In­ten­sity over­comes age for Rams’ McVay

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS - Josh Peter and Jar­rett Bell Con­tribut­ing: Joe Cur­ley

AT­LANTA – Sean McVay is now the youngest head coach to sur­vive Su­per Bowl Open­ing Night (aka me­dia night).

“Sur­real,” said the 33-year-old head coach of the Rams when asked about the ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing at the Su­per Bowl.

That was be­fore a re­porter threw a penalty flag at McVay’s feet.

And be­fore he was quizzed about the name of Kylie Jen­ner’s 1-year-old daugh­ter (Stormi).

And be­fore a re­porter tested McVay’s su­per­hu­man re­call of plays from pre­vi­ous sea­sons.

“It was an off­set gun,” McVay be­gan, rat­tling off the de­tails.

His hour-long per­for­mance be­hind podium No. 5 Mon­day pro­vided a glimpse of how some­one as young as McVay can lead the Rams into Su­per Bowl LIII against the Pa­tri­ots on Sun­day in Mercedes-Benz Sta­dium.

In his nasally voice, some­times talk­ing so fast it ap­proached hyper-speed, he said things like, “Specif­i­cally with the Pa­tri­ots, with what a great foot­ball team this is, we’ve got to play mis­take-free foot­ball, we’ve got to do an ex­cel­lent job tak­ing care of it, cap­i­tal­ize on ev­ery sin­gle op­por­tu­nity that we get.”

Spout­ing coach­ing cliches like a man twice his age — or Bill Belichick’s age, it turns out. At 30, McVay be­came the youngest head coach in mod­ern-day NFL his­tory when he took over the Rams in Jan­uary 2017 and led them to the play­offs for the first time in 12 sea­sons. Now he can be­come the youngest head coach to win a Su­per Bowl.

“The age is not even a fac­tor,” Rams line­backer Mark Bar­ron said. “No­body thinks about the age. We think about how he’s lead­ing us. He’s a great leader, and that’s all we pay at­ten­tion to.”

While Bar­ron and other Rams sug­gest McVay’s age is a non-is­sue, it does help un­der­stand how he has re­lated to a team that is 24-8 in the past two sea­sons af­ter go­ing 31-45-1 un­der McVay’s pre­de­ces­sor, Jeff Fisher.

McVay has made im­por­tant con­nec­tions with his play­ers when he’s not coach­ing, punter Johnny Hekker said.

“He’ll be sit­ting down watch­ing a UFC fight with some guys, all hud­dled around some­body’s phone,” Hekker said. “He’s very much in the ac­tion.

“He has a very good bal­ance of know­ing when he can just be a 33-year-old amongst his peers and then when he gets in front of the team and has to de­liver some­thing re­ally im­por­tant.”

Asked about bond­ing with the play­ers, McVay ac­cel­er­ated into that hy­per­speed: “Well, I think you take it one day at a time and I think you demon­strate by how hard you work and the way you try to in­vest and build and de­velop real re­la­tion­ships that are au­then­tic and gen­uine they feel that you care about them. And you’re in it with them. I’d like to think that’s what our play­ers feel, and that is how we feel as a coach­ing staff. And as long as there is that shared ac­count­abil­ity, there’s that con­nected team that stays con­sis­tent through the good, through the bad. I think that’s when you can re­ally form strong bonds and that’s what we feel like what we’ve got right now.”

Barely older than many of his play­ers and ac­tu­ally younger than one, McVay also has con­nected with his 24-year-old stars, quar­ter­back Jared Goff and run­ning back Todd Gur­ley.

“He’s just such a great coach that we want to go out there and play for him,” Gur­ley said. “Ob­vi­ously, we have our days and he has his days. But that’s the beauty of be­ing on this team. We all un­der­stand each other; we all are work­ing to­wards one goal. We all get it.”

At 37, tackle An­drew Whit­worth is the team’s el­der states­man (not to men­tion the one player on the ros­ter older than McVay).

He com­pared McVay to Nick Sa­ban, for whom Whit­worth played at LSU from 2001 to 2004.

Re­ally, Nick Sa­ban? And the al­most per­pet­u­ally pos­i­tive McVay?

“Ev­ery sin­gle day their in­ten­sity level, re­gard­less of what’s go­ing on in their life, re­gard­less of what’s go­ing on with the team, never wavers,” Whit­worth said. “There’s never a mo­ment where you catch them re­laxed. He’s rare that way.”

Like Sa­ban, McVay is a worka­holic. He reg­u­larly ar­rives at the Rams’ of­fices be­fore 5 a.m., leaves about 8 p.m., and that does not sig­nal the end of his work­day.

“He has du­pli­cated his of­fice at home so that he has the same re­sources there that he has at the of­fice,” said McVay’s grand­fa­ther, John, head coach of the Gi­ants from 1976 to 1978 and then an ex­ec­u­tive for the 49ers from 1980 to 1996. “The guy’s up late work­ing and he’s up early work­ing.”

McVay first dis­tin­guished him­self on the field. As a quar­ter­back and de­fen­sive back in high school, McVay helped lead Marist School, lo­cated in At­lanta, to a state cham­pi­onship in 2003.

In fact, some of his for­mer high school team­mates helped McVay cel­e­brate af­ter the Rams beat the Saints 2623 in over­time in the NFC Cham­pi­onship Game.

“You saw them pick­ing me up af­ter­wards and throw­ing me around,” McVay said with a smile.

McVay played wide re­ceiver at Mi­ami in Ox­ford, Ohio, and his achieve­ments on the field (39 ca­reer catches) were less no­table than his achieve­ments in the class­room (Mi­ami’s Scholar-Ath­lete Award in 2007).

Upon grad­u­a­tion, he de­cided to pur­sue a ca­reer in foot­ball that long seemed his des­tiny.

Grow­ing up, McVay was ex­posed to the NFL when he vis­ited his grand­fa­ther and spent time around the 49ers.

“He just got ac­cus­tomed as a young guy to be around pro­fes­sional ath­letes,” John McVay said. “And he was one of those guys ask­ing a lot of ques­tions.”

Re­call­ing a time when his grand­son got lost, John McVay said they found the fu­ture Rams’ coach on the 49ers’ team bus talk­ing foot­ball with Jesse Sapolu, then an all-pro of­fen­sive line­man.

“He’s a guy with a pierc­ing cu­rios­ity,” John McVay said. Of Sean’s suc­cess with the Rams, McVay said, “He’s cer­tainly done an amaz­ing job, and he’s in an en­vi­ron­ment where he can do a good job. ... I’m so proud. I tell him, ‘You’re mak­ing me fa­mous again, damn!’ ” Well, only so much.

John McVay said he was in a bar­ber­shop re­cently and the bar­ber asked if he could get him a pic­ture. He said he told the bar­ber he might be able to dig some­thing up.

“Not your pic­ture,” McVay said the bar­ber replied. “A pic­ture of your grand­son!”

Added John McVay, “I said, ‘Geez, give me my tip back.’ ”

Sean McVay got his start in coach­ing in 2008, when Jon Gru­den hired him as an as­sis­tant wide re­ceivers coach for Tampa Bay. The next year McVay took a job in the United Foot­ball League.

McVay was back in the NFL the fol­low­ing year with Wash­ing­ton, and he worked with the tight ends for four sea­sons be­fore get­ting his first big break. In 2014, McVay took over as Red­skins’ of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor. Af­ter they dumped Fisher, the Rams were look­ing in part for some­one who could help de­velop Goff, who strug­gled as a rookie in the 2016 sea­son when the team fin­ished 4-9. So in the fi­nal month of his 30th year, McVay be­came the Rams’ head coach and the rest is his­tory — or, to be pre­cise, his­tory in the mak­ing.

Mike Tom­lin is the youngest head coach to lead a team to the Su­per Bowl ti­tle, Pitts­burgh in 2009 at 36. That could change Sun­day, about 15 years af­ter McVay won that state cham­pi­onship not far from Mercedes-Benz Sta­dium.

“That was a spe­cial me­mory,” McVay said last week of the state cham­pi­onship. “To be able to achieve some­thing with peo­ple that you care about are things you al­ways re­mem­ber. That’s why, hope­fully, we’ll be able to do that with this group next Sun­day. Any time you win a cham­pi­onship, that’s al­ways fun.”

CHUCK COOK/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Rams’ play­ers says they like the in­ten­sity of head coach Sean McVay.

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