June 19, 2008

Coach gains new perspective on The Play

It took 26 years, but Ron Lynn finally is ready to dispute the officiating on what had been the final play of his college coaching career.

The play is among the most famous in college sports California's winning touchdown against Stanford on Nov. 29, 1982. Cal used five laterals and crashed through the Stanford band to score the game-winning touchdown in a 25-20 victory in John Elway's last college game.

Lynn was the Cal defensive coordinator then. He watched the play unfold from the press box and contrary to what many have said never thought Cal's Dwight Garner, the third ballcarrier on the five-lateral play, was down on the return.

But Lynn now is questioning the call. Blame the company he keeps in Palo Alto, Calif.

Lynn ended a three-year retirement to return to the college game for the first time since 1982. He and Andy Buh will be co-defensive coordinators for Stanford. That means Lynn now coaches in a locker room where the school changes the score from "25-20 Cal" to "20-19 Stanford" whenever it has possession of the "Stanford Axe" rivalry trophy.

"For (26) years I thought the officials made the right call," Lynn said. "I'm not that sure anymore."

After leaving Cal, Lynn spent three seasons in the USFL and 19 in the NFL, including 11 as a coordinator. He also spent three seasons as secondary coach for Pete Carroll in New England.

He and Buh will team to replace Scott Shafer as coordinator. Shafer's attacking defense led Stanford to upsets of USC and California last season, but he left after one season to join Rich Rodriguez's staff at Michigan. Looking for someone with experience as a coordinator and a secondary coach, Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh turned to Lynn, who coached on the same staff as Harbaugh with the Oakland Raiders in 2002-03.

Harbaugh said he sought "someone to kick their feet up on my desk and talk football with me and tell me things he sees."

At 44, Harbaugh is six years older than the next-oldest member of his staff. Two defensive assistants, line coach D.J. Durkin and secondary coach Clayton White, are 30. Lynn is 63, and he took his first full-time coaching job in 1967 which is before any of Stanford's other assistants were born.

Lynn has had a long history with Harbaugh. While at Cal, Lynn recruited Harbaugh out of Palo Alto (Calif.) High. Harbaugh signed with Michigan instead, but the two ended up with the Raiders - Lynn coaching defensive backs and Harbaugh the quarterbacks. Their offices were across the hall from each other.

"He was a great competitor (in high school)," Lynn said. "He was a good player, a good athlete. He was a competitive son of a gun on the field, so you knew he was going to be good."

This fall, it was Harbaugh's turn to be the recruiter. Lynn retired from coaching after the 2004 season, when he oversaw the San Francisco 49ers' secondary. After all those years of moving his family around, Lynn returned to the San Francisco Bay area for his sons' high school years.

"(The reason I retired) wasn't because I was tired of coaching or anything else," Lynn said. "I had paid my dues in the NFL and it was time to do something for my family and let my boys finish school. They spent way too much time traveling all over the country."

While Lynn is by far the senior member of the coaching staff, the Cardinal defense could give him plenty of chances to feel young again this season. All three starting linebackers return, led by Clinton Snyder (14.5 tackles for loss) and Pat Maynor (16.5 TFL), as well as three starting defensive linemen from a team that ranked fifth in the nation in tackles for a loss and 11th in sacks.

Working with defensive backs, though, is Lynn's strong suit. Stanford's secondary returns three starters, including potential All-Pac-10 candidate Wopamo Osaisai at cornerback and strong safety Bo McNally, the team's leading tackler. The unit, though, ranked ninth in the Pac-10 in pass efficiency defense and last in overall pass defense.

The addition of Lynn means more than just Xs and Os, though. If any of Stanford's young assistants or players needs a mentor, Harbaugh hopes they'll look to Lynn.

Lynn says he hasn't noticed the age difference. "I don't know that age matters," he said. "We're all trained to get to same place. It doesn't make any difference what the age level is. I appreciate them making it a receptive environment."

No doubt it's a little more receptive now that Lynn has re-evaluated some of his own history.

David Fox is a senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.



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