By now, you have probably heard the news that former Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn is being hired by the San Francisco 49ers, joining the coaching staff under the position of Assistant Head Coach. My initial reaction when I heard the news? WOW. What a get for the 49ers. Lynn is highly respected around the league and comes into San Francisco as one of the most successful run game architects in recent memory.
Lynn has played an integral role in overseeing a number of successful rushing offenses over the last two decades, with a proven track record of finding success at nearly every stop he has made. To give you a better idea of just how impressive Lynn’s work has been, let’s take a closer look at the roles he was responsible for and the results he helped produce from his previous stops over the years.
Running backs coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars (2003-2004)
Jacksonville was the first stop where Lynn got to work hands-on with an NFL offense after spending the previous three seasons with the Denver Broncos as a special teams assistant. Lynn found immediate success with the Jaguars, helping coach a unit that produced a top 10 rushing offense, as well as back to back 1,000-yard seasons for running back Fred Taylor. The latter recorded the highest rushing total of his career (1,572 yards) under Lynn’s supervision.
Running backs coach for the Dallas Cowboys (2005-2006)
After two successful seasons coaching the running backs in Jacksonville, Lynn was hired by the Cowboys to the same position. Lynn was able to help get the most out of a two-back tandem of Julius Jones and Marion Barber, with the former notching a 1,000-yard season in 2006. Again Lynn had his handprints all over a top ten rushing offense (you’ll find that’s a common theme with Lynn)
Running backs coach 2007-2008 Cleveland Browns
Following his stint in Dallas, Lynn was brought in by then Browns head coach Romeo Crennel to coach the running backs in Cleveland. Lynn again found immediate success, helping to guide a unit that produced yet another top 10 rushing offense in 2007, highlighted by a 1,304-yard season by running back Jamal Lewis.
Running backs coach 2009-2014 New York Jets
When Rex Ryan was hired by the New York Jets, he made Lynn his running backs coach on his inaugural coaching staff. What a hire it turned out to be, as Lynn and that Jets rushing attack hit the ground running during year one. The Jets finished the 2009 season with the 3rd ranked rushing offense in the league, led by a 31-year-old Thomas Jones, who posted a 1,400-yard season.
That production from the Jets ground attack carried over into 2010 as well, as New York finished the year with the 4th ranked rushing offense during that season. Lynn stepped into this job in New York and immediately oversaw a position group that produced back-to-back top 5 rushing attacks. He also was promoted to Assistant Head Coach (the role he is currently slated to take on for the 49ers) between 2012-2014, but I’ll get to that later. For now, I want to stay focused on his work with rushing attacks specifically.
Running backs coach Buffalo Bills 2015-2016
When Ryan left the Jets for the Bills in 2015, he brought Lynn with him to coach running backs and maintain his responsibilities as assistant head coach, a role he had during his last three years in New York. Yet again, Lynn was a driving force behind a ground attack that produced instant success, finishing Lynn’s first year in Buffalo as the NFL's #1 ranked rushing attack.
Offensive Coordinator - 2016
After an 0-2 start to the 2016 season, Bills offensive coordinator Greg Roman (a name many 49ers fans are familiar with) was relieved of his duties and replaced by Lynn, who also continued to serve in his role as assistant head coach. In his first year of calling plays, Lynn delivered an incredible performance.
After taking over an offense that didn’t rush for over 100 yards in their first two games, Lynn oversaw a unit that eclipsed 100 yards in 12/14 games to close out the season. The Bills again finished the season as the league's top-ranked rushing attack and had three different players rush for 500 or more yards.
Head coach Los Angeles Chargers 2017-2020
Lynn’s success with this offense led to a handful of head coaching interviews, including the Los Angeles Chargers, who ended up hiring Lynn to take over prior to the 2017 season. As we transition to this point, I want to quickly point out how important Lynn’s ability and willingness to adapt to his personnel was.
The Chargers were a team that was far better suited to throw than run when Lynn arrived, and he adapted to doing what best fit his roster rather than doing what plenty of NFL head coaches do, which is stubbornly trying to prioritize their own scheme without the proper personnel to execute it.
The Chargers finished as a top 10 offense in three out of the four years Lynn was the head coach. The only year they didn’t finish top 10 was in 2018 when they barely missed the cut and finished 11th. They did this despite not having a top 10 rushing attack in any of Lynn’s four seasons.
Remember, prior to his arrival in Los Angeles, Lynn was a maestro in the run game. He had well over a decade of proven results building well-oiled ground attacks, but he ultimately made the decision to lean on what a roster the roster he inherited did best, which was attack defenses through the air.
Offensive coordinator for the Detroit Lions - 2021
The reason I stated earlier that Lynn had success at “nearly” all of his stops is because it’s hard to objectively label his one-year stint calling plays in Detroit as an objective success based purely on numbers. However, the Lions had objectively one of the worst offenses in the league on paper going into the season, and Lynn still managed to oversee a unit that finished ranked 22nd in the league. Given the context of how poor the roster was and Detroit’s overall lack of success prior to Lynn’s arrival, I personally don’t put too much stock into this season when evaluating Lynn’s entire body of work
So when we put this all together, Lynn has had a hand in or been directly responsible for overseeing seven different top 10 rushing offenses (with four finishing their respective seasons in the top 5) as well as four top 10 passing offenses. Lynn played a role in producing a top 10 rushing offense with five different franchises, a clear common denominator.
On top of all the success that Lynn had as a position coach and coordinator, he also has five years' worth of experience as an assistant head coach in the role he will be taking with the 49ers. Lynn brings with him the knowledge that accumulates over the two-plus decades that he has spent roaming NFL sidelines as a coach.
So what exactly does this mean for the 49ers this year? First and foremost, I think it signals an extreme willingness on the part of Kyle Shanahan to delegate the responsibilities surrounding the development of Trey Lance. Bringing in a high character, a bright-minded coach like Lynn can be a monumental aid to a second-year quarterback poised to take the leap to franchise signal-caller this season.
The other thought that immediately enters my mind is Shanahan being willing to adapt and evolve his already deadly rushing attack. I’m salivating at the possibilities of what we might see from this 49ers offense due to this pairing of Shanahan and Lynn.
The addition of Lynn and his long-spanning career of maximizing the production of the ground game year in and year out should help expand an offense that Shanahan has already shown a willingness in recent years to evolve.
We’ve seen the 49ers go from a predominantly outside zone-based scheme to a more balanced attack that features more gap/power concepts in recent years, and Lynn is the perfect voice to have in that building as the 49ers offensive staff l continues to innovate one of the most dynamic offenses in the sport.
On top of all the tangible benefits this team will get from an X’s and O’s standpoint, they’ll also be receiving the unquantifiable leadership that comes from a highly respected figure who has been doing this for over 20 years. It’s been no secret that many around the league hold Lynn in very high regard, and having someone who commands that kind of respect in a position to have a powerful voice within the organization could prove invaluable.
Oh, and one final note, this is a homecoming for Lynn, who spent the 1995 and 1996 seasons with the 49ers.