Lynch reflects on FSU, the Orange Bowl, and the MAC

James Krause

The first time the NIU football team played Florida State was in the 2013 Orange Bowl, thanks in part to quarterback Jordan Lynch. Following a playing career that took him from quarterback to running back, Chicago to Edmonton, Lynch has started coaching at his alma mater, Mount Carmel High School. Sports reporter James Krause had a chance to talk to Lynch about his unique career.

There were few players in college football as unique and as discussed in 2012 and 2013 as former NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch, who broke records with a rocket for an arm and the ability to break tackles on the run.

A player like Lynch has already had a special football career. After two seasons as a backup, Lynch filled into the starting quarterback role in 2012, leading the Huskies to a 12-2 record, a MAC Championship and an appearance in the Orange Bowl in Miami, becoming the first team in Mid-American Conference history to make a Bowl Championship Series bowl.

The Orange Bowl spot was still up for grabs entering the MAC Championship game in 2012. The Huskies needed to beat the Kent State Golden Flashes, plus hope for other ranked teams to lose their championship games to put them in the BCS top 16 rankings for an at-large bid.

“We were really the outsiders,” Lynch said. “I didn’t think we would ever have a shot at Orange Bowl. There were so many pieces that had to fall in our lap, plus we had to win the game.”

The Huskies and Golden Flashes engaged in a back-and-forth battle that ended with NIU winning 44-37 in double overtime.

The next day, No. 14 ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers were blown out in the Big-10 Championship game by the unranked Wisconsin Badgers, while the 16th-ranked UCLA Bruins lost in the Pac-12 Championship game to the Stanford Cardinals. This put the Huskies above both in the rankings at No. 16 and BCS bowl eligible.

“We got a call, and I think the players knew about an hour before it was announced on TV that everything fell into place for us, plus we won the game,” Lynch said. “We were going to play in the Orange Bowl, in a BCS bowl. For us, to be a part of that, it was truly special.”

The Huskies would lose to the Florida State Seminoles 31-10, but Lynch said it was a win for the program to make it to such a big stage.

“It was a hard fought game,” Lynch said. “It didn’t end up how we wanted to but overall, it was a win for us regardless of the outcome. There was a lot of fan support. Lots of fans came down to watch us. It carried over to the next year for us.”

The Huskies again went 12-2 in 2013, but the talk of the nation was Lynch, who broke his own record of most running yards in a season by a quarterback with 1,920 yards, along with 47 total touchdowns. Lynch made NIU history again that year, becoming the first player in the school’s history to be named a Heisman Trophy Finalist. Lynch would finish third in the voting, with Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston being the eventual winner.

Despite all the buzz, Lynch went undrafted in the 2014 NFL Draft, but was given an opportunity by his hometown team, the Chicago Bears. There was just one catch: Lynch would have to transition from quarterback to running back.

“I’m used to having the ball in my hands every play and now they wanted me to switch positions, which I didn’t have a problem with,” Lynch said. “At the end of the day, I’m a football player; I love football, and I was doing whatever it took to play for my hometown team. Whether that was waterboy, running back or whatever.”

While getting the opportunity to play for the team during the preseason, Lynch was cut prior to the 2014 season. Lynch’s next opportunity in pro football took him north to the Canadian Football League with the Edmonton Eskimos.

Lynch fondly remembers his time in Edmonton thanks to the fans.

“It was awesome,” Lynch said. “Canadians do football the right way. I firmly believe that. It’s not just a hockey city out there in Edmonton, they really take the CFL serious. The rules are different, the game is different, but at the end of the day it’s football. The Edmonton Eskimos were a team that gave me a shot at the end of the day.”

In his first season with the Eskimos in 2015, Lynch was a role player in the offense, tallying up six touchdowns on the season.

That season, the Eskimos went to the Grey Cup against the Ottawa Redblacks, and on the biggest stage in the CFL, Lynch came up clutch. A one-yard dive over his offensive line gave Lynch and the Eskimos a game-winning touchdown with 3:22 remaining in the game. The Eskimos held on to win their first Grey Cup in a decade.

Following the next season, Lynch decided to make another drastic change to his career as he announced he would retire from professional football and be taking a job as the running backs coach at NIU. Lynch said coaching was always something he looked forward to as he wants to be a part of the game for as long as he can.

“I knew coaching was something I wanted to do ever since I was a little kid,” Lynch said. “I always want to be around football because I knew football wouldn’t always be around forever, especially for me playing. When that opportunity came up, especially at a Division one school, being a running backs coach, it’s definitely way to hard to pass up.”

Lynch spent the 2017 season coaching and learning from the man who coached him during his senior year at NIU, Head Coach Rod Carey. Following that season, Lynch took the head coaching job at his alma mater, Mount Carmel High School in Chicago.

While inheriting his first head coaching job, Lynch also took on a ton of pressure. The class of 2009 graduate Lynch replaced the 34-year tenured coach Frank Lenti, who helped the program win 11 state championships and 374 games. Lynch’s philosophy on pressure shows how he feels on taking on the role at just 27 years old.

“Pressure is a privilege,” Lynch said. “I wouldn’t have been in this position if I wasn’t 100 percent qualified or didn’t deserve it.”

Lynch said that his favorite part about being a coach at the high school level is having the chance to be around developing kids.

“It’s the most important time in the kids life where I can really make an impact and teach them the ways,” Lynch said. “My job, at the end of the day, is not about wins or losses. It’s teaching these kids the right way.”

Lynch’s team is already off to a strong start as he picks up his first win as a head coach on Aug. 25 against Hope Academy in Huskie Stadium. Lynch said the one of the privileges of his career was the chance to play, and now coach, in Chicago.

“I was fortunate to play most of my career, kind of spending it in Chicago,” Lynch said. “Mount Carmel does it the right way. I wouldn’t have left college if it wasn’t for this high school. It was the best four years of my life at Mount Carmel.”

Lynch said he still watches every NIU football game, and sees some of the Huskies from several years ago in the players that will take the field Saturday in Tallahassee.

“They’re an inch away from making a big play and an inch away from being 3-0 instead of 1-2,” Lynch said. “I think they have a great test ahead of them, as they know. Northern Illinois is a small mid-major school where everyone is doubting them and the only kids that believe are the kids in that room. I think they’re going to go out and prove a lot of people wrong this week.”