- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Mike Ashkouti always had a difficult time prying Sean McVay away from watching film of their games at Marist School in Atlanta, even on the weekends, when he’d dangle the most likely distraction for two high school stars.

“I was more into the girls and he’d concentrate on football more than anything else,” Ashkouti said with a laugh. “I was always like, ‘Can’t we get dinner with these girls first and then go watch film?’ He was the one that always tamed everybody. I mean, man, the guy has always been mature, even for us at a young age.”

McVay’s resolute work ethic and poise have been his beacon. At Marist, where he was the quarterback in the team’s wishbone offense — Ashkouti was the fullback — McVay combined those intangible skills with his superb athleticism to lead the team to a state championship in his senior season. He was named Georgia’s Class 4A offensive player of the year, beating out a megastar wide receiver from nearby Sandy Creek High named Calvin Johnson.

This is where McVay likes to pause the story, brushing aside the mention of himself and the former Detroit Lions all-pro wide receiver in the same light.

“My mom always tells people that and it’s so ridiculous you just have to roll your eyes at it,” McVay joked. “It goes to show you those writers didn’t know what they were doing voting me ahead. It’s funny, because you’re talking about a hall-of-fame wide receiver. His success speaks for itself.”

It is not uncommon to hear McVay speak in such a modest tone. At 30, McVay is entering his third season as the Washington Redskins‘ offensive coordinator and is the youngest in the NFL to hold that position. Last year, he was entrusted with greater play-calling responsibilities from coach Jay Gruden and played an instrumental role in directing an offense that propelled the Redskins to a 9-7 record and the NFC East title.

“I think like any professional, the more you get comfortable the better you are,” Gruden said. “He’s more comfortable installing, more comfortable on game day, lot more poised, which is very, very important as a coordinator. You can’t be a basket case over there and he lets the game come to him. He does a good job with the players, always very positive. He’s demanding, but very positive.”

McVay’s poised demeanor and strong sense of accountability have guided him through his rapid ascension in the coaching ranks, which began at age 22 when he earned his first job as an assistant on Jon Gruden’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers staff. As he reflected on last season, McVay considered it to be a valuable one in his development as a coach.

“Last year gave me a good perspective on being humbled by all the mistakes when you go back and look at yourself critically and I’m sure I’ll feel that way every year from here on out,” McVay said. “You really realize what a humbling business this is because there are so many quick split-second decisions to be made and if you learn from those mistakes, it gives you a chance to grow and learn every single year.”

The plays that he would approach differently in the Redskins‘ loss to the Green Bay Packers in the wild-card round of the playoffs are still fresh in his mind. One that perturbed him most occurred in the second quarter after running back Chris Thompson broke loose for a 25-yard gain with Washington holding an 11-7 lead.

The next play McVay called for a pass in an empty formation and left Kirk Cousins with no protection in the backfield. Outside linebacker Mike Neal blew past right tackle Morgan Moses and forced Cousins to fumble. The Packers scored 10 points before halftime after the Redskins lost a precious opportunity to expand their lead.

“I had seen Morgan was a little banged up,” McVay recalled. “[The] formation obviously triggers you’re throwing the football so guys are really teeing off on us. I felt like just getting a feel and flow for the game, that was something I wish I would’ve done differently regardless of what the outcome was.

“Knowing what I was able to process after we picked up the first down, knowing a lineman was banged up, giving them an empty set, a known passing situation to the defense, isn’t the best thing I could’ve done to help our players have success.”

Redskins players have come to respect that kind of accountability in a coach who’s still younger than some of his players.

Veteran tight end Logan Paulsen signed with the Redskins as an undrafted free agent the same year McVay was hired by Mike Shanahan in 2010 as a quality control coach.

Paulsen worked particularly closely with McVay when he was promoted to coach the tight ends toward the end of that first season, a position he held until he was promoted to offensive coordinator in 2014.

Sean has always been a guy that was super impressive since the beginning, just his understanding and mastery of the offensive system,” Paulsen said.

“Always took a lot of responsibility for his craft and his job so if you screwed something up as a tight end, he took it on him as not coaching you correctly. It’s always nice to play for a guy who’s willing to put it out there for you as a player.”

The first team meetings of an NFL season are often the most telling about what is going to follow. They can set the tone for what players are about to buy into from a coach or coordinator. So when the Redskins reported for the start of organized team activities in the spring and McVay led the first offensive meeting, Paulsen’s focus sharpened when he heard the offensive coordinator cite the principles of famed UCLA basketball coach John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success.

“First time you’re up there you’re maybe a little nervous,” said Paulsen, who attended UCLA and is well familiar with Wooden’s esteemed principles. “He was very clear with his message this time, very organized. You could tell he had read up on some stuff. You could hear a pin drop in the room and that’s really underrated. When guys are willing to listen, that’s how you command a room.”

There is no doubt this season that McVay has the attention of the Redskins.

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