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Where Are They Now

Where Are They Now: Johnnie Lynn

Catch Up with the Jets Legend from UCLA

Cornerback Johnny Lynn during the 1984 season.LynnJactionIII

The way things turned out; Johnnie Lynn must have been one heck of a catcher.

"I never envisioned (playing in the NFL). Coming out of high school, I was a better baseball player than I was a football player," said Lynn, who was all-conference in both sports at John Muir High School in Pasadena, CA. "My first year, I played on the sophomore team, the junior varsity, and then played two years of varsity.

"And then I got the opportunity to go to UCLA (on a football scholarship). And that was a blessing because that was my favorite school at the time. It was either USC or UCLA, and I'm a UCLA kind of guy. So I was able to go there and get my degree. And then I got the opportunity to get my family off to a great start by getting a chance to play (in the NFL)."

Chosen by the Jets in the fourth round of the 1979 Draft, Lynn got the opportunity to get off to a great start when in his second game, Week 2 at New England, he took over for Donald Dykes at right cornerback.

Beginning the following week when the Jets hosted the Lions at Shea Stadium and captured their first win by beating Detroit, 31-10, Lynn would go on to start every game for the remainder of his rookie season.

"I just competed. It didn't matter where I played or when I played," Lynn said. "I just had to make something happen while I was in there. I didn't try and set goals or anything like that. I just did my best. Cover the guy. And that's what I did."

And the rookie, one of the six defensive players New York chose that year with its first seven picks, did well.

  • In Week 5 vs. Miami, Lynn recovered Dykes' blocked punt in the end zone for a touchdown, and helped the Jets win, 33-27.
  • Two games later in Week 7 when New York hosted Minnesota, he tipped a Tommy Kramer pass into Stan Blinka's hands for an interception, which stopped a late-game drive and secured a 14-7 victory.
  • In Week 8, Lynn collected his first career interception when he picked off Ken Stabler and had a 32-yard return, helping the Green & White beat the Silver & Black for the first time in 10 years, 28-19. And besides the interception, he had 12 tackles and became the first rookie to earn a game ball that year.

Lynn enjoyed the standout season as well as being a part of a secondary who were together as one.

"We were young men," he said. "Bobby Jackson had just been there a year. Shafer Suggs and Burgess Owens, those were the vet guys. They played safeties and Bo-Jack was the (left) corner. So it worked out. We were young and trying to do some good things."

Lynn would have to wait a little while to do some good things when his drive to help the Jets improve on an 8-8 record in 1980 hit a roadblock before breaking a sweat in training camp.

"I blew my knee out the first day of practice," Lynn said. "It was kind of crazy. Paul Darby ran a down-out-and-up, and when we came down, my leg just buckled. But, hey, that's football. The good part about it though, they went and looked at it, and I tore some things, but they didn't do any repairs. Dr. Nicholas, he put me in a cast for like six weeks.

"I flew back home to California and when I went back and had the cast taken off, he said, 'Don't run until after December the first.' So the next four weeks, I was working out, doing all the things I needed to do to get full range of motion. And it was kind of frustrating that everybody's out there playing and you're not. But it was a blessing that they didn't repair the knee at that time. It was alright and we went on from there."

Back for the 1981 campaign, Lynn played in 13 games and had three interceptions. Including one on the goal line with no time left against New England to secure a 28-24 win. He came up big again during the Jets' playoff run the following season when he had two interceptions in the Wild Card game in Cincinnati.

"That whole week I had issues. When I ran, it hurt my groin and I didn't practice much. But no matter, you've got to play. I think they scored first and then we scored and they came back and scored and we came back down and scored again. I mean, neither team were stopping each other," laughed Lynn, who helped beat the Bengals, 44-17.

"I was able to pick it off, and I had a good friend on Cincinnati, Max Montoya, he was a guard, and he and (tackle) Anthony Munoz, they kind of jumped on me a little bit. But it was good. I mean, you can only do what you can do. The opportunities were there.

"Darrol Ray ran back an interception (98 yards for a touchdown). My interceptions came when they were driving back and going in to score. I was able to get it, and it kind of turned the game around for us a little bit."

With the Jets for eight seasons, Lynn played in 97 games with 48 starts at both cornerback positions and free safety, and had 17 interceptions. Including one in 1983 against Buffalo which he returned 42 yards for a touchdown.

But it wasn't that score or the games – whether they won or lost – that he remembers the most.

"It's the people. Not only the people I played with, but (the trainers) Pepper Burruss and Bob Reese. Pepper put a lot of time in when I tore my knee up and was trying to get back," Lynn said. "And it's the people in the front office. We were competing on the field and they were competing and trying to get the best people that they can get to build a team. And I thought they did a good job of doing that. We had people that could compete with other people's stars. I had a great time in New York."

Throughout his time in New York and even when he was in college in Los Angeles, Lynn was looking ahead.

"During the offseasons, I would always try to find something to do as far as working and things like that," he said. "My freshman and sophomore years at UCLA, I worked for Pepsi. And then I did construction plumbing for the next two years. And I loved it. The people were fantastic. It was awesome. I've always been able to do things with my hands and things like that.

"And I worked at the Hard Rock Café, helping with the book work, while I was playing for the Jets. I'd try anything. Football's only for a short period of time. That's it. I said, 'I've got to prepare myself to do something later on instead of just playing football now.'"

An incredible relationship with his position coach from the UCLA days, Dick Tomey, led Lynn to a second career in football as a coach.

"That's my father in football. Dick was tremendous. I can't say enough about him. We went through a lot of stuff and he was right there with me, step by step," Lynn said. "When I got hurt, who called me? He called me. And later on (in 1987), he had just gotten the head coaching job at the University of Arizona. I called to congratulate him and the first thing he says is, 'What's going on with you?'

"(When I wasn't sure if I'd pass the physical in 1987 and be able to continue playing) he said, 'Do you know anything you want to try and do?' And I said, 'Well, I'd like to try and coach.' And he said, 'Okay, if you can't play football, I'll leave a G.A. [grad assistant job] open for you if you want to check it out and try it. And that's where it all started."

Seven years at the University of Arizona led to coaching in the NFL for 29 seasons with Tampa Bay, San Francisco, New York Giants, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Oakland, and Denver. What did he enjoy most about the profession?

"It's always the people. I very rarely had issues with players. You can coach players hard as long as they know they can depend on you and you can depend on them," said Lynn. "And so sometimes you've got to be hard on them and sometimes you've got to be understanding. I think just my personality, I was able to enlighten them because it's not all about football to me. It's about your life and things like that with transition. Because what you're going through on the outside can affect what you're doing out (on the field).

"And that was like that when I was with the Jets. We would all talk and I ended up being a player (union) rep. I wanted everybody to be on the same page. And so I've always been in touch with the players as far as me being a player, also. How I wanted to be treated, that's how I wanted to treat them. With respect."

Now enjoying retirement after more than respectable gridiron careers, Lynn and his wife, Laurie, make their home in Mooresville, NC. They have three adult children: Ashley, who is the Director of Player Engagement for the Giants; Chazz, and Cameron; and six grandchildren.

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