COSTA MESA — Chargers coach Anthony Lynn received strong endorsements from two of his star players this week.
A day after quarterback Justin Herbert said he believed in Lynn, safety Derwin James tweeted his approval for the Chargers’ coaching staff to return for the 2021 season.
“I believe in our coaching staff,” James tweeted Thursday. “We just need our guys (healthy) out there. Trust … 2021.”
I believe in our staff we just need our guys out there truss ⚡️⚡️ 2021.. https://t.co/gaq05e5nEY
— Derwin James Jr (@DerwinJames) December 31, 2020
James was flooded with replies from Chargers fans who disagreed and hoped that team management didn’t feel the same way about Lynn and his staff. A few agreed with James and wrote reminders of Lynn’s 12-4 season in 2018 with a postseason appearance.
Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley also said this week that his defense hasn’t been healthy most of the season. The Chargers will go into Sunday’s season finale versus the Kansas City Chiefs without seven starters from the Week 1 depth chart.
James hasn’t played this season because he had season-ending knee surgery in early September. Linebacker Drue Tranquill only played four minutes this season after injuring his ankle in the first quarter of the season opener in Cincinnati.
Defensive end Melvin Ingram played his last game of the season in Week 11 because he was placed on injured reserve twice with a knee injury. Linebacker Kyzir White was placed on injured reserve last week with a shoulder injury.
Defensive end Joey Bosa (shin/concussion), cornerback Casey Hayward (hamstring) and safety Rayshawn Jenkins (ankle) were ruled out Friday for the season finale in Kansas City.
Bradley and Lynn will play many young players Sunday in what could potentially be the final game they coach for the Chargers. Bradley said he tries not to focus on the future regarding his job status with the team, but he couldn’t help but wonder what the team could have done if his defense stayed healthy in 2020.
“It’s always tough I think when you’re going into the last game and you’re not in the playoffs,” Bradley said. “There’s a sense of frustration because you want to be able to extend and go into that. I love our players. I love what they bring. I think that the future is very, very bright for this defense.
“I think if this group can be healthy and stay healthy, I really feel like that arrow is up. I feel very strongly about the group.”
If team management agrees with Bradley and James that injuries played a big part in the Chargers’ failures this season, perhaps that buys Lynn a fifth season as head coach. Injuries were also to blame for last season’s 5-11 record, but the same can be said about many other failed Chargers seasons in the past decade. The organization is known for injuries and one-score losses.
Chargers owner Dean Spanos and his son, John, the president of football operations, will make the decision.
All NFL teams have injuries and the best coaches tend to overcome those obstacles. But the ones that do typically have depth on the roster, and Chargers general manager Tom Telesco could be at fault there.
The Chargers have revealed the past two seasons that they have a top-heavy roster with many backups and inexperienced players failing to step up amid injuries. James has only played five games in that two-year span because of injuries.
Telesco has had successful draft picks with Herbert, Bosa, James and wide receiver Keenan Allen, but he’s also had many misses, especially on the offensive line and in the past two drafts.
Drafting Herbert and having a healthy defense could buy Lynn, Bradley and Telesco another season. The weekly final scores indicate that the Chargers are close and staying competitive, despite the numerous injuries. Twenty-three of the Chargers’ past 31 games have been one-score endings, but they’ve lost 16 of those games. That’s where the attention turns to Lynn.
If team management doesn’t believe Lynn can improve in late-game situations, then the front office and coaching staff likely gets a makeover for the 2021 season. But if they believe in Lynn the same way Herbert and James do, then the band returns for another season with their fingers crossed of keeping the star players healthy.
The Atlanta Falcons had a similar situation last season with head coach Dan Quinn, who struggled to close games, but his run to the Super Bowl in 2016 and strong relationships with the team earned him another season in 2020. The Falcons pulled the plug on Quinn after an 0-5 start with more blown leads.
Perhaps it can be different with Lynn, but his coaching blunders and blown double-digit leads this season will be hard for team management to overlook. But maybe the Spanos family has already made up their minds in keeping him. Lynn is still coaching the team heading into the final weekend of the season while other teams have gotten a jump on their coaching searches.
Lynn quickly won over the organization with his strong leadership qualities. He guided the team to a 9-7 record in his first season in 2017, despite the many obstacles that came with relocating from San Diego to Los Angeles. Then came the memorable 12-4 season in 2018 that included a road playoff win in Baltimore.
But if the Chargers (6-9) haven’t made a decision on Lynn, the coaching staff will need a win in Kansas City to end the season on a high note with a four-game winning streak.
Earlier this week, Lynn said he hadn’t received reassurances from the team whether he’s returning next season. But if he does return, it’s not a guarantee Lynn brings back Bradley to coach the defense.
Lynn often pushed Bradley to play more man defense amid the numerous injuries this season. Bradley prefers to rush four defenders and play zone defense. There’s an obvious difference in coaching philosophies.
Lynn will also need to decide whether Shane Steichen is the right offensive coordinator to bring out the best in Herbert for Year 2. Steichen and Lynn have been criticized for conservative play calling and poor clock management. Lynn will also need to find a new special teams coordinator after a disastrous season for the unit. George Stewart was reassigned from special teams coordinator to senior analyst in November.
But before Lynn makes coaching staff decisions, he’ll need the green light from the Spanos family. At this point, there’s no telling which way the Chargers are leaning.
Many eager Chargers fans will likely have to wait until Monday morning for a coaching decision.
Anthony Lynn received a strong endorsement from Justin Herbert yesterday. Now, the coaching staff gets the approval from star safety Derwin James #Chargers
— Gilbert Manzano (@GManzano24) December 31, 2020