The narrative around the NFL is that Rams changed how head coaching hires were being looked at when they brought on McVay in that role in 2017. And to a large degree, it’s true, for good reason. After years of sub-mediocrity for the very sub-mediocre Jeff Fisher, McVay led the team to the playoffs in his first season, and a Super Bowl berth in his second, riding the strength of an innovative, arguably league best offense.
Suddenly, in a league where the old white guy coach was the enduring tradition, it wasn’t crazy to hire a 30-year-old to lead the team. Suddenly, more people were doing it. In fact, teams were going after guys on McVay’s staff. It made sense in 2017 and especially 2018. Matt LaFleur and Zac Taylor took head coaching positions, and are doing well – even Taylor who got off to a shaky start in Cincinnati, seemed to have gotten things moving in the right direction before Joe Burrow’s unfortunate and very serious injury. This year of course, it’s Brandon Staley who masterminded the league’s best defense before accepting the Chargers’ head coaching position vacated by Anthony Lynn.
But in this article, we aren’t talking about the moves that make sense. Of course, given the opportunity, 99% of coordinator level coaches will accept that bump up in stature and pay that comes with being a head coach. We’re also not talking about removing incompetent guys like John Bonamego from positions they never should have had to begin with.
We’re talking about the lateral moves.
Liam Coen heading back to the college ranks. Andy Dickerson heading up to Seattle, joining the also departed Shane Waldron (who to be fair got a coordinator position out of his move). It’s highly regarded cornerback coach Aubrey Pleasant leaving a top rated defense with all world corner Jalen Ramsey for roughly the same position in Detroit where they have… let’s just say not all world corners and are a long way removed from any kind of contention. It’s Joe Barry, following Staley to San Diego for roughly the same position he had with the Rams. It’s the popular John Fassel leaving after last season for the same position with the Cowboys.
The media paints a picture that McVay is simply so good at developing coaches that other teams just have to have them… but is that really the case? Why would guys leave a job on a good team in Los freaking Angeles for the same job on a worse team in a city with worse weather, San Diego notwithstanding?
Why won’t anyone ask if the reality is that McVay is just miserable to work for?
Here’s the thing. NFL head coaches are not known for their modesty. Bill Belichick is one of the most successful coaches in NFL history, had well below average turnover on his staff, and is insufferably arrogant. Any head coach who has experienced success to any degree in the NFL is going to have an inflated sense of self-importance.
So this has nothing to do with McVay’s massive ego, which understates actually how big it truly is. It has nothing to do with his smarmy and disingenuous attitude towards the media. Take his name out of that description and it still fits any of 20 or more head coaches.
What if it’s that he’s a control freak? What if it’s his stubborn insistence on continuing to call the plays on offense, despite not being any good at it. And before you say, “Whoa, wait a minute, remember when they were unstoppable and yada yada yada and this and that and Todd Gurley and,” yeah, I do remember. You had massive talent on that squad, and McVay to his credit is a master schemer – a borderline savant-level genius at designing and philosophizing offensive concepts and strategies to flummox defenses and maximize his offensive unit’s potential for success.
But that doesn’t translate into his play calling. To be fair, it’s not always woefully inept. He should get a mulligan for the Super Bowl against the Patriots where he was pretty much a deer in headlights, and called plays for four quarters that were the equivalent of smashing your head against a brick wall. It was his first Super Bowl, he was going against the best coach in the game, and folded under the pressure. It could have happened to anyone.
What’s troubling is the next two seasons. The Rams missed the playoffs in 2019, plagued by squandered chances to defeat inferior teams. Then came 2020, a dramatic improvement on the defensive side of the ball, counteracting a precipitous drop in offensive efficiency. A predictable 17 week regular season sequence of telegraphed wide receiver screens and repetitive underneath routes blown up with regularity was obscured by a brilliant defense that limited opposing offenses to less than 19 points a game, and regularly created short fields with turnovers.
McVay showed either an alarming inability, or unwillingness to make adjustments, and respond to the adjustments made by opposing defenses to his offense. And yet, he continued to cling to the role of play calling, and for what?
Many blamed the deterioration of Jared Goff’s play at the quarterback position. It’s a fair analysis, based on the numbers, but is a chicken or an egg thing? Is it a decline in Goff’s ability that’s to blame, or is it a stubbornness by McVay to stick with poorly working game plans that put his quarterback in bad positions?
We will learn a lot in 2021. The Rams paid a King’s ransom (as they should have) to drastically upgrade the quarterback position with Matthew Stafford, and don’t project to lose much if any talent from offense. If despite this, and multiple years of lessons learned, the offense continues to be stuck in a rut, we will have our answer, won’t we? If after another missed, or early exit from the playoffs another five or six coaches leave in lateral moves, we’ll definitely have our answer.