The L.A. Rams made the stunning decision Thursday night to go with the youngest head coach in the history of the NFL in 30 year old Sean McVay. So, we decided to provide some background, as to just how McVay rose from total unknown as recently as 2010, to being given total control of an NFL coaching staff six years later.
Here’s the quick version; it started in Tampa with the final season of Jon Gruden, as head coach of the Buccaneers.
For context and comparison, we wrote last month about the hires of both Willie Taggart to head coach and Jim Leavitt as defensive coordinator at the University of Oregon and how Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh was involved/crucial to both ending up there together.
Well, don’t think for a second that McVay’s working connection to Jon and his brother Jay starting with the Buccaneers wasn’t the most crucial reason he’s getting an opportunity to be a head coach before his 31st birthday.
McVay went to high school in Atlanta and college at Miami of Ohio, but more importantly is his family tree. Sean is related to Jim McVay, the long time executive director of the OutBack Bowl in Tampa that pits an SEC and a Big Ten school against each other on New Year’s Day, and McVay’s grandfather is a former long time executive with the 49ers. That’s where Jon and Jay Gruden’s dad, Jim, worked as a coach at one time in the 1980’s and eventually, Jon also, as an assistant too in San Fran.
So, we detail all of that to demonstrate how relationships can help a meteoric rise.
Sean McVay was given a chance to come on board with the Buccaneers essentially as an offensive intern in 2008. His job was termed “assistant wide receivers coach” along with receivers coach Richard Mann, but he never was in the team media guide for that year (we at F.F.I. looked). In fact, the Bucs have never mentioned McVay at all in the following years in their guides as a former assistant. Jay Gruden was also an offensive assistant that season on his brother’s staff.
So, after Jon Gruden was fired by Bucs after a four game losing streak collapse to miss the playoffs that year, Sean McVay joined Jay Gruden on the offensive staff of the “Florida Tuskers” of the short lived United Football League (UFL). That league only lasted two seasons and in year two, as it was going under and wasn’t really paying everyone all the time. But the bonding with Jay Gruden proved critical.
McVay got recommended to be an offensive assistant in Washington with the Redskins, when Mike Shanahan took the job in 2010 and he eventually became the tight ends coach in 2011. Then, when Shanahan was fired, the Skins hired, you guessed it, Jay Gruden as head coach. And he opened the offensive coordinator position to: Sean McVay.
McVay is largely credited with the development of Kirk Cousins over the last two years. While many Redskins are maddened by his interceptions, his play did improve and the Washington did win the East to make the playoffs last year.
So there’s the resume that got McVay in front of the Rams.
Also important, McVay worked at the Bucs and with the Grudens when Rams C.O.O. Kevin Demoff was an executive for the Tampa Bay. It was Demoff along with G.M. Les Snead who did the interviewing and hiring and were obviously, “wowed.”
Now, for reality. He’s the youngest head coach in the history of the league at 30 (he turns 31 later this month). The last three head coaches who were 32 or 31 in their first year were Lane Kiffin (Raiders 2008), Raheem Morris (Buccaneers) and Josh McDaniels (Broncos) both in 2009. All three failed to latch with their team and were fired in either two years (Kiffin and McDaniels) or by the end of their third season (Morris).
It’s a plus that veteran defensive coordinator Wade Phillips will apparently be joining McVay to bring experience and leadership to a Rams defense that has talent. And, Demoff and Snead were looking for someone with a track record to help their bonus baby #1 pick Jared Goff . Sean McVay has that in his background and it was a key to his getting the shot.
But, make no mistake, this is likely to be something that unravels and maybe quickly, if the Rams don’t win immediately. The examples above show how youthful inexperience and never having been a head coach before a hardships.
Will the Rams be patient? Or will McVay’s “wow hire” be yet another footnote on why, when there are experienced proven coaches out there (especially proven head coaches), you hire them, instead of a 30 year old who hasn’t been?
We’re going with the latter.