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September 25, 2018

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HIGHER EDUCATION:

How UNLV was the right fit for NFL coach Anthony Lynn to earn a degree

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Photos AP (left) and Lonnie Timmons III / UNLV Creative Services

Anthony Lynn is the latest high-profile graduate of UNLV.

UNLV 2018 Spring Commencement

Todeh Toomians, left, and Naweed Yusufzai, graduates in the College of Life Science, celebrate as they leave the stage during UNLV's 2018 Spring Commencement ceremony at the Thomas & Mack Center Saturday, May 12, 2018. Launch slideshow »

UNLV has had its share of famous alumni through the years, producing rock stars, professional athletes, music moguls, politicians, comedians and celebrity chefs. But few students have had such a unique experience at the university as Anthony Lynn.

Lynn is going into his second season as the head coach of the NFL’s Los Angeles Chargers, and it would be hard to imagine a more time-consuming job. But despite working in a profession known for isolating its coaches in the film room and leaving no space for outside interests, Lynn received his degree in interdisciplinary studies from UNLV on Saturday.

Lynn has only set foot on the UNLV campus “three or four times,” by his estimation, but thanks to a flexible, hands-on approach from the school, he has spent the past year accumulating the necessary credits to earn his diploma.

“It was important to me,” Lynn said. “Education is important to me. It was something I needed to finish.”

It hasn’t been easy. In between navigating the NFL draft, training camps, rookie camps, free agency and the general 24/7/365 grind of being a head football coach, Lynn has had to find time to complete online courses and produce a thesis paper to satisfy UNLV’s requirements.

Lynn played his college ball at Texas Tech, but he left before graduating to pursue his playing career in the NFL. After retiring as a player in 2000, Lynn transitioned straight into coaching, starting as a Denver Broncos assistant and steadily working his way up the chain. Lynn was named interim head coach of the Buffalo Bills late in the 2016 season, and he was named head coach of the Chargers before the 2017 campaign.

Though he was a coaching success, his unfinished education still gnawed at him. He had been the first in his family to attend college, yet he had watched his two children walk in graduation ceremonies before him.

A fellow coach referred him to a consulting firm that specialized in helping former athletes return to school, and Lynn decided to look into it.

Janice Henry, the CEO of JD Consulting Group, was formerly a football academic adviser at UNLV from 1999 to 2006, and while she doesn’t always steer her clients to Las Vegas, the university has had success in the past with returning students like Lynn. Henry had previously helped Randall Cunningham and other athletes achieve degrees from UNLV, and though Lynn’s grueling coaching schedule provided a different challenge — Henry had never handled a head coach before — she thought UNLV would be able to work with him.

“With Anthony, it was a very unique situation because he’s a head coach of an NFL team,” Henry said. “I think the challenge for him was initially mentally wrapping his head around wanting to commit. How do you say ‘I’m committed to this, but I’m also starting as a head coach for my first season?’ We don’t steer clients in the direction of any particular university. UNLV’s online curriculum made it feasible for us to work out a game plan.”

Lynn decided that UNLV was the right choice, and so as he was taking over as a full-time head coach for the first time, he was also taking Interdisciplinary Studies 201 with professor Mark Padoongpatt.

Padoongpatt understood Lynn’s situation and was prepared to help him navigate the course work, but Lynn turned out to be an excellent student. It turns out, the same elite organizational and time-management skills that make someone a head-coaching candidate can also translate to the classroom.

“He was on top of every assignment,” Padoongpatt said. “He got everything turned in on time. He was a terrific student in that sense. He reminded me of a mentor of mine who told me if you want something done, ask a busy person to do it. I think Anthony is a model of that.”

Because of time constraints and geography, most of Lynn’s communication with his professors came via phone calls and email. One of his few campus visits came last week, when he presented his thesis in front of Padoongpatt’s class.

“There were some things required to be in the classroom, and obviously I can’t always be there,” Lynn said. “So we did conference calls, late-night emails. They made it really convenient and really helpful. When the season was over, it wasn’t as bad, because I could travel and had more flexibility, but UNLV was really good with understanding my schedule and workday.

“I couldn’t have picked a better place. My academic adviser was great with my scheduling and working with me after-hours. A lot of the people, I only met through email, but they did a really excellent job.”

Lynn walked Saturday in his graduation ceremony. And while he is already at the top of his profession and may not reap any tangible benefit from having his college degree, the process of earning it was personally satisfying.

“For me, this is self-fulfillment,” Lynn said. “It’s something that I started that UNLV helped me finish, and I’ll always be grateful for that. I don’t know how I’ll use the degree, but at this point in my life, it was just about finishing and setting the example maybe for someone else.”