- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 7, 2018

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Amid the usual talk of job openings, draft picks and free agents at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis in March, one topic kept popping up over and over.

“Who is the next Sean McVay?”

In other words, who is the next young-and-upcoming coach that can transform not only an offense but a culture?

Last season, the former Redskins offensive coordinator became, at 30, the youngest coach in NFL history, taking over the Los Angeles Rams after three seasons in Washington.

He was an instant success, as the Rams went from 4-12 also-rans to 11-5 NFC West champs.

But it wasn’t just making the playoffs that captured the attention of the league — it was how McVay and the Rams did it.

In 2016, the Rams’ offense finished dead-last in DVOA, a metric that measures efficiency. A year later under McVay, Los Angeles — with a brand-new scheme — finished sixth. McVay’s offense, which was heavily influenced by Jay Gruden and Mike Shanahan, revitalized star running back Todd Gurley and quarterback Jared Goff, the first overall pick in 2016 who had a disastrous rookie season. 

The Rams’ leap, especially offensively, was impressive — though McVay, like any coach, sees room to grow.

“Just like anything else, we always talk about that daily improvement,” McVay said Tuesday after a joint practice with the Ravens in their suburban Baltimore facility. “There’s so many things you can talk about, but ultimately it’s about being efficient running the ball, passing the football, being great situationally, taking care of it.

“There’s a lot of things we emphasize, but it’s just about being a sharper, more crisp unit that’s able to do a variety of different things.”

The Rams may have been sleepers last year, but expectations are considerably higher this season.

An online sportsbook put their odds to win the Super Bowl at 10 to 1 — trailing only the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles.

Based off the Rams’ offseason moves, the optimism is understandable. After finishing sixth in defensive DVOA, Los Angeles added cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib — who were both named first-team All-Pro in 2016 — and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh in free agency.

And that’s not all. The Rams sent their 2018 first-round pick to the Patriots in exchange for star wideout Brandin Cooks.

Combine that with the talent they already have, and the Rams are stacked. 

There’s a scenario, of course, in which these moves all backfire. Remember the 2011 Eagles — the group Vince Young dubbed as “The Dream Team” months before an 8-8 campaign? Imagine that, but worse.

Without the right navigator, the Rams, full of eccentric personalities, could crumble.

But that’s why the Rams hired McVay.

“He’s just a great leader,” Talib said. “As a head coach, you want the guys to follow the message. Whatever you’re preaching, you want the guys to follow it. And guys definitely follow Sean, man.”

McVay, too, has already had to manage responsibilities that he didn’t have with the Redskins. Last year, defensive tackle Aaron Donald, regarded as the best defensive player in the league, held out until Sept. 9 because of a contract dispute. McVay, on an almost daily basis, had to answer questions about Donald’s status.

The situation has also carried over to this season and he has yet to report to camp. Although he’s not the general manager, McVay said he has remained in contact with his star.

Donald is pivotal to the Rams’ success in 2018.

“You know really, our conversations have been good,” McVay said. “We’ve kind of stayed away from the contract stuff. It’s more just about checking in, how his family is doing, things like that. I think when we’re able to get in touch with each other face-to-face, is kind of when you want to have that kind of dialogue.”

Other NFL teams have scrambled to find their own McVay. The Chicago Bears hired Matt Nagy, a 40-year-old offensive innovator who coached under Andy Reid in Kansas City. In Tennessee, new head coach Mike Vrabel hired 38-year-old Matt LaFleur as his offensive coordinator to redesign the team’s offense to get the most out of Marcus Mariota. (LaFleur, for what it’s worth, also coached in Washington and was the most popular answer at the combine to that “who is the next McVay” question.)

Hiring a young, offensive-minded coach isn’t an unprecedented move in the NFL, but McVay’s fast track to the top has been remarkable. 

Consider: if McVay, a wide receiver from 2004-07 at Miami University, was good enough to turn pro, he would have been in the same draft class as Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.

But at 32, McVay will instead coach against Flacco and the Ravens on Thursday in the preseason.

“You either just got it or you don’t,” Talib said. “Some people are just great leaders or they’re not. And he’s definitely a leader.”

McVay, by the way, is just 20 days older than Talib.

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