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The Los Angeles Rams head coach is too damn good in preparing his team for its scintillating performances, and he’s wrecking everyone’s expectations among the latest round of coaching hires in the process.
The 32-year-old’s influence reaches across the league.
Everyone wants the next McVay. This phrase has been said so often, it’s already developed into a cliche. When making a case for the next McVay, a front-office person means their organization wants the next great young innovative offensive mind.
Here’s the problem: the Rams coach is unique. He can’t be replicated, and society hasn’t reached a point where human cloning is possible or acceptable.
Instead, everyone must accept the fact that McVay’s squad will wreck the league during his tenure as other organizations try in vain to capture something they can never have.
Saturday’s 30-22 bludgeoning of the Dallas Cowboys at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is the latest example of how the Rams are nearly impossible to stop.
Public perception of the team involves a high-flying offense led by a wunderkind. The reality is quite different—which is why so many struggle to understand where McVay’s success derives from. McVay didn’t become the youngest head coach in NFL history to win a postseason game because of some master plan beautifully orchestrated on a down-by-down basis.
The opposite occurred: The Rams took a simplistic approach and whipped the Cowboys from one side of the field to the other.
“We are simply losing our gaps,” Dallas head coach Jason Garrett told Fox Sports’ Erin Andrews before the second-half kick. “We are not physical enough. We knew we had to spot the run coming in, and we’re just not doing it.”
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Dallas’ defense—which held the run-first Seahawks to 73 rushing yards last weekend—couldn’t slow the Rams’ ground attack. Los Angeles set a postseason franchise record with 273 rushing yards. Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson became only the fourth pair of teammates in the last 30 years to each run for 100 or more yards, according to NFL Research.
The Rams took the Cowboys’ souls on their way to the NFC Championship Game.
McVay’s relatability, accountability and adaptability are his greatest assets. A great head coach can’t be uncovered purely by a resume, and there isn’t a correct path to finding the next big thing. But everyone still tries to follow what came before.
Now, look around the league. The desire to nab someone of McVay’s ilk is understandable, albeit misguided. Still, his influence is written all over the majority of this year’s hires.
- The Cincinnati Bengals reportedly prefer to bring in Rams quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor once Los Angeles’ postseason run is complete, per the Cincinnati Enquirer‘s Paul Dehner Jr.
- Matt LaFleur—McVay’s first offensive coordinator—landed the Green Bay Packers job.
- The Arizona Cardinals dipped into the collegiate ranks by hiring another young, offensive-minded head coach in Kliff Kingsbury.
- Freddie Kitchens may not align perfectly with the latest craze since the Cleveland Browns promoted him from within, but he’s another former offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach, and his offense took the NFL by storm over the second half of the 2018 regular season.
- The New York Jets recycled Adam Gase—because he’s a supposed quarterback guru—to develop Sam Darnold in his second season.
All of these teams are chasing their tails if they think they have the next McVay. They don’t.
In addition, McVay understands his limitations. His best move came when he hired the league’s oldest coordinator, Wade Phillips, 71, to oversee the defense.
“I’ve worked with older coaches, and the older I get I work with younger coaches,” Phillips said of McVay before last season, per Sports Illustrated‘s Jonathan Jones. “It’s all about football and what they know and how well they relate with each other and the players. That part doesn’t change, age-wise or not.”
The Rams’ approach is simple: Personal relationships and flexibility led to their success—which stands at 25 wins and counting in McVay’s first two seasons.
“It’s all about surrounding yourself with great people,” McVay told reporters at last offseason’s combine. “Certainly, the year provides a great opportunity to look inward and feel like, you know, there’s a lot of things that even though you might think you did a lot of things well, if you’re really being honest with yourself, you can improve.”
McVay figures out what works for his team. For example, the Rams used 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end and three wide receivers) for a whopping 96 percent of their plays during the regular season, according to The Ringer’s Robert Mays.
The head coach didn’t expect to be so slanted toward one personnel grouping upon his hire, but he found the right alignment for his roster and stuck to it. Adjustments are the biggest differentiator between good and poor coaches, and McVay’s more adept at it than most.
“We just know our players better, our coaches,” McVay said, per the Los Angeles Times‘ Dylan Hernandez. “We’ve got better continuity. I think there’s a better understanding of how we as a coaching staff can put our players in spots to maximize their abilities.”
History can’t be repeated, because all of the factors that led to one event can’t be replicated. The same can be said of coaching hires. Every situation, team and individual are different. The Rams found the perfect coach at the right time. He’s taken advantage of every opportunity by trusting his support staff in an attempt to maximize a talented roster.
And McVay has standout qualities—whether it’s his eidetic memory or ability to relate to players, some of whom are older than he is. The idea that a 32-year-old could take on the responsibilities of an NFL head coach without crumbling under the pressure is staggering. Yet, he flourished in the pressure cooker.
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The mistake other franchises have made is thinking they can take a similar path.
McVay essentially serves as the new Bill Belichick, as teams around the league are sick of trying to figure out the Patriots‘ model. Belichick’s proteges haven’t been successful. So, the copycats moved on to McVay, because there are seemingly more candidates to be the NFL’s new hottest thing.
Rams general manager Les Snead said Thursday during an interview on The Doug Gottlieb Show:
“It’s the ‘It’ factor. I don’t know how you define it, but you feel it. We were probably less than 10 minutes into his interview and I remember writing a note, ‘It’s not about the age; it’s about whether you want to hire Sean McVay as your head football coach.’ Age is not a problem because as soon as you sat down with him, he’s got command. You’re listening and he’s teaching. By the end, you’re following him up that hill.”
As other teams chase some magical formula, they’re just falling further behind a Rams team well positioned to make a Super Bowl run this year with thoughts of more down the road.
Defensive tackle Aaron Donald, running back Todd Gurley, quarterback Jared Goff, right tackle Rob Havenstein, tight end Gerald Everett and wide receivers Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp are signed through the 2021 campaign.
The Rams aren’t letting up anytime soon, and they’ll be led by the cat everyone else wants to (unsuccessfully) copy.
Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @brentsobleski.