ASHBURN – When the NFL released its schedules back in April, the Rams allowed their video team inside the meeting room where new head coach Sean McVay, general manager Les Snead and executive vice president Kevin Demoff got the call from NFL Senior Director of Broadcast Michael North revealing their 2017 schedule.
McVay, dressed down in sneakers and a Rams shirt and shorts, cracks jokes and appears completely relaxed until North announces his Week 2 opponent: Washington.
“Oh, now that’s exciting,” McVay says. McVay immediately stands up straight and his tone shifts from casual to serious.
Week 2 has arrived.
McVay, who at 31 is the youngest head coach in NFL history, will go up against the team he served for seven formative years of his coaching career Sunday, when the Redskins play the Rams in Los Angeles. Coach Jay Gruden will go head to head with his understudy, and Kirk Cousins will play knowing that the team trying to beat him is coached by a man he credits his career to.
In the middle of making preparations, both McVay and Gruden have waived off the idea that familiarity will play a major role in what happens on Sunday. Everyone has film, they both said, and neither one of them will be on the field making the plays.
“I think Jay [Gruden] said it best earlier in the week,” McVay said on a conference call Wednesday. “I think you do have an idea, but you don’t know when they are going to do it, and that’s where you still have to play a football game – it’s reactionary. You want to try to put your guys in good spots, but you also want to be careful of not giving too much information where it doesn’t allow them to play fast.
“You want to help guys out with some of the keys that you have, but it will be the same thing with Jay knowing exactly how we want to operate offensively. So I think it kind of goes both ways, but really as a coach, you are just trying to make sure we make good decisions and try to put our players in good spots to have success.”
Read the beginning of that quote again: “I think Jay [Gruden] said it best earlier in the week.”
McVay’s still tappen in to Gruden’s press conferences, and this is just another game? Yeah, right.
“I’m pretty sure it will be a chess match, but fortunately I’m not one of the players in the chess match,” said left tackle Trent Williams. “I’m what you would call a pawn. Him and Coach Gruden, I’m pretty sure they’re going to have a chess match going.”
Gruden said Wednesday that the closest experience he’s had as Redskins coach to playing the McVay Rams was last year when Washington played the Bengals in London.
“We knew them quite well. None of that matters,” Gruden said. “You don’t know what they’re going to run anytime. I know he’s a good football coach. He’ll have his team ready. That’s all I know. We have to treat this like another game. We have to go out and try to figure out a way to get our first win on the road, which will be tough.”
Can Gruden treat Sunday like another game? Could anyone? Gruden and McVay still text all the time. They’ve texted this week, though McVay says they’re able to do so without giving up any competitive advantage. When McVay left Washington, Cousins signed a jersey for him with the message “I owe you my career,” and McVay has it hanging in a theater room in his house in LA.
McVay said he’s sure it’ll be a little “weird” seeing former players and the coaching staff that helped his meteoric rise on the opposite sideline Sunday, but he’s hopeful routine will keep him from getting caught up in emotion.
“I think you try to keep it as much about the game as possible, while there is still the human element and a lot of people that are important to you.”
Whatever they say, this isn’t just another game. Now that’s exciting.