SANTA CLARA, Calif. — About an hour after new San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch had taken part in his introductory news conference, he walked into the media room at Levi’s Stadium for another round of questions with local writers.
Lynch had honestly and earnestly answered every question thrown his way, be it about his lack of experience running a personnel department, the division of power between him and coach Kyle Shanahan and just about anything else. He’d done so with a smile and plenty of enthusiasm. As the conversation continued, Lynch was asked something a bit more difficult: Why?
As in why would a former player with a wife, four children and a good job as a color analyst for NFL games on Fox choose to leave for the high-pressure, results-driven business of being a general manager?
Lynch’s answer began with a quip but ended with emotion as he choked back tears talking about being away from his family.
“My wife keeps saying, ‘Are you sure?'” Lynch said. “I said, ‘Well, this has already started. We’re in.’ I’ve never been apart from my family, so it’s been gut-wrenching already but — sorry — that’s been tough.”
For now, Lynch is living in a local hotel as he adjusts to his new job while his wife Linda and four children — Jake, 17, Lindsay, 16, Lilly, 14, and Leah, 9 — are finishing the school year in San Diego. Jake might stay there with Lynch’s parents for his senior year, but the rest of the family will eventually relocate to the Bay Area. On weekends, Lynch travels to Southern California or his family comes to visit him.
It’s one of the many sacrifices Lynch has had to make in transitioning to his new, high-profile job after eight years in the broadcast booth. It also was one of the primary things Lynch and his family considered before the Niners surprised the football world by hiring him out of nowhere to help rebuild this once-proud franchise.
“As soon as we started having conversations, I knew that this was going to be a possibility, so the biggest thing was, ‘Can I get my family on board?'” Lynch said. “Ultimately, we got there. At first my wife said, ‘You go make this decision,’ and I said, ‘No, no, no, we have to make this decision.’ I got them to the point where they were as excited as I was and pulled the trigger.”
Lynch said Denver Broncos general manager/executive vice president John Elway has been an adviser throughout this process. When Elway retired from football, he threw himself into a variety of business ventures but eventually found his way back to football, first in the Arena League and now in his current role with the Broncos.
Like Elway and so many other former athletes, Lynch’s post-football career simply didn’t satisfy the competitive fire. It’s a fire that Shanahan recognized still burns in Lynch when the subject of working together in San Francisco was first broached.
“What excited me so much about John is [that] John had a pretty good deal before coming here,” Shanahan said. “I remember when he told me why he wanted to be a general manager, and he really missed someone winning and losing at the end of a game. He enjoyed doing the announcing and being a part of the NFL, but the fight to go through something with a group of guys and what we go through together, and it is not easy and it’s a grind for everybody, but it is worth it. That’s really what people who played, people who coached, those are the reasons when people get out of it, they miss it so much.”
It’s that same competitive persona that made taking this particular job appealing to Lynch. Although he had never been all-in on moving into personnel, he said he has had conversations with teams in the past about making the move. In the run-up to recent drafts, Elway has invited Lynch to help the scouting department.
“He used to always give me a hard time and kind of bust my chops: ‘What are you really doing when you broadcast a game?'” Lynch said, laughing. “‘What kind of impact are you having?’ He was messing with me.”
But Elway also gave Lynch opportunities to see what he was missing, first by asking him to watch tape of safety prospects and write reports. Lynch was a Pro Bowl safety with the Buccaneers and Broncos.
Then, Elway asked Lynch to sit in on some draft meetings. Then, Lynch attended the scouting combine in Indianapolis with the Broncos, participating in every aspect of the process except the interviews.
Seeing it up close gave Lynch a new perspective. Combining that with the need to have a result — positive or negative — to take home with him after games, Lynch saw himself making the leap.
“When you’ve got a guy who had as good of a life setup, with his job and where he was, and he wants to come be a GM for one reason, because he wants to be a part of that working to win again — and that’s how I think, too,” Shanahan said. “There’s a lot of stuff that goes on in this business, and it’s a big-time business and I get that, but when it comes down to it, when you have the people who are working together to try to lead the organization the way they think is pretty simple: It’s about football and really not much else.”