Column: A renewed perspective is evident in Sean McVay. Will it resonate with the Rams?
Sean McVay was about 30 seconds into his opening remarks of a videoconference when a Rams staffer alerted him to a problem.
Coach, you’re muted.
“Have I been muted the whole time?” McVay asked.
Pretty much since the beginning.
“That was a hell of a speech, you guys,” he joked.
McVay was back.
Same sense of humor. Same spiked hair. Same high-speed coach speak.
Yet something was different about McVay on Friday when he spoke publicly for the first time since deciding to continue coaching the Rams.
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He was calm. His words had more depth to them. Once the youngest coach in NFL history, the now-37-year-old McVay had the demeanor of someone with six decades of head coaching experience, not six years.
“I think the most important thing for me moving forward is not necessarily talking about it but being about it,” he said.
By his own admission, McVay lost his way last year during the Rams’ 5-12 season, his first losing season as a head coach. As the defeats piled up, the tightly wound McVay internalized his frustrations, withdrew from others and lived a tortured existence, all of which went against what he preached.
He described his return as a recommitment to his fundamental coaching principles — to live in the moment, to focus on the process instead of the results, to concern himself only with what he can control, to enjoy a job others could only dream of having.
The concepts had lost meaning over time, failures gradually transforming his personal commandments into a series of empty cliches. Yet as McVay contemplated his future after the season, he came to recognize their importance.
“It’s one thing to know that they’re true,” McVay said, “and then it’s another thing to truly feel those things.”
The realization points to why McVay will have a chance to win again, whether it be next season or in the distant future. Problems can’t be remedied if they aren’t addressed. McVay has taken on his straight on.
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Previously, success had spared McVay the unpleasant task of self-examination. Whatever problems were developing under the surface, he was still delivering victories. To his credit, when he was stripped last year of his cloak of infallibility, he looked in the mirror.
This was a critical development for the Rams. McVay is the single-most important figure in the franchise. Players will come and go. As long as McVay remains with the Rams, he will be the centerpiece around which their teams are built. His ideas on offense provide them with a philosophical framework. His charisma serves as their heartbeat, the environment at their Thousand Oaks practice facility often a reflection of how he feels.
“The coach is establishing a culture, figuring out different ways that we can push the envelope schematically and have a positive peer pressure amongst our staff to continue to learn from one another,” McVay said.
He said he has accepted the reality that his team doesn’t have the draft-pick capital it once had to address its shortcomings on the trade market. The Rams’ salary-cap situation has already forced them to release two key defensive players in linebacker Bobby Wagner and edge rusher Leonard Floyd.
“Let’s not try to write the story before we even open up the first page of the book,” he said. “Let’s figure out what we can do with the circumstances.”
Considering he became a head coach at 30 and was told for years by nearly everyone how great he was, McVay exhibited a refreshing level of self-awareness.
He said he didn’t want the uncertainty about his future to be a distraction every offseason. He acknowledged he contributed to that, pointing to how he was noncommittal when asked whether he would return the day after the Rams won Super Bowl LVI.
McVay said of the continuous speculation over his mental state, “It gets to a point where it’s just kind of roll your eyes because that’s how I would feel.”
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He said he didn’t want to leave the Rams after a five-win season.
“I would not have felt comfortable walking away from a situation where I think I owe more to people than that,” McVay said.
Opportunities to move into broadcasting presented him with outs, but he refused to take them.
“I think there’d be a convenient narrative to say, ‘Oh, you want to do something else,’ ” McVay said. “That just wouldn’t have been the truth.”
The most convincing evidence of his commitment to his back-to-the-basics approach is that he’s offering his best players the same advice that he’s trying to follow himself.
McVay said of quarterback Matthew Stafford, defensive tackle Aaron Donald and wide receiver Cooper Kupp, “The great ones elevate people around them naturally, and it’s not about bearing the weight of feeling like you have to do everything as much as, hey, by your everyday approach, by your enjoyment for this game, by you playing the way that you’re capable of, by you just being who you are consistently in the meetings, on the practice field and then when the games come about, I believe good things will happen.”
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Charlatans claim to have answers they don’t have. McVay didn’t have any such pretenses.
“It’s all words right now,” he said.
Has his shift in perspective made him any more capable of dealing with the burdens that are a part of his job?
“I’ll be able to truthfully answer it when you really go through those things,” he said.
Sean McVay isn’t hiding. He’s not using his Super Bowl ring or 67-41 career record as cover. He’s wagering that he can follow the same wisdom he dispenses. At stake is his reputation — and the Rams’ future.
Go beyond the scoreboard
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