SAN DIEGO -- In the buildup to the Los Angeles Chargers introducing him as head coach last month, Anthony Lynn was described by some as a players’ coach.
And while forming tight bonds is a necessary part of creating a winning culture, Lynn says his Chargers will not be close and cuddly -- standing in a circle, holding hands and singing “Kumbaya” -- when he gets his first opportunity to work with players in April.
“I would never call myself a players’ coach,” Lynn said during a recent interview with ESPN.com. “But I think the real players, they crave the discipline. They crave the accountability, and that’s what I’m going to hold you to.
“We’re going to operate that way. And guys that don’t like it, they won’t be around.”
Lynn, a 48-year-old Texas native, said he considers Rex Ryan and Bill Parcells his mentors, but he probably leans closer to Parcells in his coaching personality.
“Players have always played hard for me,” Lynn said. “I feel like I’ve always got the most out of players. But I’ll be honest with you -- I have got the most out of them because of fear. I don’t have a lot of players calling me, asking me how I’m doing. But Rex has the personality where guys call him all of the time.
“I’m probably more balanced now because I’ve been around Rex. My mom used to say you deal in truth and grace. And I probably demonstrate a little more grace with my players right now. And when you do that, they appreciate it so much. I think the relationship becomes more relational than just professional.”
The influence of Rex Ryan
Lynn worked as a running backs coach most of his NFL career, but he got a chance to spread his wings as assistant head coach for Ryan with the New York Jets. The position offered Lynn an opportunity to sit in salary-cap and football-administration meetings and address the team in Ryan’s absence.
“It prepared me a lot,” Lynn said. “I give Rex a lot of credit. If Rex had gotten the flu, I was the head coach. If he couldn’t make a media appointment, I did it -- press conference, show or whatever. So he helped me prepare for this by helping me see the big picture -- the salary cap and how it works, why you have to move on from this player and how you’re going to build this team.”
That responsibility continued when Ryan took the job as Buffalo Bills coach. In one season, Lynn moved up from running backs coach to offensive coordinator to interim head coach when the Bills decided to part ways with Ryan.
One of the key things Lynn said he learned from Ryan was how to develop a solid, working relationship with players.
“His players loved him,” Lynn said. “We didn’t always have success, but they played hard. Did we always put them in the right position? Maybe not, but they always played hard.”
As a running backs coach with Parcells with the Dallas Cowboys and with Ryan in Buffalo, Lynn learned the balance between coaching players hard and nurturing them to get their best effort.
“Some people would say a players’ coach is someone that wants to be a player’s friend and doesn’t want to disappoint the players,” Lynn said. “And those guys usually last three or four years until there’s total, undisciplined chaos and they’re gone.
“And then you have the dictator, and he’ll last three or four years until the players can’t stand him. I’ve always tried to be right in the middle of that. I don’t want to be a players’ coach or a dictator. I want to be a winning coach and a leader.”
Toughness inspired by his mother
Lynn’s mother, Betty Jackson, instilled in her son a relentless work ethic at a young age. An all-state basketball player, Jackson chose raising her son over pursuing a college basketball career after finding out she was pregnant her senior year in high school.
“Some people say it’s hard for a woman to raise a man," Lynn said. "Well, my mother did. She raised a man, and she did a hell of a job. She taught me how to work. And the most important thing she taught me is to believe in God and believe in myself. And that’s why I’m here today.”
Growing up in the small town of Celina in North Texas, Lynn took a job in construction at age 13, working 40-60 hours a week in the summer. He worked his way up to a foreman by the time he was in high school, driving his crew to job sites for a construction company that built shopping malls and custom homes.
Lynn said he had an eye for interior design.
“Here’s this 17-year-old kid taking couples to the design center and picking stuff out for their homes, and I had a knack for it,” said Lynn, who plans to build his dream home back in Dallas when his coaching career is over. “I actually went to school initially for interior fashion design.
“I loved driving by properties and seeing how things were built from the dirt up and creating things. That was just a fascinating thing to me.”
Lynn said his mother always wanted to coach and poured that energy into him.
“She was very humble, but she was very demanding,” Lynn said. “And I think that’s where I got it from. I’m very demanding. I can show a little more grace. My mom noticed that in me. And she told me one time. She came out and watched practice, and she said, ‘You know, you need to show a little more grace -- be a little more understanding.’”
L.A. in his blood
Lynn’s father, Donald Wilson, grew up in the Los Angeles area and once tried out for the Los Angeles Dodgers as a left-handed pitcher.
“I met my father later in life,” Lynn said. “There was some miscommunication there between him and my mom, and that’s a long a-- story so I don’t want to get into it. But he’s important in my life right now.”
Lynn said when he discovered his father, he started going to L.A. and spending more time with him and his family, so he’s familiar with the West Coast lifestyle.
“He has three kids by my stepmom,” Lynn said. “They’ve all graduated from college and have been very successful outside of college. He’s a very responsible man, a hard-working man, and those are the things I respect and like about him.”
Said Donald Wilson, who now resides in Corona: “It’s been a beautiful journey, and I can’t think of a more deserving person. And I’m not saying that just because he’s my kid. But he has a strong family background. It’s been a tremendous experience.”
Anthony Lynn said he understands the pressure of coaching in a big city like Los Angeles.
“I’ve came from a big market in New York,” he said. “And I know, from being in a big market, that the big market will turn on your ass if you don’t win. So I want to get this group together.”
Southern California is also the scene of one of the worst moments of his life. On the night of Aug. 20, 2005, as the Cowboys prepared to break camp in Oxnard, California, Lynn almost died in a hit-and-run accident in which he was struck by a drunken driver while crossing the street with fellow assistant coach Todd Haley.
ESPN NFL Nation Bills reporter Mike Rodak detailed the nightmarish incident.
“I don’t take things for granted,” Lynn said, when asked what he took from the incident. “You get hit by a car going 55 mph walking across the street, you should be dead today. But I was spared by the grace of God, and every day I get up I know I have purpose in life. I know I’m here for a reason. Just like I understand I’m back here in L.A. for a reason here with the Chargers.
“It helps me appreciate what I have and what I have to look forward to.”