COSTA MESA, Calif. -- With the 2019 season barely in the rearview mirror, Los Angeles Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn began the arduous process of determining how a once-promising team transformed into a 5-11 disappointment.
"I can't rest until I start that process," Lynn says. "There's no vacation for me. I can't go to a golf course right now, go lay on a beach and relax without solving this problem. That's just the way I relax."
That process involves an extensive review of Lynn's players, schedules, and practices. It also includes an evaluation of his coaching staff, a group he admits could see change before next season.
"When you're 5-11, everything's on the table," Lynn says. "I'm looking at everything, starting with myself."
The Chargers made their biggest coaching move back in late October, firing longtime offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt after a disastrous four-game stretch for the running game. To replace Whisenhunt, Lynn handed play-calling duties to quarterbacks coach Shane Steichen. The 34-year-old assistant oversaw modest gains in both offensive efficiency (improved to No. 12 overall in DVOA) and scoring (averaged 2.9 points more per game).
"I thought Shane did a good job under the circumstances," Lynn says. "I've been in his shoes before. It's hard to take over a team in the middle of a season. You just assume that it's his offense, but it's not his offense. It's not his terminology. I thought he did a good job with what he had. We improved in a lot of different categories under him. So, I am pleased with Shane."
Though Steichen appears to be on fairly secure ground, Lynn acknowledged that the Chargers will likely hire or promote someone to handle QB-coach duties for next year. Doing so would allow Steichen to take a 30,000-foot view of the offense as he installs his concepts and language during the offseason.
Exactly whom the Chargers will tab as the next quarterbacks coach remains unclear. If Lynn decides to elevate someone already on the staff, only tight-ends coach Rip Scherer offers previous experience coaching signal-callers. Others such as receivers coach Phil McGeoghan have intimate knowledge of the team's passing game and could garner consideration as well. Lynn could also look outside the organization, but NFL rules limit movement for assistants under contract.
Lynn must also decide whether to stick with the existing structure of his offensive staff or make further alterations. In the aftermath of Whisenhunt's departure, Lynn elevated offensive-line coach Pat Meyer to run-game coordinator, a new position on the staff. The move gave Meyer a game-planning role for a ground attack that averaged just 35.5 yards in the month prior to the coaching change and produced more than 300 yards in the first two games that followed it. That resurgence might well convince Lynn to maintain the status quo, though he could continue to tinker with roles and responsibilities on the margins.
Lynn likewise left open the possibility of adjusting his defensive staff. Gus Bradley ran the defense for the third consecutive year, though the unit dropped off significantly from the prior season. The Chargers generated a league-worst 14 takeaways, contributing to their last-place finish in turnover differential. Given the team lost nine games in 2019 by a touchdown or less, increasing the number of takeaways would likely have yielded more victories.
But while Lynn concedes that the coaches had a hand in the turnover problem, he provided some cover for his defensive assistants.
"That can be fixed in play-calling, that can be fixed through just personnel," Lynn says. "There's ways to deal with that. You can emphasis it all you want. But at the end of the day, coaches don't play."
Certainly, the Chargers faced significant personnel challenges that adversely affected the defense. All-Pro safety Derwin James broke his foot in training camp and didn't return until December. "He's a team leader," Lynn says. "I think he's one of the best strong safeties in the game. Not having him on the field definitely doesn't help you."
Veteran replacement Adrian Phillips lasted only two weeks before fracturing his arm and joining James on injured reserve. Key contributors like Melvin Ingram, Denzel Perryman, and Justin Jones also missed multiple games and played in diminished capacities in several others.
Still, while the absences on defense piled up, Lynn didn't give him or his staff a pass for the defensive struggles.
"I think you can look at the injuries as a factor in all that," Lynn says. "But like I say, there's always a way to win a football game. And it's my job to figure out a way to get that done regardless of who's on the field."
Even if Lynn limits the staff changes to just hiring a new QB coach, he could also push further into football analytics with his staff. Already, he receives probabilities and other analytical insights during games from assistant Dan "Smash" Shamash, a Carnegie Mellon graduate. "I love analytics," Lynn says. "I'm probably too analytical."
Teams like the Baltimore Ravens have bolstered their analytics departments in recent years and reaped positive results. Lynn has consistently mentioned his appreciation for a numbers-based approach to in-game decisions as well. "Sometimes, when you're at home and you're watching it, you think this and that," Lynn says. "But there's a whole lot on that sideline that's happening that goes into those thoughts."
Ultimately, what Lynn decides for his coaching staff will have a significant effect on the Chargers' performance in 2020, the head coach's final year under contract. A bounce-back performance will likely net Lynn a contract extension. But in a famously impatient league, failure to rebound could result in the organization moving on to another coach.
"As long as I'm under contract, I'm fine," Lynn says. "Signing an extension, that goes both ways. Whether the organization offers you one or rather a coach turns one down. But trust me, I have no problem betting on myself."
-- Jason B. Hirschhorn is an award-winning sports journalist and Pro Football Writers of America member. Follow him on Twitter: @by_JBH