With the Los Angeles Chargers deciding to part ways with head coach Anthony Lynn after four seasons, they need their next guy to get the most out of a roster long on talent but short on results.
The Chargers are an attractive destination for any head coach, mainly because of quarterback Justin Herbert, who couldn't have had a much better rookie season. Herbert set the rookie record for touchdown passes with 31 and became the fourth rookie to have four straight 300-yard passing games. He set the NFL rookie record for most 300-yard games (eight), most completions (396) and came 38 yards short of Andrew Luck's rookie passing yards record with 4,336.
Scouts weren't so sure about Herbert last spring before the draft, but he has proved himself. He's the real deal and with his attention to work ethic, has a real chance to be an even bigger impact player with his arm and his legs. And he has become a vocal leader, which was a knock on him early. Herbert's development should be at the forefront of the coaching search and the eventual hire.
"[There is] a lot of uncertainty around this situation," Herbert said. "I believe you have to rely on the guys around you, guys in this locker room and the team [has] to depend on those guys if we're going to get better and do what we have to do. Definitely a tough situation, but we'll see what happens in the next couple of days."
The Chargers also are good at running back with Austin Ekeler, who provided them with a late-season spark despite a knee and hamstring injury, and at wide receiver with Pro Bowler Keenan Allen and possibly Mike Williams, if they choose to re-sign him. The same goes for tight end Hunter Henry, who missed the last two games of the season, bringing up durability issues that have plagued him since he entered the league in 2016. He is a free agent and should they want to keep him, they'll need to be comfortable with his ability to stay available.
What the Chargers need is protection for those skill players. Mainly at the tackle positions, especially if Bryan Bulaga can't shake the injury bug himself. He has been in the league a long time (11 years) and appears to be wearing down. The Chargers also could face a shuffle in the interior line, as guards Dan Feeney and Forrest Lamp, along with center Mike Pouncey, are free agents.
On defense, the Chargers have one of the best defensive ends in the league in Joey Bosa, who battled his share of injuries as well this past season. But he's only 25 years old and made another Pro Bowl despite his injury issues. He is signed through 2025 and one of the toughest players in the league. Rookie linebacker Kenneth Murray Jr. is coming into his own as well, as he stepped up in the second half of the season and led the Chargers with 107 tackles.
So if talent wasn't the issue, it has to be coaching. Some coaches and observers around the league didn't believe Lynn should have been let go -- mainly because of Herbert and the importance of continuity with a young quarterback. But Lynn was fired, so it's imperative for the Chargers to get this next hire right and give Herbert a stable foundation as he develops.
Those observers point to current Washington Football Team quarterback Alex Smith as an example of how coaching instability can hinder a young quarterback. Smith had a lot of promise when he was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers but ended up with six offensive coordinators in his first six seasons, hurting his progress. He recovered to eventually make three Pro Bowls and become a reliable starter, but he wasn't helped early in his career. Six new offensive systems was too much of a challenge. The Chargers need to commit to a stable system and give Herbert the best environment to excel.
As for Lynn, he made too many mistakes in playcalling and with clock management, a big reason why the Chargers lost 16 one-score games the past two seasons. The team needs someone who can manage the game better.
Herbert, however, was squarely in Lynn's corner, saying, "He's done a great job of stepping into our meetings and telling us exactly what he wants and how he wants it done. He's a leader and this team follows him and I really believe in him."
The Chargers' next coach has to win the trust of Herbert the way Lynn did. The coach's fortunes, and the fortunes of the franchise, depend on it.