COSTA MESA, Calif. — Anthony Lynn left Texas Tech in 1992 for a life in the NFL, he was only six class hours shy of earning his degree.
Although he won two Super Bowl rings as a running back before beginning a coaching career that eventually put him in charge of the Los Angeles Chargers last season, Lynn never forgot about missing his college graduation.
On Saturday, the Chargers' 49-year-old head coach will take that long-delayed walk to get his diploma when he receives his bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary studies at UNLV.
"Football has always been my No. 1 priority, and sometimes that's good, sometimes that's bad," the Chargers' head coach said Friday after running a workout with their rookies and undrafted free agents. "But I chose football over education. I thought, at some point, 'No more excuses. Just go back and get it done.'"
While he led the Chargers to a 9-7 record last season, Lynn was also hitting the books. He spent the past 18 months completing his coursework while simultaneously navigating his first head coaching job.
Lynn didn't say much about his studies to his Chargers assistants or players, but he strategized like any good coach to manage his workload. With the help of a counselor, Lynn used a five-week down period in last summer's schedule to line up his daily educational goals and deadlines for the following year.
"It requires you to be a master planner," Lynn said with a grin.
He recently completed his 30-page capstone research project about the challenges and pitfalls facing athletes as they make the transition into post-competitive life. After starting out with the goal of learning more about the mental health of athletes with head injuries, Lynn eventually took 30 hours of online classes in subjects such as sociology, public health and psychology.
"Mental health is broader than what I thought," Lynn said. "Things like identity crisis. Things like boredom with athletes post-career, and how that can lead to other sicknesses that are sometimes fatal. So that's probably the biggest thing I learned."
The seeds of Lynn's return were planted in 2014 while he was on Rex Ryan's staff with the New York Jets. Dave Szott, Lynn's good friend and a former Jets lineman who became a coach and executive with the club, finished his degree 15 years after leaving Penn State with the encouragement of his own wife, Andrea.
"I remember she looked at me and said, 'Coach, you should do the same,'" Lynn recalled. "'There's no reason why you shouldn't do that, no excuses.' And that just gave me a little push and inspired me to go back, or at least investigate it."
Lynn put it off for a couple of years while he moved with Ryan to Buffalo and attempted to land his own head coaching job. He eventually connected with an educational firm that has expertise in such endeavors, and he committed to his studies in earnest in 2017.
"I said, 'You know what? It's now or never,'" Lynn recalled with a smile. "And then I become a head coach."
But with the Chargers' encouragement, Lynn decided to continue his educational pursuits. He did most of his coursework remotely, but also went to UNLV recently for face-to-face discussions with his professors.
Lynn also was motivated by his highly educated children. His daughter, Danielle, is receiving her master's degree in business administration from the University of North Texas next week. His son, D'Anton, a former Penn State defensive back, will miss the graduation ceremony at UNLV because he'll be at work with the Houston Texans in his new job as an assistant coach.
"They were happy," Lynn said. "I'm not the butt of the jokes anymore when I go to one of their graduations. They would always say stuff like, 'That's why you didn't graduate.' I'd talk about how hard I work. 'That's why you didn't graduate.'"
Lynn wasn't planning to participate in UNLV's graduation ceremony until he realized what it could mean to other athletes, coaches and professionals facing similar educational challenges. His mother and daughter will be in attendance in Las Vegas along with Chargers owner Dean Spanos and his wife, Susie.
"I decided to walk, because if it could inspire one person, then it's worth it," Lynn said. "Dave Szott inspired me. Maybe if I inspire one, then it's worth it."