Anthony Lynn never bought into the hype.
While the idea was pushed that the former interim coach of the Buffalo Bills was a “virtual lock” to get the permanent job at the end of the 2016 season, Lynn said this week that thought never crossed his mind.
“At the end of the season, you're interviewing for jobs,” he said this week. “You're talking with your agent. You look at the stats of how many times a team fired their head coach, then hired the guy that replaced him that's already on staff and that doesn't happen very often. I didn't think I was a front runner there for the job, I was just glad and fortunate that I got an opportunity to interview.”
The Bills went in a different direction by hiring Sean McDermott, but things also worked out for Lynn, who landed his first head coaching job with the Los Angeles Chargers.
“I’m glad I got the job I did. It's the job I wanted,” he said. “The ownership here saw something in me and wanted to give me an opportunity. I appreciate that. I have great relationships here and I think we're going to build something really solid.”
Lynn denied that there will be any revenge factor at work when his former team visits his new one Sunday in a critical game in the AFC race. A Chargers loss will basically eliminate them from the playoff race, while a Buffalo loss will continue what has been a bad two-game losing streak.
“No revenge at all. My only motivation is they're next on the schedule, you know? This is a game we need to play our best football,” Lynn said. “You get 16 opportunities. They're all very important. I just can't say that one game is more important than any other. We need to get this win just like we needed the one last week.”
Lynn stepped into an utterly chaotic scene with the Bills at the end of 2016. After replacing Greg Roman as offensive coordinator two games into the season, he completed the rise from running backs coach to head coach in less than a year when he replaced the fired Rex Ryan for the season finale at the New York Jets.
Before that game, however, quarterback Tyrod Taylor was benched in a business decision that related to his contract – a call Lynn had no part in making. Asked this week on a conference call with the Western New York media what he remembered about that time, Taylor’s benching immediately came up.
“I just remember it didn't feel good going into that last game without my starting quarterback,” Lynn said. “I’ve already hashed that out and that’s history.”
The Bills will also go into Sunday’s game without Taylor, who was benched this week by coach Sean McDermott and will be replaced by rookie Nathan Peterman.
“That's interesting,” Lynn said with a slight laugh, admitting he was caught a little off guard by the Bills’ decision. “I’m sure they're making the best decision for their team. We'll get ready to play against whatever quarterback they put in.”
With Taylor unavailable to him, Lynn last year put in EJ Manuel for the season finale. Manuel would eventually get benched for Cardale Jones in what was a disastrous 30-10 loss.
“I think he did a good job in what time he had. He set different rules and standards,” linebacker Preston Brown said of Lynn. “He had a certain game plan, it just didn't work that game. A lot of guy's minds were out of it. A lot of guys had free agency coming up, or whatever they had going on. A lot of weird things happened.”
Despite that ugly loss, Lynn was a candidate for the permanent job, and interviewed shortly after the 2016 season.
“Going into the interview process, that was a privilege,” he said. “That was an honor and a privilege, you know, to interview for a head-coaching job. I thank Kim and Terry Pegula for that, and at the time Doug Whaley was the general manager. That was an honor. It was a great memory.”
Whaley also ended up getting fired a day after the NFL Draft, and was replaced by Brandon Beane.
“We all get fired in this business,” Lynn said. “Let's face it – it's going to happen. You keep having birthdays, it's going to happen. So I wasn't surprised. I've been around a lot of good personnel people, a lot of good coaches that have been let go.”
Lynn built his candidacy based on the work he did with the Bills’ offense before the season finale. Buffalo finished No. 1 in rushing for a second straight year and ranked 10th in the NFL with 24.9 points per game.
“Even when he was our running backs coach the prior year, I saw the leadership qualities that you would want in a head coach,” Bills center Eric Wood said. “He’s hard working, consistent. He has respect of the guys around him. He has a lot of great characteristics that were easy to see.”
At 3-6, the Chargers are off to a tough start. They’ve lost five of their six games by eight points or less. Playing in the StubHub Center, which holds just about 30,000 fans, hasn’t provided much of a home-field advantage. In fact, some of the Chargers’ home games have resembled road contests as fans of the opposing team have taken over.
“You only notice that initially when you walk in. Once the game starts, the football field's the same size,” Lynn said. “For me personally, I haven't really thought much about it. ... I know some of my players have said something about it's like playing away games, whatever, but if you feel that way, you have to use that motivation. ... That's the way I see it.”
There will be a big contingent of Bills fans in attendance Sunday, which doesn’t surprise Lynn.
“Buffalo is also a town with great people,” he said. “I’m a relationships guy. I miss the relationships there with the people that I met, and the food is good, too.”
Both Wood and Brown said they’re looking forward to catching up with their former coach before the game.
“What he did on the offensive side as coordinator, he did a great job revamping the offense. He's definitely a good coach,” Brown said. “I think we got the best option in coach McDermott and I think they got the best option for what they're doing. I hope he does a great job, just not this week.”