Lack of experience could help Rams
ATLANTA — Here comes Sean McVay with his big ideas and lustrous skin and good hair, onto the biggest stage in professional sports.
So many questions and lights and possibilities. So much pressure.
“Super Bowl 53 hasn’t been played. Nobody has experience in that game,” McVay said early in the run-up to the Super Bowl, and the way he says things like this with his quick-fire sentences and innovative way of calling plays and phrasing things - it’s a little hard to argue.
The Los Angeles Rams’ coach is, quite famously by now, young. He got the job at 30. Coached in his first playoff game at 31. Will attempt to win his first Super Bowl at 33. This week he wasn’t just deferential to New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who is twice McVay’s age. He was fawning over the abilities of Lady Gaga, educated on the status of Travis Scott’s relationship with Kylie Jenner, self-deprecating when asked — again and again — about his age.
“My dad might have to go buy a pack of beer for me,” he said, and the NFL’s millennial boy wonder isn’t just an oddity in a world traditionally occupied by men in their 50s and 60s.
He is, according to star running back Todd Gurley II, a “genius,” and more than just winning threequarters of his games as a head coach, he’s leading a youth movement in a league fiercely resistant to change. His elevation in 2017 and arrival in the championship game come at a time when the halls of Fortune 500 companies, the entertainment industry and even the U.S. Capitol are increasingly populated with leaders younger than 40.
It raises an interesting question: Is experience, that long-valued trait earned and developed across decades, actually overrated?
Late last month, as McVay was leading the Rams through the NFC playoffs, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, announced he was forming an exploratory committee to consider running for president in 2020. Pete Buttigieg’s announcement came a little more than two months after more than two dozen people in their 20s and 30s were elected to Congress. Walmart, General Motors and Goldmach Sachs have senior executives who haven’t yet celebrated their 40th birthdays.
“In no point in the last 100 years, or in the history of the republic, would somebody like me be taken seriously in this conversation,” Buttigieg said in an interview this week. “That means something, and it’s not just about me being special, but maybe this is a moment we’re in where there’s more openness.”
That moment certainly appears to have arrived in the NFL. Largely a byproduct of McVay’s success, franchises seem far more openminded about turning over their fortunes to young leaders. Of the eight teams that changed coaches, four selected — or, considering that two teams will officially announce hirings after the Super Bowl, are expected to select — a coach 40 or younger. Matt LaFleur, McVay’s 39-year-old former assistant, has been named coach of the Green Bay Packers; Rams assistant Zac Taylor, 35, and New England linebackers coach Brian Flores, 37, are expected to be named coaches of Cincinnati and Miami, respectively, shortly after the Super Bowl.
Regardless of what happens Sunday, youth and a general freshness of ideas are being pursued with such ferocity, leadership inexperience suddenly ignored with such regularity, that indeed by kickoff of the 2019 season, the average age of the NFL’s 32 head coaches will have dropped by nearly a full year compared with
“I’m by no means an expert,” McVay admitted this week, and as his most important moment — so far — draws closer, this influx of young eyes and thoughts seems to be the story of a changing NFL.
And, perhaps, a far broader landscape than that.
“You almost have to arrive with a certain audacity,” Buttigieg said, “and maybe even benefiting from knowing what you don’t know.”
Nearly two years ago, Andy Dunn found himself in an interesting place: cash in or stand pat? Bonobos, the popular menswear brand he’d co-founded a decade earlier, had an offer to sell from — of all corporations — Walmart, and it led him to a question: Is it better to be rich or cool?
Maybe 30-year-old Andy would’ve answered in a different way, but middle-aged Andy made his choice: $310 million and a job as a senior vice president in the mega-retailer’s e-commerce division. As tends to happen, Dunn had outgrown his youth; he was no longer the young disrupter, though even as he aged and some of his company’s fans complained that Bonobos had sold out, Dunn attempted to hold his grip on one thing 30-year-old Andy had plenty of.
“What you don’t want to lose,” he said a few weeks before turning
40, “is the same audacity.”
Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay huddles with his players during practice Friday ahead of the Super Bowl in Atlanta.