The story of the 2020 Chargers season will be defined by Anthony Lynn’s failures. He and Tom Telesco built a team around Tyrod Taylor, even though they had just drafted a quarterback with the sixth overall pick. Then when that quarterback was thrown into the fire and responded by becoming the best rookie quarterback in NFL history, Lynn failed to adequately coach him and his teammates time and time again. Deciding to play it safe against the defending Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs, when Justin Herbert had minutes to prepare for his first career start, is understandable. But Lynn’s conservative nature has snowballed to the point where the 2020 season is now officially lost.
The Chargers headed to Buffalo with the opportunity to get a big upset win and put together some real positive momentum to close out the season, very similarly to the 2017 season when they won six out of their last seven games. But Lynn couldn’t get out of their way. Lynn has never been a clock management savant, but his challenges in that department were front and center for the world to see.
And now they punt. For a touchback.
Turn in your card if you've hit Chargers Game Mismanagement Bingo!!! https://t.co/PE6zpSjXxs
— Daniel Popper (@danielrpopper) November 29, 2020
I’ve watched lots of football in my life. I’ve never seen an end of the game like the Chargers just had. They are so poorly coached
— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) November 29, 2020
Those are just three notable members of the media to call out Lynn’s terrible management of that game yesterday, there were MANY more that were expressing their frustrations with Lynn’s choices. Even Rich Gannon, who was calling the game for CBS, was vehemently frustrated. He even laughed them off the field as they headed into halftime.
Lynn is a wonderful human being who has done some amazing work in the community. His team loves him and is still playing hard for him. I do believe that he has a place in this league as an assistant coach. But he is simply not a good head coach. He has mismanaged this season at every turn. From starting Taylor, to then not backing Herbert until he absolutely had to, to consistently not going for it on fourth downs, to mishandling timeouts down the stretch against Las Vegas and Buffalo. It’s time for the Chargers to move on. Herbert, Keenan Allen, Joey Bosa, Austin Ekeler, and most of the core for this team are locked in for the next few years. The team has the talent to be a contending team, they just need the right coach, and that should be VERY appealing to future head-coaching candidates. Having the luxury of pseudo-opening SoFi stadium next year is just the gravy on top.
Here are six coaches I have my eye on, in no particular order.
Six Possible Head Coaching Options To Replace Anthony Lynn
Robert Saleh, Defensive Coordinator – San Francisco 49ers
Robert Saleh was one of the hottest coaches on the market last offseason after turning the San Francisco defense into one of the best units in the league in 2019. It made a lot of noise when he didn’t get offered a head coaching job, but some franchises don’t want to wait until February to hire their next coach and Saleh was coaching in the Super Bowl.
There are two things that stand out about Saleh. First, is that he builds game plans around the strengths of his players, and puts them in positions to succeed. Fred Warner, being chief among them. Second, is that he doesn’t make excuses for injuries. Instead, he switches up the game plan and adjusts. The 49ers have been hit harder than anyone in the league by injuries on defense. Their secondary and defensive line units have been decimated all year. And yet they still have a top-five defense in terms of total yards per game and are top 12 in total points per game.
There are already rumors flying that he has eyes for the Detroit Lions job, given his roots in Michigan, but he would be a great hire for the Spanos family.
Matt Campbell, Head Coach – Iowa State
This year’s version of Matt Rhule is Iowa State’s, Matt Campbell. Pat Fitzgerald from Northwestern is also generating a decent amount of buzz, but Campbell is the one that is more interesting to me for the Chargers. He has been the head coach at Toledo and Iowa State and only has one losing season, which was his first at Iowa State. This year, they’re sitting at 7-2 with a chance at their first conference championship in over 100 years. Winning at a school like Iowa State is HARD and Campbell has done it at a very high clip over the last four years.
He flirted with the NFL last year but I imagine there wasn’t really an opportunity that truly knocked his socks off. If you watch the Cyclones play football, you’ll see a lot of things that the Chargers do on a weekly basis – at least offensively. Their outside zone run scheme has been incredibly effective over the last few years and has led to the rise of David Montgomery and now Breece Hall.
Then they supplement that attack with a lot of run-pass-option looks and a vertical play-action passing attack. I would imagine that being able to go from coaching Brock Purdy to the best rookie quarterback in NFL history would be very enticing for Campbell, and Herbert would be a great fit in his offense.
Joe Brady, Offensive Coordinator – Carolina Panthers
Now to the architect of Joe Burrow’s incredible rise at LSU. If you’ve watched LSU over the years, you know that they’ve always preferred to focus on building their team around the running game and the defense. When Burrow transferred there from Ohio State, they thought that problem was solved. But the offense was clunky and didn’t fit his skill set.
Enter Joe Brady, who took Burrow and essentially turned Burrow into his version of Drew Brees. The Tigers went from running the ball an exorbitant amount of times per game to a high-tempo offense featuring a lot of four-receiver sets. The rest is history and Burrow experienced the greatest transformation in college football history.
Brady took advantage of that rise and became the offensive coordinator with the Carolina Panthers, and he’s having a lot of success there. Teddy Bridgewater is playing at a very high level. He’s also built a very friendly scheme around a journeyman running back in Mike Davis, and rescued Curtis Samuel’s career.
The questions surrounding Brady will be his age and overall lack of experience. He will be the youngest head coach in the league the second he gets hired. He’s not even 10 years removed from his college graduation yet. He’s only been a true play caller for one season, he was the passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach at LSU. But he’s taken what he learned from Sean Payton and has become one of the biggest commodities in the coaching circle.
Matt Eberflus, Defensive Coordinator – Indianapolis Colts
Matt Eberflus, like Saleh, is going to have a lot of suitors during this cycle. He’s one of the more experienced coaches in this cycle – he spent years in Dallas being a mentor for guys like Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, and Byron Jones. He finally got his shot to be a coordinator in Indianapolis and hasn’t looked back since.
This current unit is the best defense in the league and really only has two star players in Darius Leonard and DeForest Buckner. He’s shown the kind of leadership and player development that this Chargers team desperately needs. Look no further than what he’s done for Xavier Rhodes’ career this year as further evidence of that.
Dave Toub, Assistant Head Coach/Special Teams Coordinator – Kansas City Chiefs
The Chargers interviewed Dave Toub in 2017 before ultimately choosing Lynn, but Toub should still garner some interest in this upcoming hiring process. The Chargers have always been bad at special teams, and it has cost them several wins over the years. Toub is regarded as one of the best special teams coaches in the league. He’s been in Kansas City since 2013 and since that point, they have the most return touchdowns in the league and have consistently been in the top 10 in terms of coverage units.
Even though the Chargers switched coordinators this past week, it didn’t really help all that much. The Bills were always starting their offensive drives around the 35-yard line. Needless to say, that is unacceptable. This is likely Toub’s last chance at being a head coach, and with the New York Giants hiring of special teams guru Joe Judge looking better by the minute, perhaps another team would look to go the special teams route this time around.
Arthur Smith, Offensive Coordinator – Tennessee Titans
Finally, we get to my number one candidate. Arthur Smith has been in Tennessee for quite some time as the team’s tight ends coach. Similar to Eberflus, it took him a while to get his shot as a coordinator but he absolutely has taken advantage of the opportunity. Smith runs a version of the Shanahan system that has taken over the league, and while he wasn’t able to save Marcus Mariota’s career, he sure has done wonders for Ryan Tannehill’s. Tannehill was approaching bust territory when the Titans acquired him two years ago, but he has become a top 10 quarterback in the league under Smith’s tutelage.
Fans like to point out that Smith and Tannehill have the luxury of working with the best running back in the league, but Derrick Henry wasn’t all that great until Smith took over. In 2017, Henry averaged just 66 yards rushing per game and was in a time-share with DeMarco Murray, despite Murray being clearly past his prime.
But then Smith took over as coordinator and Henry’s career has taken off. Henry has averaged over 100 yards rushing per game the last two seasons. The system they run in Tennessee would be absolutely perfect for Herbert’s skillset, as well as Ekeler and Ballage who would benefit greatly from that famous Shanahan outside-zone running scheme.
As an added bonus, he has learned game and clock management from Mike Vrabel, who is arguably one of the best coaches in the league in that regard. Smith would be a home-run hire in my opinion.
Pat Fitzgerald – Northwestern head coach.
Dennis Allen – New Orleans Saints Defensive Coordinator.
Jack Del Rio – Washington Defensive Coordinator.
Brian Daboll – Buffalo Bills Offensive Coordinator.
Brian Schottenheimer – Seattle Seahawks Offensive Coordinator.
Coaches I am FIRMLY out on: Josh McDaniels, Matt Patricia, and Jim Harbaugh.
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