By Jim Gehman, Player Engagement Insider
John Lynch has had three careers. Highly successful in his first two, it may be unwise to believe he won’t be the same in his third, as well.
His first job began in 1993 when the Stanford safety was selected in the third round of the NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“I remember my first game as a Buccaneer. It was the hottest game I think ever in Tampa Bay,” Lynch said. “It was like 133 (degrees) on the field and we faced (quarterback)Joe Montana in his first game with the Kansas City Chiefs. Joe put up four on us that day, four touchdown passes, and I was like, ‘This is unbelievable. I’m playing against the greatest player maybe to ever play this game.’”
Over 11 seasons as a strong safety with the Buccaneers, Lynch would have some great moments himself. Named as a first-team All-Pro twice, and earning five trips to the Pro Bowl, in January 2003, he helped lead Tampa Bay over the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII.
He would conclude his 15-year [1993-2007] career by playing four seasons – named to the Pro Bowl team each year for a total of nine – with the Denver Broncos.
Last month, Lynch was announced as a semifinalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2018. And while it’s likely not a case of if, but when he’ll be enshrined into the Canton, Ohio shrine, he tries not to think about the procedure.
“I can tell you, it’s gut-wrenching. I think you’re used to when you’re a competitive person that’s there’s something you can do to affect an outcome. Well, I did that for 15 years,” Lynch said with a laugh. “Right now, it’s very much in other people’s hands.
“I can tell you that the one thing I am, and I try to never lose sight of, is how humbled I am when the semifinalist list came out, to see the other names on there and the respect I have for those guys, to be mentioned in the same breath with their names, that’s incredibly humbling.”
Beginning in 2009, Lynch’s second job also required him to be at a stadium every Sunday during the NFL season. However, instead of wearing a helmet and the familiar No. 47 jersey, he donned a headset and wore a suit to work as a game analyst for the NFL on Fox. In 2016, his final season with the network, he was a part of their second-rated broadcast crew alongside play-by-play announcer Kevin Burkhardt.
Earlier this year, Lynch’s third profession began, well, let’s say unconventionally.
“When rumors started leaking about (then-Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator) Kyle Shanahan being the guy (who’d become the head coach) in San Francisco, at least had the lead on that job, something compelled me… It wasn’t like I was sitting back saying, ‘I’m going to do this.’ I called to congratulate him and Kyle got back to me and we just started having a conversation,” Lynch explained.
“It was in my mind, but before I could even get there, he said, ‘You know, I’m struggling who I’m going to do this with. I really want a partnership from a G.M. I haven’t found someone who I’m really fired up about.’ And I said, ‘Well, what do you think about me?’ He kind of laughed, ‘Come on, you’ve got a great job. Would you ever be interested?’ I said, ‘You know, with the right person.’ He said, ‘Who’s the right person?’ And I said, ‘Well, maybe you.’ And there we went.
“On Monday [after Atlanta beat the Green Bay Packers in the 2016 NFC Championship Game] he called and said, ‘Hey, man, I can’t stop thinking about this. I’m fired up. Would you really consider?’ And I said, ‘Well, it’s hard to wrap your arms around something when it’s not really defined.’
“The next thing you know, (49ers CEO) Jed York is on the phone saying, ‘I’d like to talk to you about this. Would you come on up [to San Francisco] and talk to my family? And then things transpired very quickly.”
Generally, a team’s general manager seeks out someone to hire as the head coach. Clearly, by what transpired between Lynch and Shanahan, that wasn’t written in stone.
“It was my belief in him. I think a lot of people probably believe that we knew each other a lot more so than we did because I played for his father (Mike, while with the Broncos),” Lynch said. “One of the great things about being an analyst doing games is that you get great access to people like coordinators. When you were doing a game with the Atlanta Falcons, it would probably be wise to talk to Kyle Shanahan. He was kind of the mastermind of that offense that was doing so well.
“We just had great conversations where I think he appreciated my preparation and my thoughts on football. We just had great exchanges. You get to know people. And so, this kind of happened really organically. I’ve always been kind of an instinct person and something compelled me to reach out. I did and here we are.”
Lynch was named as the general manager of the 49ers on January 30, 2017. He had accepted the challenge and succeeded as a player. He had accepted the challenge and succeeded as a television analyst. And now he has accepted the challenge with the goal of succeeding as a G.M.
“I talked to a lot of people in the football world about what the job encompassed, but I didn’t know how all-encompassing it was,” Lynch said. “The 49ers are a football organization, so, yes, I was charged with running the football operations and the football side of things for the 49ers. But we’re a football organization, so that touches everything. Since I’ve taken this job, I think the one thing that’s dawned upon me and I love it because I love challenges is, somebody aptly named this job general manager because it is very general. But I’ve enjoyed that part of it.
“A lot of people have asked me, ‘Was there apprehension on your part? You hadn’t done this. Most people come up through the ranks and your path was very different.’ It really wasn’t because I knew I have some strengths, I’ve always been able to lead people. I think that’s something that developed in me over the years and I’ve been able to demonstrate that, and I know football. My football acumen, I’d put up.
“That even expanded doing my work at Fox because you become exposed to so many different philosophies. This organization traditionally does well and here’s why. And when you’re curious, you start asking yourself questions and asking people questions. And this organization, they seem to never get it right, and here’s why.
“When you love something like I have with football, and you’re naturally curious, you try to figure things out. And so, I think in its own way that prepared me in a great way for the job.”
While the 2017 season has been less than stellar for the 49ers and their fans, the rookie general manager knows the sun will rise tomorrow and he’ll continue working to make the organization and his own life better.
“I’m blessed with four unbelievable kids and an unbelievable wife that have been supportive in this next stage of my career,” said Lynch, whose family will make the move to the Bay area from San Diego. “I wouldn’t have taken it if they had not been supportive and said, ‘Go for it, Dad’ even though their lives were going to change in a big way. So, I’m appreciative for that. And even though we sit here (4-10) and that’s hard to stomach, I know where we’re going as an organization and I see great things ahead.”