Column: Rams coach Sean McVay won a Super Bowl. His next test is winning over more L.A. fans

Rams coach Sean McVay embraces lineman Andrew Whitworth as confetti rains down.
Rams coach Sean McVay embraces lineman Andrew Whitworth after the team won the Super Bowl on Sunday at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

I hopped out of my Uber and decided to just walk. The Super Bowl was nearly four hours away, but the traffic near SoFi Stadium was already impossible. The only thing more difficult than reaching 25 mph was finding a house in the neighborhood I was in that seemed to care that the Super Bowl was being played a few blocks away.

There were more residents standing on corners Sunday with signs about available parking than signs celebrating the local team that was playing in the biggest sporting event of the year. It was an unexpected sight given the NFL had its highest regular season ratings in six years and the postseason also enjoyed a significant viewership bump. Perhaps SoFi’s neighbors aren’t football fans. Maybe they root for the San Francisco 49ers or Las Vegas Raiders. Or maybe near Manchester Avenue and Crenshaw Boulevard they don’t care enough about the Rams to hang a pro-Rams sign.

Opinion Columnist

LZ Granderson

LZ Granderson writes about culture, politics, sports and navigating life in America.

Sean McVay is in position to change that — if he stays.

Rumors had been swirling for a significant chunk of the season that McVay — the youngest coach ever hired by an NFL team and now the youngest to win the Super Bowl — was considering leaving the Rams if they won the Super Bowl. The handsome 36-year-old is a disciple of Jon Gruden, minus the homophobia and racism that recently came to light. Gruden famously made the smooth transition from star coach to TV star before returning to coaching after a decade-long absence. The thinking was that McVay, who has been really good in his handful of guest appearances in the booth, would follow suit. This sentiment gained steam after he was asked if he saw himself coaching into his 60s.

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“At some point too, if you said, ‘What do you want to be able to do?’ I want to be able to have a family, and I want to be able to spend time with them and I also know how much time is taken away during these months of the year,” McVay said.

Ah yes, work-life balance — a concept that has made the unexpected transition from being seen as a woman’s issue to one of the main drivers of the Great Resignation. Of course normally we don’t hear NFL coaches talk about spending more time with their family. At least not without a controversial issue forcing them out of their dream job. But here was someone expressing a desire to be active in their children’s lives and not being afraid to leave coaching to do it. Now he has since reiterated a desire to remain with the Rams, telling Ian Rapoport, “I’m committed to this team and coaching.”

McVay is also under contract until 2023. The assumption is he will get a huge extension considering he’s managed to lead a team to four playoff appearances, three division titles and one championship in five seasons. And who knows, maybe this chatter about him leaving is just a ploy to get that big pay day. But if McVay is still weighing his options, may I offer up the homes near the corner of Manchester and Crenshaw as reasons he should stay on as coach.

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The first time I met him was at an industry party in Houston during the Super Bowl in 2017. He was energetic and charming and so knowledgeable about NFL history that I was beginning to wonder if he was being fed factoids through an earpiece. He was the life of the party — no small feat considering Dwyane Wade swung by — and after about an hour of listening to him express his love of the game, I was ready to run across the middle for him. The joy you see on the sidelines during games is not an act, that’s genuinely him. And it’s infectious, as his thoughts suggested shortly after winning it all.

“I think the biggest thing that I’ve realized about this group is that you’re reminded of your real purpose,” he said. “There’s a difference between passion and purpose. The purpose is when you’re doing it because you want to see the other people that you love and care so much about succeed more than yourself.”

Sounds like something ripped from every great coach‘s speech, except in this case, it’s ripped from his heart.

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Now despite all of the talk about visiting teams taking over SoFi on Sundays, the Rams do have a loyal fan base. It just doesn’t have the same us versus the world fervor that the Lakers and Dodgers enjoy in the good times and rely on when times are rough. Shiny new stadiums and sleek marketing can’t produce this kind of devotion. Neither do wins and losses. That can happen only over time. And McVay is young enough to become the next Pat Riley or Tommy Lasorda, if he’s willing to invest the time. He has the leadership qualities. He has the ring. What he doesn’t have are 10-year-olds who have known nothing but the Rams. The team was on hiatus in L.A. for more than 20 years, and the Rams need to regain a foothold with young fans. If McVay wants a challenge, a next act, getting the city to really care over generations should be it.

I was walking around Santa Monica on Saturday and there were so many orange jerseys on the boardwalk, I thought I was in Ohio. McVay does not need to be yucking it up in a booth with men old enough to be his father. He needs to build on this momentum so that fathers — and mothers — can start raising their kids to be Rams fans. Take that charisma that has seduced television executives into thinking he can be a star and instead use it to breathe life into the faint idea that there is room in this Lakers and Dodgers town for his Rams.

He has the résumé. He has the personality. He just needs more time.

VIDEO | 06:23
LA Times Today: What does the Rams win mean in a crowded L.A. sports landscape?

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