- Will L.A.'s big bet on the youngest coach in modern NFL history pay off?
Even with their move to Los Angeles prior to the 2016 season, the Rams never emerged as anything other than stale and mediocre under former coach Jeff Fisher. They needed a move-the-needle hire to take Fisher’s spot, someone who could drum up a little excitement within the fan base.
Try this on for size: Thursday the Rams announced the hire of Sean McVay, who at 30 years old becomes the youngest coach in modern NFL history. McVay will turn 31 on Jan. 24.
As one might expect given his age, McVay has risen rapidly in the NFL coaching world. Shortly after wrapping his playing career at Miami (Ohio) in 2007, McVay latched on as a 22-year-old assistant with the Buccaneers. He then served as a tight ends coach for both the UFL’s Florida Tuskers and the Redskins, before being promoted to Washington’s offensive coordinator in 2014.
The Redskins had a top-11 passing attack in all three seasons under McVay and coach Jay Gruden—the first with Robert Griffin III, Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy all drawing starts; the final two with Cousins at the helm.
And McVay has been credited with much of Cousins’s success. This year alone, he ranked third in the NFL in passing yards with 4,917, behind only MVP candidate Matt Ryan (4,944) and Drew Brees (5,208). Say what you will about Cousins, but he was a franchise-tagged player in 2016 and could bring home a $100 million contract as a free agent in the coming months. Prior to the arrivals of McVay and Gruden, that outcome would have been considered ludicrous.
It almost goes without saying that McVay’s hire could be great news for Los Angeles QB Jared Goff, the No. 1 pick in last year’s draft. Goff spent much of the 2016 season on the bench behind Case Keenum, then looked overwhelmed when he did crack the lineup—the Rams’ unimaginative offense and horrid O-line certainly didn’t help.
McVay’s Washington offense spread the ball around impressively. Both DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon topped 1,000 yards receiving, while Jamison Crowder, Jordan Reed, Chris Thompson and even an aging Vernon Davis caught at least 40 passes each.
The challenges McVay faces in replicating that success in Los Angeles? Well, for starters, the Rams don’t have anywhere close to that level of talent at wide receiver. Kenny Britt led the Rams in 2016 with 1,002 yards, but there was not much production behind him. Perhaps McVay can figure out how best to use Tavon Austin, a mystery Fisher’s staff never came close to solving.
Better yet, maybe McVay is the right coach to unlock Todd Gurley’s potential on a consistent basis. Because of the Rams’ issues along the O-line and at quarterback, defenses were able to load up in the box to stop Gurley this season. As a result, he followed up his dazzling rookie season with just 885 yards and a 3.2 yards-per-carry average.
Even if McVay can get the offense rolling, he figures to need ample help on defense. He was a wide receiver in his playing days and has no experience coaching that side of the ball. So, a move like this would make sense:
If Sean McVay lands the Rams' HC job, his top option for DC would be Broncos DC Wade Phillips, per league sources.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 11, 2017
That’s another potential swing for the fences for the Rams, should they choose to pursue Phillips. The longtime coach’s contract just expired in Denver, where new coach Vance Joseph has yet to announce his plans for the coordinator positions. For the moment, at least, Phillips is available.
The Rams’ defense was its strength in the disappointing Fisher era, but even that unit took a step back last season—the constant pressure of having to carry a moribund offense had to weigh on the D.
Whether it’s Phillips or another proven defensive mind joining the staff, the Rams already have made their splash to start the off-season. To be in position for an NFL head-coaching job at 30 is remarkable.
Grade: A-minus. The absolute worst thing the Rams could have done this hiring cycle, after lulling their fans to sleep under Fisher, is replace Fisher with another old-school, retread coach. Their situation demanded pushing their chips to the middle.
Is there a chance McVay winds up in over his head? Absolutely. There is always that possibility when someone makes the assistant-to-head coach leap, but probably even more so for a guy as young and relatively inexperienced as McVay. If it works, though, this may finally get the Rams headed in the right direction. If nothing else, McVay’s presence ought to work in Goff’s favor, and that’s an important starting point.
Oh, and bonus points for announcing this hire on the same freaking day that the Chargers officially revealed they, too, would be moving to Los Angeles. Let the L.A. battle begin.