At 31, coach re­al­izes he’s un­der scru­tiny

The Signal - - SPORTS - Jar­rett Bell jbell@us­ato­ USA TO­DAY Sports

Sean McVay seems to have fig­ured out so much about the mon­u­men­tal task he has em­barked on with the Los An­ge­les Rams.

At 31, he’s the youngest coach in mod­ern NFL his­tory — and younger than his new left tackle and the jour­ney­man backup quar­ter­back the Rams just signed. But McVay is old enough to know he must es­tab­lish a win­ning cul­ture for a fran­chise sorely in need of one.

“You can talk about things and say it, but you’ve got to live it,” McVay told USA TO­DAY Sports on Thurs­day as he awaited the ar­rival of vet­er­ans to train­ing camp Fri­day.

What an op­por­tu­nity. Af­ter serv­ing as Wash­ing­ton’s of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor for three years and do­ing much to help Kirk Cousins emerge as a fran­chise quar­ter­back, McVay’s me­te­oric rise up the coach­ing lad­der has put him in Los An­ge­les with a chance to grow with a re­lo­cated fran­chise while groom­ing young quar­ter­back Jared Goff.

The high-stakes ex­pec­ta­tion is ob­vi­ous. Rams owner Stan Kroenke, who dumped Jeff Fisher last year amid a 4-12 cam­paign, is bet­ting on a coach with zero head coach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence be­cause he en­vi­sions McVay as the league’s next great coach and a per­son suited to get the most out of Goff, whom the Rams are so heav­ily in­vested in.

Maybe McVay can du­pli­cate the suc­cess of Mike Tom­lin and Sean Pay­ton, Su­per Bowl-win­ning ex­am­ples who knocked it out of the park with their first head coach­ing shots. Maybe not. One thing is cer­tain: McVay is on a steep learn­ing curve.

“Ev­ery­body asks, ‘How’s it go­ing?’ ” McVay said. “I say, ‘It’s great. We’re still un­de­feated.’ When we go through some ad­ver­sity, that’s when you’re re­ally tested.”

McVay quickly gained re­spect in NFL cir­cles as a sharp mind on the rise. But un­til Fri­day he hadn’t given his first team speech to kick off train­ing camp, never had to make tough de­ci­sions such as dis­ci­plin­ing a player. He’s as green as they come.

And he knows. Every­one — play­ers and team staffers in the build­ing on the in­side, crit­ics and fans on the out­side — will be watch­ing his ev­ery move.

“The one thing you feel,” McVay says, “is that you can never have a bad day.”

He can lean on a wise in-house men­tor in new de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Wade Phillips. But chal­lenges lie ahead.

McVay must usher Goff, drafted No. 1 over­all last year af­ter an ex­pen­sive pre-draft trade, to a bet­ter level af­ter a dis­ap­point­ing rookie year. He’ll have to man­age the game while still run­ning the of­fense and call­ing the plays.

And there’s un­cer­tainty around the team’s best player, all-pro de­fen­sive tackle Aaron Don­ald, who wants a new con­tract.

There’s no NFL Head Coach­ing 101 man­ual. “If there were one,” McVay said, “it’s prob­a­bly Bill (Walsh)’s book, that he wrote with Brian Bil­lick.”

McVay’s foot­ball roots trace back to Walsh, the Hall of Fame ar­chi­tect of the San Fran­cisco 49ers’ Su­per Bowl teams of the 1980s. McVay’s grand­fa­ther, John McVay, had a stint as coach of the New York Gi­ants be­fore land­ing in the 49ers front of­fice with Walsh. John McVay ul­ti­mately be­came San Fran­cisco’s gen­eral man­ager. Now re­tired, he’s a valu­able re­source for his grand­son.

It’s easy to sense why McVay has as­cended so quickly. Be­sides the X’s and O’s, he’s a ball of pos­i­tive en­ergy. He’s an ef­fec­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tor who car­ries him­self with a cer­tain hu­mil­ity.

The best ad­vice? A con­stant theme emerged from sev­eral coaches that McVay tapped.

“It’s kind of a cliché, but it’s true: There are a lot of ways to do it,” he said. “But you’ve got to be true to your be­liefs — what you feel is the right way to do it — be­cause it res­onates with the play­ers and it comes off as au­then­tic.

“There’s dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties, but don’t try to be some­thing that you’re not.”


“You’ve got to be true to your be­liefs — what you feel is the right way,” Sean McVay says.

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