THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Although Sean McVay is the youngest head coach in modern NFL history, he sees himself as the end product of many decades of football knowledge passed down by Jon Gruden, Mike Shanahan and his other veteran coaching mentors.
The Los Angeles Rams are banking on this precocious 30-year-old to end a playoff drought that began when he was in high school.
The Rams introduced McVay as the 23rd head coach in franchise history Friday. The former Washington offensive coordinator made no guarantees for a franchise with 13 straight non-winning seasons, but vowed to create a team built on character and hard work.
“Becoming a head coach is something that you always dream of when you get into the coaching profession,” said McVay, who entered the profession in 2008.
“But one of the things that you realize is that these opportunities never present themselves unless you’re fortunate to be around great coaches and mentors to help guide you along the way.”
Still 11 days shy of his 31st birthday, McVay publicly accepted his first head coaching job at the Rams’ training complex with self-effacing confidence and gratitude.
He also had a few words of assurance for his mother, Cindy, who told him that his life will never be the same after becoming the face of LA’s longest-tenured football team.
“It’s going to be a challenge, and it won’t be easy,” McVay said. “But I can’t wait to go to work.”
McVay replaces Jeff Fisher, who capably shepherded the Rams’ move from St. Louis to Los Angeles last year, but never managed a winning season in five years with the club. They haven’t made the playoffs since the 2004 season, and Southern California hasn’t seen a winning Rams team since 1989.
McVay’s exceptional performances in interviews with the Rams persuaded owner Stan Kroenke and their brain trust to take a chance.
“Anytime you get someone who’s passionate about being the best every single day, you want to jump on board,” general manager Les Snead said. “That’s a special quality, and he’s passionate about football. He’s passionate about the process. We’re very aligned in that way.”
Snead participated in the Rams’ coaching search while the team made no announcement about whether he would be retained, but he confirmed he is staying with the club.
McVay’s coaching staff also is taking shape: He confirmed that 69-year-old NFL veteran Wade Phillips will be his defensive coordinator, and the Rams are retaining longtime special teams coordinator John Fassel, who served as their interim coach for the last three games.
McVay got his start right out of college at Miami (Ohio) as Gruden’s assistant receivers coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, mostly running errands and soaking up his boss’ famed work ethic and intensity.
McVay’s grandfather, John, was a longtime NFL personnel executive with the San Francisco 49ers, who once employed Gruden’s father, Jim, as a scout.
After one season, he went to work for Gruden’s brother, Jay, with the UFL’s Florida Tuskers. McVay then landed a job on Shanahan’s staff with the Redskins, and he stayed on when Jay Gruden took over three years ago. McVay spoke to Shanahan by phone shortly after getting the job Thursday.
McVay will call plays for the Rams’ offense, the NFL’s worst for two straight seasons. On his first day on the job, he gave strong support to Jared Goff. The No. 1 pick in last year’s draft took a beating in a winless debut season as Los Angeles’ starter.
“This is a guy we believe in,” McVay said. “We’re encouraged and excited about developing him.”
Goff shared the enthusiasm after talking extensively with McVay earlier in the week.
“Coming out of my meeting, I felt like it was a guy that I would love to play for, and hopefully play a long time for,” Goff said. “I expect him to bring out the best in me.”
McVay initially thought he had never been to Los Angeles before this week, but then recalled he was in Thousand Oaks last summer to visit a sports academy.
He didn’t immediately connect that trip to the far-flung LA suburbs to his new job in the same town — a demonstration of both his narrow focus on football and the spread-out nature of the metropolis where his Rams will be competing with the Los Angeles Chargers for attention and wins.
McVay got a taste of exactly what he’s about to experience in the NFL and in Hollywood this week when he went to dinner with owner Stan Kroenke, Rams COO Kevin Demoff and Rams great Marshall Faulk at the famed Spago in Beverly Hills. Restaurateur Wolfgang Puck excitedly greeted the group with a request: “We need to find a coach!”
“I’m sure when he looked at Sean, he had no clue that Sean was interviewing to be the coach,” Demoff said.
The millennial coach had his own welcome-to-LA moment during the same dinner when actor Josh Duhamel and singer Fergie came over to wish Kroenke luck. When Puck came to the table, McVay could only chuckle.
“He kept asking Mr. Kroenke, ‘Have we found a coach'” McVay said, standing up from his chair for emphasis while retelling the story. “I wanted to say, ‘Hey, man! Right here!'”