Former Chargers coach Anthony Lynn is at home on 49ers staff
Sometimes your life runs a crossing pattern. All the lines converge.
That’s what Anthony Lynn is going through now. He’s working for his old ball boy, and coaching one of his good buddy’s kids.
That ball boy is coach Kyle Shanahan, whose San Francisco 49ers are two wins away from the Super Bowl. And the friend’s son? That’s running back Christian McCaffrey, whose father, Ed, was a teammate of Lynn’s with both the New York Giants and Denver Broncos.
Every day is like an episode of “This is Your Life” for Lynn, the former coach of the Chargers now coaching running backs for the 49ers, who play host to Dallas on Sunday in a divisional playoff game.
“I look forward to coming here every day because of the familiarity and connection that I have,” said Lynn, 54, who won two Super Bowl rings with the Broncos as a reserve running back and special-teams standout. Those teams were coached by Mike Shanahan, whose son, Kyle, was in high school and had important responsibilities at training camp.
“Kyle was like the leader of the ball boys,” Lynn recalled, with a laugh, “bossing my son around.”
It was a family affair in Denver and that Mile High flavor has carried over to the 49ers, where former Broncos quarterback Brian Griese now coaches the position for San Francisco, and his assistant is Klay Kubiak, whose dad, Gary, was John Elway’s backup for the Broncos. Hall of Fame safety John Lynch, who also played in Denver, is the 49ers’ general manager.
“Those Broncos remind me of these 49ers,” said Lynn, who played on Denver’s championship teams in 1997 and ’98, long before his beard turned gray. “We had more of a veteran, blue-collar team back then, but the culture here is the same. Back when I got here in May, I told Kyle, ‘Man, you have established quite a culture here.’ Now we’re seeing the results.
“Players feel like they can be vulnerable with coaches and with each other, and that’s not a typical environment in the National Football League with this generation. Kyle has done a heck of a job connecting. To me, it all starts there. They don’t care what you know until they know you care.”
Lynn was fired by the Chargers after the 2020 season and spent last year as offensive coordinator in Detroit. Coaching for San Francisco is something of a homecoming as he was a 49ers player from 1995 to ‘96.
“This organization will do whatever it takes to win,” he said. “Resources out the [ears]. That was different for me compared to what I was going through in L.A. So it’s just like, man, this is what it’s supposed to be like. I forgot how that felt.”
Working with McCaffrey has been especially gratifying, he said. Lynn and Ed McCaffrey, a rangy receiver from Stanford, developed a friendship as young players with the Giants and later with the Broncos. When Lynn retired, he told reporters that McCaffrey was the player who had the biggest impact on his career.
“I watched Ed and saw how over his career he committed and developed himself into the player that he became,” Lynn said. “Ed was not that good when he first came into the league.
“At the Giants, we’d have one-on-ones with DBs and they would line up to go against Ed because they thought that was their best chance to make the team.”
Eventually both players were cut, and their personal roads took them through San Francisco, although in different seasons. They reconvened in Denver. By then, McCaffrey was an entirely different, and improved, player.
“I just watched his work ethic, how he took care of himself, what he put in his body, how he trained, how he knew exactly where to be at the right time, right place,” Lynn said. “He became the best route runner in the NFL. I was like, ‘My goodness, Ed, you’re not the same person.’ It just inspired the heck out of me.”
Lynn sees those identical attributes in Christian McCaffrey, acquired during the season in a trade with the Carolina Panthers.
“Oh my goodness,” Lynn said, “Ed passed that gene right down to his son. Christian is so much like his dad. I’m telling him that all the time: ‘That reminds me of Ed.’ ”
Lynn’s own son, D’Anton, was an NFL player who now coaches defensive backs for the Baltimore Ravens, who were eliminated by Cincinnati in the wild-card round. He was in grade school and a Broncos ball boy when Kyle Shanahan was running that show.
D’Anton is a nickname, his real name is Anthony Jr. He and his wife had their first child Monday and named him Anthony Lynn III.
“We’re keeping our fingers crossed and rooting for San Francisco and Philadelphia,” D’Anton said. “Because if the game is in Philly, we’re going to bring the baby up to meet my dad.”
Hall of Fame running back Terrell Davis, who played with Lynn in Denver, said his old teammate has the ideal disposition for getting the most out of players.
“He brings a degree of honesty and authenticity to being a coach,” Davis said. “He knows Christian’s a star. But A-Lynn’s going to challenge him every day. The bucket can never be full.”
As for Lynn as a player, he didn’t get a lot of chances to touch the ball, but he fought for every inch of ground.
Once, during a Broncos practice, Lynn forced the issue. He was playing fullback and was in the backfield with Davis, who was supposed to get a screen pass. But Lynn ran Davis’ route — Davis adjusted and ran to the other side — then caught the pass.
The ribbing was nonstop. Those Broncos came up with a saying: “Go out there and make a play. Even if it’s not your play.”
Kubiak had T-shirts made to that effect.
Lynn still laughs about that.
“I played three positions,” he said. “I played halfback, fullback and emergency tight end, and I started on five special teams. I get confused on one play, and they never let me forget it.”
Anthony Lynn is home. Football is fun again.