WASHINGTON — Sean McVay brings all of his prior experience with the Redskins to his new job in LA.
One question which has become abundantly clear in the week since he was hired as Rams head coach is what will he leave behind?
Already, McVay has squashed concerns about his youth limiting his ability to assemble an NFL-caliber staff.
The 30-year-old former Redskins offensive coordinator has tapped Wade Phillips to run his defense in LA, a savvy hire, as Phillips is sure to help fill out the defensive staff as well. McVay’s also reportedly set to bring on Joe Barry, who was fired as Redskins defensive coordinator this month, to coach his linebackers. The youngest head coach in NFL history also has reported interest in prying his former tight ends coach, Wes Phillips (son of Wade), away from Washington.
McVay spoke extensively about his seven years in Washington during an interview Tuesday with 106.7 The Fan’s Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier. Looking back on his life-changing past week, he says reality has yet to set in.
“I don’t think it’s gotten real yet,” McVay said. “But it was one of those situations where you’ve got all these expectations. You feel like, all right, we take care of business against the Giants, we’ll get in and then we’ll probably have to go out to Seattle and then it ends so abruptly. It didn’t end the way that we want it to.”
“Right after that, you get a call from your agent, Bob LaMonte, and he says, ‘The Rams and 49ers want to speak with you about potentially interviewing for their head coaching job,'” he recalled. “It’s a whirlwind and it really still hasn’t slowed down since then. I got a chance to spend some time with both teams, which, first-class organizations, and get hired last week.
“Got back in town just yesterday and then we’re actually going to work on finishing our staff, conduct a couple interviews out over here because some of the candidates are on the east coast, so it kind of worked out conveniently. But it still hasn’t hit me. But we are excited about the challenge and looking forward to it.”
McVay says the process of assembling his Rams staff has been complicated, though it’s something he’s pondered for quite a while.
“It’s one of those things where you always think about if the opportunity ever presents itself,” he said. “And there are things that you do from just a preparation standpoint over the summer, you know, as far as, if you ever get a chance like this, what would your potential staff be? But you’ve got to take into consideration guys have contracts, and if they are under contract, it’s very difficult to get good coaches out if they’re in another place.”
“So there’s a lot of complications,” he said. “But the thing that was fun about the whole process is when you go in there, really you’re just sharing about what is your vision, how do you envision implementing a culture that’s gonna be conducive for sustained success? And then, which schemes are you gonna run based on the coaching staff that you realistically can be able to bring in there? It felt more like a conversation than an interview, and it was something where I really enjoyed that process.”
McVay was hit with his first ‘LA moment’ shortly after his second interview, as he sat down for dinner at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago in Beverly Hills, where he was dining with Rams owner Stan Kroenke, team COO Kevin Demoff and Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk.
“Josh Duhamel and Fergie walked up to the table,” McVay said. “They say, ‘Hey. Good luck.’ And they’re probably looking at the table thinking ‘that’s nice of them to let the intern come along.'”
“But Josh Duhamel’s a Rams fan,” Paulsen noted. “There’s zero chance he knew who you were, right?”
“Not a chance,” McVay laughed. “And if he did, then he was really digging deep into the coaching search, because I think I kind of came out of nowhere, but you could see he recognized Mr. Kroenke and Marshall, and he probably recognized Kevin as well, but he was thinking, ‘You know, Mr. Kroenke’s a heck of a guy for letting the young guy come to dinner with him.'”
McVay’s time in Washington spanned two coaching staffs. First brought on as a tight ends assistant under Mike Shanahan in 2010, McVay was promoted to tight ends coach the following season, then survived the coaching purge of Shanahan’s firing and was promoted to offensive coordinator by incoming coach Jay Gruden. All of these experiences helped shape him into the coach he hopes to be, McVay says.
“The thing that really stood out to me about Jay was his ability to empower his assistants and what that represented from the security and confidence he had in himself,” McVay said of Gruden. “And then how being able to empower those assistants created a culture and a loyalty to the organization and him as our leader.
“When you have the ability to do that with your assistants, I think it makes them want to be accountable, do a great job for you so you don’t let him down, and I thought that was a really great quality that he had and demonstrated as a leader over the last few years working for him.”
“And then when you look at Kyle and Mike Shanahan,” he said. “One of the things that really stood up is a commitment to their process and a standard of performance. Coach Shanahan — very demanding, very consistent in his messaging with what he delivered to our players day in and day out, and I think it’s a big reason why you see somebody like him lead teams to two world championships.
“Those are very difficult things to do, but he always talked about the goal, and the only goal, is winning the Super Bowl, and that consistent theme and messaging, his standard of performance with how we prepare, how we practice, how we walk through, I thought was really encouraging for me to able to see.”
“And then with Kyle, a lot of the same stuff, but unbelievable football mind,” he said. “Really sees the game different than a lot of people I’ve ever been around. I feel very fortunate to have worked underneath him and we implement a lot of the core principles and concepts that I learned from Mike and Kyle in our offense, and that’s what we’ll hope to do in LA moving forward.”
“One of my fondest memories will always be the locker room scene after we beat Philly in ’15 and won the division,” McVay said. “I think that’s what’s so special about football. There’s nothing like coming together for a common goal and achieving things together. And being able to do that with some of the great players and coaches was a really great experience for us and something that I’ll cherish as I move forward onto LA.”
McVay landed his first NFL job in 2008, as an assistant to Jay’s older brother, Jon, then head coach of Tampa Bay. That experience, too, left its mark.
“Being around great people that you take a little bit from them and you figure out how can you make it your own and it starts out with Jon Gruden,” McVay said. “I learned the foundation of what I know about this game from him. He taught me to see the game from a 22-man perspective, and I learned so many great concepts and different ways to attack a defense, and he had a huge influence on me.”
McVay doesn’t expect wholesale changes to the Redskins offense now that he’s gone.
“Oh, I think they’ll continue to carry a lot of the things that have enabled us on offense to have some success,” he said. “But I think just like anywhere else, whoever Jay decides will be the play caller moving forward — whether it’s himself or somebody else — everybody sees the game through a little bit different lens. Even if your core philosophies and identities align, there’s certain things that, when it gets to crunch time and you’ve got to have a call, that you’re gonna react differently than somebody else would. Nobody is the same.”
“I think there will be some differences and there will be some similarities, but I do believe that this staff is comprised of great coaches and they’ll figure it out based on who are in those key spots and who’s leading the offense,” he said. “What do they do best and how can I get those guys going and score as many points as possible?”
He described Gruden’s offense as an amalgamation of influences; himself and Gruden, being key contributors, called the plays; offensive line coach Bill Callahan helped shape their rushing attack; and quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh helped develop pass protections.
“I think everybody shares a hand in it,” McVay said. “That’s the great thing about it, it was the Washington Redskins’ offense and I think every place that you go, you’re gonna continue to try to fit your scheme to your players’ best strengths and that’s what we’ll do moving forward. There will be some core principles that will remain the same where you’ll say, ‘Oh, that looked like something that I saw those guys do last year in Washington.'”
McVay spoke glowingly of Kirk Cousins as he has all along, and cautions not to make the mistake of thinking the fifth-year quarterback — and free-agent-to-be — has hit his ceiling.
“I think there’s a huge upside,” McVay said. “You look at anybody over the first couple years of their career, I think what he’s been able to accomplish and achieve over the last two years speaks for itself. I mean, it’s comparable with some of the greats.”
“I think when you’re looking at what you want your leader to embody, from an intangible standpoint, from just a talent standpoint, he checks off all the boxes,” he said. “And he’s the kind of player that makes you accountable as a coach. You want to make sure that you’ve got answers. You want to work harder for him to help try to put him in good situations that are conducive for his success. But let’s make no mistake about it, this is a great football player. He did an excellent job. I feel fortunate to have coached him.
“And you’re absolutely right, Grant, being around great players is why you’re presented with opportunities. It’s about being around great coaches, great mentors and great players, and certainly Kirk is one of those that’s had as big an impact on the opportunity that I have in LA as anybody.”
McVay understandably skirted around the question of whether he thinks the Redskins will re-sign Cousins, but says, in terms of keeping tabs on the Redskins, he’ll follow his former players as best he can.
“I think the main focus is obviously going to be on the LA Rams,” he said. “But there will be a bunch of players and coaches that will always be special to me and I want to be able to see those guys succeed. I can’t speak for anybody else other than the Rams right now, but I know that Kirk has established and earned a great reputation around this league as a very good quarterback.”
“And like I mentioned to you earlier, I’ll always be following Kirk from this point on and want to see him do nothing but succeed,” he said. “And I think that’s what we can expect from him as his career continues on for years to come.”