Even before I got to know John Lynch, I liked him. Who wouldn’t?
John, in the midst of a radical career shift within the football world from player to broadcaster to executive, is the subject of this week’s episode on my new podcast, “Stockton!,” which can be heard on iTunes or at www.StocktonPodcast.com.
He was the kind of NFL player you would want on your favorite team. He set the tone on his vastly talented Tampa Bay and later Denver defenses with his stellar play at safety. He knocked the you-know-what out of any offensive player he came in contact with, and did it cleanly. Sure, he’d be called on occasion for a penalty for giving it a little extra, but everyone who saw him play knew he played the game the right way and played it extremely well.
The best team he ever played for was the Tampa Bay Bucs of 2003, which demolished the Oakland Raiders 48-21 in the Super Bowl. The game matched the league’s number one offense, the Raiders, against the Bucs top-ranked defense. Don’t be fooled by the score. The Bucs did their damage on defense, intercepting Oakland’s Rich Gannon a record five times, with safety Dexter Jackson returning two for touchdowns on the way to MVP honors, and sacked Gannon five times as well.
Lynch was part of a devastating defense including Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp, Simeon Rice and Ronde Barber. After 11 seasons with Tampa Bay, he played for the Broncos and finished his career in the camp of the New England Patriots. And while he never made the Pats’ opening game roster, he learned plenty from their great coach Bill Belichick. He was named to the Pro Bowl nine times, and was honored in both the Bucs and Broncos Rings of Honor in the same year.
Most people may not remember Lynch was drafted as right-handed pitcher by the Florida Marlins in the second round of the 1992 Major League Baseball draft and threw the first pitch in the organization’s history in the minor leagues. But his first love was football.
We all know John Lynch the athlete, but fortunately I got to know John Lynch the man when we worked as a team broadcasting NFL games together on Fox for two seasons.
I discovered that the well-worn phrase “too good to be true” does not apply to Lynch.
To me, he is literally the All-American boy from his days at Stanford, to his brilliant pro football career, to his life after the game. He is honest, sincere, warm, giving, a man of faith, and dependable. He’s all of that. An authentic, genuine man.
But I have to admit, I was shocked when it was recently announced he was to become General Manager of the San Francisco 49ers. It happened quickly, even though he experienced many of the duties of a GM in an ad hoc role with his good friend John Elway in Denver.
It all came about following one of the many meetings we have with players and coaches prior to covering a game for the network. Lynch and his partner, Kevin Burkhardt were in Atlanta prepping for their broadcast of the Seahawks-Falcons game this past January. One thing led to another, and Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan repeatedly sounded out Lynch on his opinions on players, teams and all the rest. Shanahan was earmarked for the 49ers head coaching position as soon as the Falcons were eliminated from the playoffs. The two had known each other dating back from the days in Denver when Lynch played for Kyle’s father Mike, a longtime successful NFL head coach. In rapid order, Lynch was interviewed 49ers owner Jed York and the rest is history.
Not many ex-players would take this chance. It is fraught with so many scenarios that could end up with an ugly finish. But John Lynch, aware of all the possibilities, is willing to take a chance.
He is willing to try and succeed where another of my former partners, Matt Millen, failed miserably. Millen even offered Lynch advice on what worked and what didn’t work in his time in Detroit. Furthermore, it isn’t always 100 percent your fault if things don’t work out. It wasn’t for Millen or anyone else who doesn’t ultimately win.
John Lynch admits that not experiencing the joy of triumph or the disappointment of a loss was missing from his time as a broadcaster.
Can he revive a moribund franchise that has known championship years and legendary performers? He knows he has much to learn. To me, if John has the full support of not only the ownership but of the employees in the 49ers office, he is already in the red zone.
He’ll have to make tough decisions that will cast him in a role other than everybody’s All-American boy. But if you saw him hit people when he played, you know he has it in him.
There are only four super athletes in professional sports who have later become general managers and won big: John Elway with the Broncos; Ozzie Newsome with the Baltimore Ravens; Steve Yzerman of the Canadian Olympic team of 2010 and the Tampa Bay Lightning; and Jerry West of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Here’s hoping John Lynch will be the fifth.