LOS ANGELES (AP) — Anthony Lynn believes the Los Angeles Chargers are onto something big after their resilient season ended just short of the playoffs.
The head coach is determined to keep this group together as it attempts to build on that success in 2018.
Lynn, who played for Celina High School and Texas Tech University, was named interim head coach of the Buffalo Bills following the departure of Rex Ryan in 2016. When he wasn’t chosen for the permanent job, he landed with the Chargers.
Lynn said on Monday that he wants to return next season with the Chargers’ complete player nucleus and his coaching staff, including coordinators Gus Bradley and Ken Whisenhunt.
Bradley’s contract is up after the former Jacksonville head coach joined the Chargers on a one-year deal last winter, but Lynn is fighting to retain him amid probable interest from other teams.
“We’d like to keep this together if we can,” Lynn said Monday. “I know some guys, the contracts are up. We’re working on that right now. We’re trying to keep this staff together, this nucleus together, because I think we got better as a coaching staff as the season went on.
“We hit some bumps there early, and midway through the season, but things are a lot smoother right now. I think we understand each other.”
The Chargers (9-7) missed the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season, but not many teams headed into the offseason playing better football. Los Angeles won six of its last seven games and five straight at StubHub Center, outscoring those 12 opponents by a combined 283-179.
An 0-4 start to the relocation season was too much to overcome, even though the Chargers’ only three losses after Oct. 1 were on the road against playoff teams.
The Chargers likely would have been a daunting matchup for pretty much any AFC playoff opponent, but their struggles in September undid their excellence for the rest of the season.
“To come in the building today and see all of the people that were still disappointed, to me, that was encouraging,” Lynn said.
“The last thing I want to do is come into a place and everyone is satisfied with being 9-7. I think the people in this building and in this organization, the standards and expectations are right where they need to be right now.”
Lynn’s first season undeniably was a major step forward from the last two years in San Diego, when Mike McCoy’s injury-plagued Chargers won just nine combined games under the specter of relocation.
The move eventually happened in January 2017, and the Chargers got off to a slow start in their compact soccer stadium.
But Philip Rivers led the Bolts back from that rough start to the season with another spectacular season for the only quarterback to start a game for this franchise since 2005.
Rivers passed for 4,515 yards with 28 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions, and he has given every indication he’ll return next season with a superb group of receivers including Pro Bowl selection Keenan Allen, who set the franchise record with 102 catches.
When Rivers was asked whether relocation contributed to the slow start that kept the Chargers out of the playoffs, he wasn’t sure.
“I think it would be seen as an excuse to say it, but I also think it’s naive to think it had nothing to do with it,” said Rivers, who commuted 90 minutes each way from his family home in San Diego instead of moving his wife and eight children to Orange County where the Chargers are now based.
“Did it have something to do with throwing three interceptions against Kansas City? Probably not. It’s hard to say that it did, but I think it’s crazy to say that it didn’t have any effect on a team early, getting settled in. But it’s one of those things you can’t gauge.”
While the offensive line could use bolstering, the Chargers’ core of offensive skill players can return largely intact, including 1,105-yard running back Melvin Gordon, tight end Hunter Henry and receivers Allen, Travis Benjamin and Tyrell Williams.
Rookie receiver Mike Williams never blossomed after an injured start to his career, but the Chargers publicly remain high on the No. 7 overall pick.
The defense also can retain its key pieces around pass-rushing stars Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, who are both signed.
The Chargers had one of the NFL’s best pass defenses under Bradley, and its inconsistent run defense could be bolstered by the acquisition of a defensive lineman.
In perhaps the surest sign yet of Lynn’s belief in his current roster, he said the Chargers’ “top priority” is to find a kicker after cycling through four this season. He’s already hard at work on building off the Bolts’ success.
“You’re supposed to take some time off, but I started grinding this morning,” Lynn said. “But I’ll finish up in a couple days, and I’m going to get out of the building and do something.”
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