LOS ANGELES (AP) — Going back to school has proved to be the right decision for D’Anton Lynn and UCLA.
Lynn is in his first season in Westwood as the defensive coordinator after spending his entire coaching career in the NFL. Even though this is his first time leading a defense, Lynn has the 22nd-ranked Bruins playing at a high level as they begin conference play Saturday with a pivotal road contest against No. 11 Utah.
The game is one of three Pac-12 matchups between ranked teams, the first time in conference history that has happened. The others are No. 19 Colorado visiting 10th-ranked Oregon and No. 14 Washington State at No. 21 Washington State. It is the second straight week the Pac-12 has had eight teams in The Associated Press Top 25.
“It was hard to leave Baltimore, but one thing (Ravens coach John Harbaugh) told me was never turn down an opportunity for growth,” said Lynn, who was with the Ravens for two seasons. “I was going to get a chance to call plays and grow as a coach. Don’t stay comfortable here. Go out there and do it. Him saying that meant a lot to me.”
Lynn is among a group of new coordinators in the Pac-12 who are making an early impact.
The best matchup of coordinators on Saturday will be between Oregon OC Will Stein and Colorado defensive coordinator Charles Kelly. Stein was the co-offensive coordinator at Texas-San Antonio before joining Dan Lanning’s Ducks staff. Kelly is directing a defense on Deion Sanders' staff at Colorado for the first time in six years.
Washington State is also off to a 3-0 start with new coordinators on both sides — Ben Arbuckle on offense and Jeff Schmedding on defense.
With Lynn in charge, UCLA has given up 30 points in its first three games, the fewest points it has allowed to open a season since 1980. This is also the first time since 2009 that UCLA has held an opponent to under 20 points in three straight games.
“I think D’Anton does an outstanding job coordinating the whole group,” coach Chip Kelly said. “You’ve got a lot of experience in that room with the coaches, and I think his leadership style has allowed that group to mesh together."
Lynn is Kelly’s third defensive coordinator at UCLA, but the first who did not previously work for Kelly. Jerry Azzinaro, who directed the defense from 2018 to 2021, was a longtime Kelly assistant, and Bill McGovern was on Kelly’s Philadelphia Eagles staff.
McGovern relinquished coordinator duties at the end of last season and passed away due to cancer in May.
Lynn spent nine seasons in the pros. He worked his way up from a season intern with the New York Jets in 2014 to becoming the Baltimore Ravens’ safeties coach for two years (2021-22). He also came highly recommended by Harbaugh and Bill O’Brien, who hired Lynn in 2018 to be an assistant secondary coach with the Houston Texans.
Lynn was familiar with Los Angeles and assistants on UCLA’s staff. He was a defensive assistant with the Chargers in 2017 during father Anthony Lynn’s first season as coach.
Bruins safeties coach Brian Norwood recruited Lynn to Penn State, and inside linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. played with Lynn’s father in San Francisco.
Lynn credited the staff but noted that some previous transitions might have benefited the players adjusting to a new coordinator.
“I didn’t know, coming from the NFL to college, how the players would respond to the scheme and how quickly they would pick it up. I think having the multiple coordinators in the past has helped them out,” Lynn said. “Having coach McGovern the year prior with his NFL background helped out because the transition for me was much easier than expected. They picked everything up fast.”
Lynn’s most significant change was getting the Bruins’ secondary to play more of a loose zone and spot coverage to an area instead of matchup zone and tracking receiver routes.
The Bruins are tied for third in the nation with six interceptions and sixth with eight takeaways.
“We have a lot of multiple fronts and looks while doing different things from last year. It’s simple but very confusing for opposing offenses,” said defensive lineman Grayson Murphy.
With an experienced unit, the Bruins’ defensive turnaround should continue as long as they can maintain their depth.
“I think the depth has shown through with the ability to keep our players fresh. It’s a credit to all those guys,” Kelly said.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll