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Rams

Rams coach Sean McVay happy to train in what is essentially a trailer park

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A look at the Rams’ temporary headquarters in Thousand Oaks on the campus of Cal Lutheran.
(Los Angeles Times)

The gray complex sits nestled against the foothills. No exterior signage is visible from the street, nothing indicating that an NFL team inhabits the long, modular structure.

Beyond a security checkpoint, two team logos hang on a blue metal gate. It opens to a walkway that separates one single-story, temporary building from another in what is essentially a trailer park.

Welcome to the three-year-old home of the Los Angeles Rams.

The NFL is a billion-dollar business that features Taj Mahal training facilities for teams such as the Dallas Cowboys, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Baltimore Ravens. But in a rear corner of the Cal Lutheran University campus in Thousand Oaks sit 75 adjoined and retrofitted trailers. During the last three years, this is where an NFC championship team was built and honed.

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Three months after playing in the Super Bowl, the Rams begin offseason workouts Monday, players once again returning to a compound that features all of the essentials but few luxuries other than two immaculate practice fields.

That’s fine with coach Sean McVay.

“We’ve got what we need here,” he said.

The Rams built the 53,000 square-foot facility in 2016 when they returned to Southern California after more than two decades in St. Louis. It was designed and erected quickly, with the belief that it would house the team’s football operation for four or five years while a $3-billion stadium in Inglewood was completed, and the franchise searched for a separate site to build a permanent home for its football and business operations.

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Currently, the business side operates out of offices in Agoura Hills. It’s about a 15-minute drive from the football complex that serves coaches, executives, as many as 90 players, scouts and support staff. The football space includes offices, meeting rooms, a cafeteria, smallish locker and equipment rooms and training and rehabilitation spaces.

“It’s not the prettiest thing in the world,” said Bruce Warwick, the Rams’ director of operations and facilities, “but it works.”

McVay, hired before the 2017 season, speaks of his affection for a site that provides close proximity to his players, be it for meetings, casual conversations or workouts. It’s an isolated sanctuary to focus on football. There are few visitors to the complex, enabling McVay and his coaches and players to operate without distraction.

How spartan is the facility? Consider: The Cowboys’ gleaming “Star” complex in Frisco, Texas, encompasses 91 acres and features retail and dining experiences for fans visiting the team’s “World Headquarters.”

Then there are the Rams, who have proven they can succeed without high-end architectural finishes.

“People see the inner beauty of our team maybe more than the outer beauty” of the facility, joked Kevin Demoff, chief operating officer and executive vice-president of football operations.

The Rams’ facilities also trail major college football programs in the Southeastern, Big Ten, Big 12, Atlantic Coast and Pac-12 conferences. College teams have been in a building arms race for decades.

“There’s no way we could recruit in the Power Five,” general manager Les Snead said. “Maybe Group of Five, maybe FCS.”

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Pete Carroll has coached the Seattle Seahawks to the Super Bowl twice during nine seasons with the franchise. He enjoys the amenities of the 19-acre Virginia Mason Athletic Center on the shores of Lake Washington. But years before USC constructed the posh John McKay Center, Carroll coached the Trojans to two national titles despite aging facilities in the basement of Heritage Hall.

“The facility doesn’t win the games,” Carroll said. “The facility just facilitates the work and all the time you spend there.

“It’s nicer, but it doesn’t mean it’s necessary. I’ve learned it doesn’t matter.”

The Rams’ facility has not deterred free agents and other players from putting the team at the top of their wish lists. In most cases, players’ decisions about where to sign are based on money. But they also are drawn to winning cultures. And they are drawn to the dynamic McVay.

After quarterback Blake Bortles was released by the Jacksonville Jaguars in March, he was prepared to sign with the Rams sight unseen. He visited the facility only because his agent insisted. Under the 33-year-old McVay, the Rams are having fun, working hard and winning games, Bortles said.

“Regardless of if you’re in a portable or a state-of-the-art facility,” he said, “that’s all you want to be around.”

Bortles, veteran safety Eric Weddle and veteran linebacker Clay Matthews signed with the Rams this offseason without visiting other teams.

So Bortles liked the building?

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“I thought the building was top-notch,” he said, chuckling.

It has generally held up well despite the everyday wear and tear inflicted by large athletes, Warwick said. Midway through the 2016 season, while the team was in London, the floor of the weight room was replaced and reinforced to handle the load. Climate control in parts of the complex can fluctuate. Because the trailers are joined with seams, wet weather can be problematic.

“The first time it rained, we were running around with buckets,” Warwick said, adding that last season linebackers coach Joe Barry texted to tell him, “It’s raining in my office.”

The upkeep won’t keep the Rams from staying longer, if need be.

In 2016, in concert with the city of Thousand Oaks and Cal Lutheran, they signed a two-year deal that included three one-year options to use the site. The Rams paid for construction of the facility, and also for construction of the parking lots and fields, which will be left to the school when the Rams depart.

“We thought it would be a five-year plan at the worst,” Warwick said.

But the completion of the Inglewood stadium, originally slated to be finished for the 2019 season, was pushed back a year. And with the stadium the main focus, the permanent facility also was delayed.

The Rams have met with architects to start that process but have not settled on a location or parcel of land. Once they do, it could be two to three years before the facility is complete.

The Rams, originally scheduled to leave Cal Lutheran after the 2020 season at the latest, probably will need a few more years. If they do, Cal Lutheran President Chris Kimball said he would welcome the opportunity to discuss an extension. The Rams have been “great” partners, he said.

“Everybody out here would say this has been a win-win-win,” Kimball said, “and if it can continue a little while longer I think we’d all be happy.”

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gary.klein@latimes.com

Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein


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