The best photos of safety John Lynch.
John Lynch was instrumental in turning around one NFL franchise, a fact that could help usher him into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this Saturday. The San Francisco 49ers are hoping he can play a significant – albeit vitally different – role in reviving another franchise.
On Sunday, the 49ers named Lynch their new general manager, replacing the departed Trent Baalke. The team is also expected to hire Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan after the Super Bowl, with both incoming leaders reportedly receiving six-year contracts. Lynch and Shanahan will be at the forefront as San Francisco, a team with a rich history that includes six Super Bowl appearances, looks to climb out of a recent downturn that bottomed out with a 2-14 record in 2016.
Sunday's news took much of the league by surprise because Lynch has no formal experience in an NFL front office. However, he has succeeded at every previous professional endeavor and is highly respected by those he has worked with since first arriving in the NFL in 1993. That includes a host of former Tampa Bay Buccaneers teammates and coworkers.
"John's always found a way to be successful," said Ronde Barber, a fellow Buccaneer with Lynch from 1997-2003 and now a fellow television broadcaster. "Whether he's dealing with his abilities and limitations on the field or whether he was just being smarter than everybody else, he found a way to succeed in football. He found a way to succeed in what he was doing post-football. I don't see any reason why his work ethic won't carry over and make him successful in this, too. Even though he doesn't have any [front office] experience, almost everything you do you kind of jump in feet first into the deep end and figure out how to swim. I think he'll do that."
The Buccaneers drafted Lynch in the third round in 1993, two years before the team would be sold to Malcolm Glazer, kicking off a franchise renaissance. In 1996, as the franchise was struggling to overcome a solid 15 years of losing, Lynch famously joined with future Hall of Famers Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp in vowing to erase the Buccaneers' downtrodden image. It was a promise they would keep, together, and now Brooks believes Lynch could be at the beginning of another exciting NFL journey.
"I am rooting so hard for John Lynch to succeed in his new position," said Brooks, who among many post-playing endeavors has become a team architect, too, with the Tampa Bay Storm. "He transitioned well from playing the field to the broadcast booth. I expect him to work just as hard to transition from the booth to the front office."
That 1996 vow took place in a San Diego hotel room the night before a November game against the Chargers. The Buccaneers won that game behind a stirring comeback spurred by Lynch's fourth-quarter interception and then opened the 1997 season with five consecutive wins, taking the league by storm. They broke a 15-year playoff drought that year and would make the postseason five times in a six-year span, culminating in victory in Super Bowl XXXVII, also coincidentally played in San Diego. It was one of the most remarkable franchise turnarounds in recent NFL history, and while it was the product of many people's efforts – from ownership to coaches to personnel professionals – it took the will of such players as Lynch, Brooks and Sapp to make it complete.
Lynch played a total of 15 NFL seasons for the Buccaneers and Denver Broncos, earning nine Pro Bowl berths and two first-team Associated Press All-Pro selections. He is considered one of the most feared hitters of all time, but he was also a positive force off the field in the community. He officially retired in November of 2008 and both the Buccaneers and Broncos inducted him into their respective Rings of Honor during this past season. He is one of 15 finalists for inclusion in the Hall of Fame's Class of 2017, the fourth straight year he's made it to the final round of voting.
Just six days after announcing his retirement, Lynch joined Fox as a color commentator on NFL broadcasts. In 2016, he was part of a booth pairing that was considered the network's second team behind Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. That job has kept Lynch intricately involved with the game for most of a decade and given him an opportunity to study players very closely.
"John has the benefit of never having really left the game, doing what he's been doing since he stopped playing," said Barber, who keeps in close contact with Lynch and knows his former teammate had recently been doing some player-evaluation work for the Broncos on the side. "I know he's been doing some work with John Elway. I would be lying if I said I was shocked by this, knowing where he is in his life. I think it's a good opportunity for him.
He knows the game, having played it and then covering it for the last nine years. He's kept the pulse on the league and the players, he talked to personnel guys every week. He should be prepared to do it. I know it's a tough task [because] San Francisco's not in a great place right now just in terms of personnel. I'm excited for him."
Elway, in fact, could be a useful comparison for the largely unprecedented move Lynch is about to make. The Hall of Fame quarterback retired in 1999 and subsequently had success in a number of non-NFL endeavors. While that included a long run as co-owner of the Arena Football League's Colorado Crush, he had no NFL front-office experience before he was named executive vice president of football operations for the Broncos in 2011, giving him final say on football matters for the team for which he had played his entire career.
Denver, which had finished 4-12 the season before Elway's return and hadn't been to the playoffs in five years, has experienced great success since. They made the playoffs in each of Elway's first five seasons at the helm, just missing in 2016 with a 9-7 record, and won Super Bowl 50 after the 2015 campaign.
Like Elway, a fellow Stanford grad, Lynch has experienced nothing but success in and around the NFL and is considered a student of the game. That very well could translate into the same sort of success in San Francisco that the Broncos have recently enjoyed.
"I think that he has good knowledge and good background to a certain extent," said Shelton Quarles, another former Tampa Bay teammate who is now the Buccaneers' director of football operations. "He's been successful at every level of his career, both personally and professionally. He was successful as a baseball player, successful here as a football player, successful with Denver. Then moving into the television realm, I think he was successful at learning how to incorporate the tips and things that he learned from scouting the players he had to talk about.
"As a football player, he was always learning his opponent and understanding what made them good so he could try to take away those things. He's been doing it all of his life, to a certain extent. Now it's just a matter of incorporating that into the job of leading people and being the head of an organization. I think that he'll be successful in that way, as well."