COSTA MESA, Calif. — One of Anthony Lynn’s first orders of business when hired as the head coach for the Los Angeles Chargers in January 2017 was a face-to-face meeting with franchise quarterback Philip Rivers.
The two got together at Chargers Park in San Diego, where Lynn stated his primary goal for Rivers: Curb the turnovers.
Along with leadership and a strong work ethic, Lynn viewed taking care of the football as the priority for his franchise quarterback.
“I thought it was important to have that conversation,” Lynn said. “We just talked about how I see things, my philosophy and kind of what I wanted our identity to be — and we were on the same page. We both want the same thing, and that’s what is best for this football team.”
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Rivers has gone on to play some of his best football over the past two seasons under Lynn’s steady guidance. After a career-high 21 interceptions in 2016, Rivers has 20 interceptions combined in the past two seasons.
“I felt like he might’ve pressed a little bit in some situations, trying to force an issue and make a play for his team,” Lynn said. “It was all good intentions. I didn’t think any of it was reckless or carelessness. So what I wanted to do is build a team around this guy.”
This year, Rivers has helped lead the Chargers to an 11-4 record and back to the postseason for the first time since 2013. He’s in the conversation for NFL MVP.
Through it all, Rivers, the son of a high school coach, has tried to be Lynn’s voice on the field.
“I want to be a teammate first in the locker room and all of that,” Rivers said. “But I also want to be an extension of [Lynn] as far as leading and making sure what he wants done that I’m able to do my best to continue to lead that and spread that message along to the guys, too.”
Lynn and Rivers’ relationship hasn’t been perfect. Early on, they could be seen having animated conversations along the sideline during games, particularly during a stretch when the Chargers started 0-4 in Lynn’s first season as head coach.
But Lynn said those tough times helped make their relationship stronger.
“You can have those animated conversations and you can jaw a little bit, as long as you don’t take it the wrong way — if you don’t take it personal,” Lynn said. “I certainly didn’t take anything personal, and I don’t think he took anything personal. But I think you can grow in those situations, and you can become closer if you speak your mind — if you’re just frank in what you are saying.
“I just think that can help in the long run. There’s always going to be some conflict before there’s intimacy. I know for me before I can trust a person or become more intimate with a person, everything can’t be all rosy all the time — you need to shoot me straight some of the time and tell me how you really feel, and we need to disagree on some things and work through that. And when you work through that, then you become closer. We certainly had a couple moments last year, and we had to work through some of that. I feel like our relationship is better now than it’s ever been.”
Rivers echoed Lynn’s sentiments that the two had grown closer through some adverse situations.
“Not that we didn’t at one time see eye-to-eye by any means, but I think you just grow because you know [each other better],” Rivers said. “You just don’t know sometimes early on. When you go through some tough losses, some wins and different stretches, you really build on that foundation and grow in that trust and respect.”
The numbers say it’s working. Rivers has 4,132 passing yards this season, joining Peyton Manning (14) and Drew Brees (12) as the only players in NFL history with 10-plus seasons with at least 4,000 passing yards. He has thrown 31 touchdown passes, giving him an 11th-straight 25-plus TD season, which is tied for the second-longest streak in NFL history.
“Nothing ever changes about his work ethic and his preparation — no matter what,” Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said. “Even in 2016 when we were not having a great season, nothing has changed from that standpoint.”
“He loves to play the game. I think if you talk about a true pro, somebody that is diligent in his preparation and cares about his teammates, I think that’s what he does.”