiple practices with the Saints.  It’s a long, arduous process but one that’s necessary:

“Glamour stuff, huh?”

Truth be told, while Lynn would rather be watching film, while he’d love to be able to sit in with one side of the ball and go over it with them every day, that’s just not feasible.  Some days are like today, when it’s about making sure every last logistical aspect is accounted for come training camp.  The rest of the staff has started to head out by the time Ridgley and Lynn finish up shortly after 6:00pm.  He gives a call to the Rams for clarity on one last piece of information, but nobody is there to answer to the question. He asks them to give him a call back before turning the film back on.  It’s only the fifth play from practice.

6:47 p.m. – With staffers no longer interrupting him, Lynn is able to dive deep into the film.  He’s made a lot of headway, writing furiously onto a notepad.  One of the first things he’ll do in the morning is compare his observations with those of his staff:

“I’m making all my notes, and tomorrow I’ll go over this with all the coordinators.  I can’t be in two places at once when they are going over the film, so I make my own notes and get together with them separately.  Most of the time they’ve already covered it in their meetings, but I have to make sure we are seeing it the same way. That we are on the same page.  That we are correcting the same mistakes.  Once I am done with the coordinator I’ll catch up with the position coach, and I’ll relate to him what I want.  We’ll talk about what we saw together.  There are always some encouraging things.  There are always some things that need to be corrected.  All of us always communicate first.  There are so many times I go into those meetings and not even 15 minutes pass by and someone grabs me out of the room.”  

6:58 p.m. – “What is he thinking?” Lynn writes down in his notes as he mumbles out loud.  The offense has had a good day, but he’s irritated by a play one of his tackles made in pass protection.  He was way too late to kick outside, and the result was an easy sack.  Of course a “sack” in practice is nearly getting close to the quarterback. Still, Lynn needs to know exactly why the tackle made the decision he did:

“This guy, he had a good day but this play shows a lack of consistency.  I’m getting familiar with every player. Keenan, Philip and Melvin; all those guys are doing exactly what they’re paid to do.  It’s the guys I’m not that familiar with that when they have a consistent day, it stands out more because I’m just not as familiar with them.”

7:47 p.m. – Lynn’s smiling.  The Bolts put Michael Davis to the test, and the head coach thought he aced it in real time.  That’s what he told the media immediately after practice. The tape backed up his thoughts.  Still, while clearly pleased with his performance, Lynn cautions nobody should look too much into a practice in early June:

“The guy that I kept walking down to push to get a look at him, he showed up. That’s what we all wanted to see.  That’s why we decided to throw him out there.  We need to find those things out. Now it’s only one practice.  He’s got a long way to go. We haven’t even put the pads on yet or played a game so I don’t want people to read too much into anything.  But he had a good day.  He did what we hoped he could.  The tape backed that up.  It’s hard to see everything when you’re on the field, but look at this (coverage) right here on Geremy (Davis).  He showed up.  This is good to see. My eye was absolutely on him all day.  We asked the coaches to put him in certain position, and I wanted to see how he responded.  I thought the young man stepped up and competed well.  We do that with a lot of different players.”

8:32 p.m. – The head coach lets out a deep sigh as he descends the spiral staircase.  It’s been 16 hours since he first arrived, and he says good night to a different receptionist than he greeted that morning.  Tossing his backpack into his Land Rover, he fires up the engine.  It’s time to get some dinner and then hit the sack.  As he backs up, he rolls down his window, smiles and gives a wink:

“Man, I love this job!”

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