Intensity overcomes age for Rams’ McVay
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.”
Rams’ players says they like the intensity of head coach Sean McVay.