He may be the youngest coach in modern NFL history, but the Rams'SEAN MCVAYis in command of his team. Word to the wise: no daydreaming in meetings
AFTER SEVEN YEARSwith the Redskins, the last three as Jay Gruden's offensive coordinator, Sean McVay took over the Rams in January at age 30 (he turned 31 just days later), becoming the youngest head coach in modern NFL history. A rising star in the coaching ranks, McVay, whose grandfather John was the general manager of the 49ers, was integral to quarterback Kirk Cousins's development in Washington. It has been a whirlwind first off-season, though you'd think McVay has been at it for a decade if you spend a day with him—which he allowed SI to do in May.
McVay answers the door to his contemporary style house in Encino Hills, a neighborhood in Los Angeles's San Fernando Valley. After he and his girlfriend, Veronica, moved in a few weeks ago, McVay's mother, Cindy, an interior designer in Atlanta, began furnishing the 4,660-square-foot home. She's off to a strong—and expensive—start. McVay had hoped to return to his Reston, Va., town house to gather his things after taking the job. But there was too much to do. So Veronica and some friends took care of clearing the place, and it sold in a day. McVay never made it back.
Dressed in his typical attire—shorts, T-shirt and running shoes—the upbeat McVay says, "Come in, make yourself at home."
The house overlooks Burbank. A glass wall slides open at the push of a button, converting the living room into an enormous covered patio.
"Pretty cool, huh?" McVay says. He's too earnestly impressed to be bragging. He grabs a beer and takes a seat, only to discover that the cushions are damp. Oh, well. He's calling it a night soon anyway, explaining that to wake up early, he has to go to bed at the hour of an old man. His alarm is set for 3:45 a.m.
McVay's commute to the Rams' temporary offices at Cal Lutheran in Thousand Oaks is, by his calculation, 28 to 30 minutes, depending on the lights. Some mornings he listens to a book on tape in his black BMW 750i. (Recently it's been Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALS Lead and Win.) Others he'll make calls to people back East. Today he chats with a video crew as hip-hop plays softly in the background.
Alternately drinking black coffee and sparkling water (general manager Les Snead got him on it), McVay is at his desk watching clips of Falcons and Redskins plays that he'll be introducing today to his young offense. It's Day 3 of the third OTA session. "One thing about going through all these clips," he says with a smile, "is you gain a real appreciation for how good some of your former players were."
He's still at his desk, watching footage. The only break has been for a bowl of Frosted Flakes, and he has time to finish just half the bowl. It's all he'll eat over the next eight hours.
A stream of coaches has been dropping by. Now it's head trainer Reggie Scott, with injury updates. McVay asks him which player so far has run the most total yards in OTAs. (L.A. tracks this data with a GPS program.) McVay guesses wide receiver Mike Thomas, and he's correct. McVay also thinks running back Todd Gurley ranks high because of his habit of running through the whistle. "Yeah, he's top third," Scott says.
McVay addresses the entire offense. He calls on players at random. The Rams have come to fear this. Nothing is worse than the boss catching you daydreaming. Some even keep a cheat sheet in their binders, listing all team slogans and acronyms that McVay is wont to ask about. A few weeks ago star defensive back Trumaine Johnson was asked to name one of the two C's that define the team's culture. Johnson said commitment. Wrong. "But he was so confident about it," McVay later recounts for Veronica and friends, "that I paused and thought, Son of a gun, am I wrong about the two C's?" (For the record, they are character and communication.)
"We expect to achieve and live our highest standards," he bellows at the full-team meeting. "You know those three things we have. Coach Wade Phillips, our APP—what's one of those three things?" McVay, pacing, expects his respected 69-year-old defensive coordinator to answer quickly. But Phillips, in the front row, says nothing. Drawing a blank, Phillips starts to blush. "Help him out!" McVay barks. "Approach, preparation and performance," say nearly 100 voices. Some giggle. McVay has caught his unlikeliest victim yet. Phillips can only laugh.
More meetings with the offense. McVay focuses on wide receivers. One player McVay calls on consistently is Robert Woods, a free-agent signee from the Bills. (And always by full name. What's our rule for five-step timing on this play, Robert Woods? What do you do here against two high safeties, Robert Woods?) After the meeting, Woods, a diligent student, stops the coach with a question. By the time he and McVay wrap up, five other players have gathered to listen in.
Practice begins. McVay recently tore his quad sprinting, though an observer would never know. He is all over the two practice fields. A bit later the Rams are practicing a run alert play, which means that the huddle call is a run but quarterback Jared Goff also has the option to throw a quick slant. McVay talks Woods through it: "L 17-dancer, 13-slider. You get these corners, they play off just in no man's land on you, when you get into a reduced split. We get it to you, right through that outside 'backer who's up on the line of scrimmage. You catch that thing clean, man. Julio [Jones] caught a couple of balls for about 20 yards. It's a great way to make people pay. And you throw the ball about four feet."
Backup quarterback Sean Mannion is intercepted on a deep ball. A receiver ran the wrong route, bringing the free safety into play. McVay walks over to Mannion and says, "Hey, don't let [the receiver] screwing you cause you to make a bad decision. Because you're going to bring the safety over there."
"I just don't want to throw from one side to the other," Mannion says.
"And here's what I would say: Throw it away. Because that's the only play [available] when [the receiver] screws you."
McVay keeps Mannion on the field for the next snap, and he completes his throw. McVay perks up. "There you go right there," he says. "Good job, Sean."
Practice is over. The team gathers at midfield. "Love your effort, love your intensity," McVay says. "Let's see if we can start tightening up the screws. In the competitive period, give it up for the defense, you guys got the best of us. But we'll continue to compete, we're all making each other better."
Drinking one of the dozens of smoothies that team nutritionist Joey Blake has prepared, McVay sits at his desk watching film of the practice. The passing game could have been sharper. A receiver got hurt. The film reveals that defensive linemen consistently lined up offside. No one noticed.
In the offensive meeting room, McVay sits at the head of a long table, opposite the projector screen, surrounded by his assistants. He calls out every play beforehand, often analyzing from memory what's about to happen. He runs the remote, which can be maddening. He's known as a "remote tyrant"—someone who rewinds plays again and again. He used to drive Redskins coach Jay Gruden crazy. "This is not a good route," McVay says. "Watch this. He's been better than this." The film shows Woods getting stymied by a press corner. "He's not threatening anybody vertical on this play." Woods, someone who harps on his mistakes, had approached McVay after practice and brought up the route. Toward the end of the meeting, when each position coach sums up his thoughts, receivers coach Eric Yarber says that Woods is generally more consistent than he was today. No one is worried.
"Good progression by Todd, man," McVay says, watching Gurley make a blitz pickup. In the offensive meetings earlier, Gurley had worn an affable, subtly amused smile that suggested he might be thinking about something more interesting than the protection rules up on the whiteboard. But McVay called on Gurley several times, and his answers were always quick and spot-on. Now his actions on film verify his focus. McVay turns to running backs coach Skip Peete. "Gurley's a smart guy, isn't he, Coach?"
The meeting is over. The building is mostly empty. A three-day weekend is coming up, which McVay will extend to a four-day break. He stops by the trainer's room to meet with Scott, who gives an update on an injured receiver and advises that 35-year-old left tackle Andrew Whitworth and 30-year-old edge rusher Connor Barwin should have their practice reps reduced. McVay agrees. Before he goes, McVay gets instructions for his injured quad: light running, but only on a treadmill, where he can regulate his speed.
On the drive home, McVay calls Woods. "Hey, I was thinking about our conversation after practice. We can definitely clean up a couple of those routes, you can run them better, but don't let that take away from all the good stuff that you've been doing, man." They discuss the specifics of those routes.
"But the main reason I was calling is because I could name about 25 good things you've done over last week and dating back to the minicamp, too. So, keep being hard on yourself because that's why you are who you are, but don't let it affect your weekend, man. You're wired to separate, and you've done it consistently. And just watching how conscientious you are, and how you're competing—showing the other guys how to compete, you're making them better, too. And that's what it's about."
Back at the house, Rams assistant linebackers coach Chris Shula (son of Dave, nephew of Mike, grandson of Don) emerges from downstairs. He and McVay were friends at Miami (Ohio) University, and now Shula lives in one of the six bedrooms. The two coaches have a beer by the fire on the balcony. With their girlfriends, they have a 9:30 dinner reservation. The fireside conversation never veers from football.
The group gets a table at a trendy sushi spot on Sunset Boulevard. McVay and Shula mostly talk football. At one point they interrogate Shula's girlfriend: How many wide receivers are on the field in 12 personnel? She says three, but then quickly corrects herself. "Two! Two!" No one is safe from Sean McVay's pop quizzes, even at the end of a very long day.
McVay is known as a "remote tyrant"—someone who rewinds plays again and again. He used to drive Jay Gruden crazy.
24 HOURSwithSEAN MCVAY
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