Most NFL coaches and general managers dread the two days after the final training-camp practice because they need to have difficult conversations with players as they trim the roster to 53.
It’s not an easy situation to tell players they’re not good enough for the final roster while finding encouraging words after delivering the bad news.
Coaches use common excuses for why they didn’t make the team. Rams coach Sean McVay went with “there’s too much depth at the position” and followed with awkward small talk.
Chargers coach Anthony Lynn had a different approach, the “Hard Knocks” cameras revealed Tuesday for the season-finale episode.
Lynn was brutally honest as he told running back Darius Bradwell he wasn’t a professional by arriving to camp overweight and informed nose tackle Breiden Fehoko he needed to work on his pass-rushing skills.
The players seemed to appreciate the honesty. But where Lynn separated himself from other coaches was how he was able to shift a difficult conversation into a lively non-football discussion without anyone rushing for the exit.
“Now, tell me, how did your folks get to Lubbock, Texas?” Lynn asked Fehoko, who played at Texas Tech before transferring to LSU. “(They stayed) even though you left. Traitor, went to LSU.”
Lynn, a Texas Tech alum, might be the only NFL head coach who can joke around after releasing a player. Although the brutally honest approach didn’t work on fiery tight end Andrew Vollert when the team had to cut six players to meet the 80-player requirement during the first episode.
I gained a newfound appreciation for Lynn as he was willing to get personal with them when he was releasing them, even though it’s a rough thing to go through.
— Diego Blanderino (@BoltsByBland) September 9, 2020
Lynn’s leadership skills were on display throughout the five episodes of “Hard Knocks: Los Angeles.” He was the star of the 15th season for the popular HBO reality show.
Here are other memorable scenes from the season finale:
Rookie linebacker Clay Johnston had his breakfast at the Rams’ facility and left thinking he had made the 53-man roster.
Johnston was then informed of the bad news after driving about 90 miles away from McVay’s office. He had to drive back so he could hear the bad news in person.
But the upbeat Johnston was positive about the awkward situation. Maybe because there was interest from the Carolina Panthers, whose head coach, Matt Rhule, coached Johnston at Baylor, and the team’s director of player wellness is Johnston’s father, Kent.
Rams general manager Les Snead said he wanted Johnston for the practice squad if he wasn’t planning on leaving for Carolina. Snead saw that one coming, with Johnston joining the Panthers’ practice squad this week.
But at least “Papa” Brett Favre won’t hold a grudge at the Rams with Johnston finding a job quickly.
#HardKnocks‘ series-long story lines on Dont’e Deayon, JuJu Hughes and Clay Johnston ended sadly. All three #Rams hopefuls were cut from the active roster last week. Deayon and Hughes made the practice squad, Johnston left for the Panthers.
— Kevin Modesti (@KevinModesti) September 9, 2020
Every Chargers fan knew where “Hard Knocks” was headed after showing 2018 highlights of Derwin James’ memorable rookie season.
In a way, it was adding salt to the wound, with fans being reminded of what could have been last season and this upcoming season.
James is out for the season after tearing the meniscus in his right knee during a camp practice. He missed 11 games last season for a foot injury he sustained during a joint scrimmage with the New Orleans Saints.
Wide receivers coach Phil McGeoghan was heard shouting “no” multiple times when James went down on the non-contact injury. McGeoghan and defensive end Melvin Ingram guessed it was cramps, or were hoping, along with every Chargers fan, it was just that.
“Our safety is down,” Lynn said shaking his head on the phone after being informed James was having season-ending surgery. “Second year in a row for that young man.”
Watching that prolonged portion where we knew DJ was going to get hurt, sucked!!! 😢😢😢😢
— Karen 👑⚡️ △⃒⃘ (@karenluvssports) September 9, 2020
“Hard Knocks” has been on air for 15 seasons because of their compelling story lines of players chasing their NFL dreams. The Fehoko family’s Zoom call with Breiden was a reminder of how hard players work to get to this point.
Linda Fehoko, Breiden’s mother, had tears of gratitude after learning her son had made the Chargers’ practice squad during a touching scene. They know Breiden Fehoko’s NFL path is only starting.
Making the practice squad wasn’t the goal, but it’s another opportunity for making the 53-man roster.
Anthony Lynn poked fun at Breiden Fehoko for leaving his alma mater Texas Tech: “Now, tell me, how did your folks get to Lubbock, Texas?
— Gilbert Manzano (@GManzano24) September 9, 2020