Sunday in Orchard Park, the two most recent Buffalo Bills head coaches will face off. As weird as it sounds, Anthony Lynn is credited as being the 19th head coach in franchise history, despite only coaching one game. Let me take you back to late December 2016 where Rex Ryan and his defense had just been shredded again in an embarrassing OT loss to the Dolphins, pushing the Bills playoff drought to 16 years. Two days later, Rex Ryan was fired and drove his Bills truck out of One Bills Drive for the final time. Anthony Lynn was named interim head coach, which was expected. Lynn experienced a meteoric rise in 2016, starting the season as the Bills running backs coach, was promoted to offensive coordinate in Week 3 after Greg Roman was fired as Rex’s scapegoat, before ultimately suiting up as the head man for the Bills in the season finale. Ryan often talked up Lynn to the media over the year, saying that it wouldn’t be too long before Lynn was a head coach, himself. It turns out Lynn, a longtime member of Rex’s coaching circle, was in-line to replace his former boss in Buffalo. The years of constant praise from Ryan, as well as the success of the offense and Tyrod Taylor under Lynn’s direction made it clear to many fans and media outlets: Anthony Lynn was “supposed” to be the next head coach of the Buffalo Bills. But after looking back on it a few years later, you wonder if Lynn really was the front-runner for the job, as so many declared him to be.
Anthony Lynn was given one game, the season finale, to prove himself to Bills brass that he could handle the gig. A one-game audition to prove that the he would not be the shortest tenured head coach in franchise history at just one game. The game was a disaster. The Bills lost to the Jets 30-10 in what turned out to be nothing more than a preseason game. Mid-week, the Bills benched Tyrod Taylor, seemingly to prevent an injury and thus being forced into keeping him around, while paying him nearly $30 million guaranteed as an injury clause in his contract. Instead, the Bills started EJ Manuel in his place. By the 4th quarter Cardale Jones was in the game, replacing Manuel under center. The horrendous performance by the Bills made some question Lynn’s ability as a coach, but even Lynn had to wonder if it was fair to strip him of his starting quarterback in what was supposed to be a job interview. When asked if it was his decision to bench the quarterback that he helped to transform into a above-average starter, Lynn said, “I can’t speak for the owner. I can’t speak for the GM. They’ll have to speak for themselves.”
In the week leading up to the game, countless media reports indicated that the job was Lynn’s to lose, and the interview process was nothing more than a formality. It was in those interviews that Terry and Kim Pegula and Doug Whaley were captivated by “the process.” As reports started to leak out that the Bills were growing more and more interested in Panthers DC Sean McDermott, the narrative changed from “his to lose” to “still in it” for Anthony Lynn. Once it became clear that the Bills were narrowing in on McDermott, and ultimately hired him, Lynn agreed to become the next coach of the Los Angeles Chargers.
After being hired by the Chargers, Lynn was asked to comment on his candidacy for the Bills head coaching job and had this to say:
“I mean, when you think about it, how many times does the interim head coach really get the job…It doesn’t happen very often. And when you fire the head coach, sometimes you just want a clean slate, and I kind of sensed that a little bit, and so I never really felt like that was my job.”
Looking back, it seems like Lynn might not have been the front-runner that many of the fanbase and media claimed him to be. As he noted, I think after the complete dysfunction of the Ryan regime, the Pegulas wanted to clean shop and overhaul their football franchise. And with the hire of Sean McDermott, they did just that.