Sean McVay remains a football junkie even while stepping back

NFL

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay felt hot, sweaty and fired up.

Sure, he was sitting in his home office, stuck behind a computer screen talking to his players, but that didn’t stifle his passion as he readied for the season.

“I f—ing love football,” McVay said, shifting in his seat. “And I love you guys.”

Cooper Kupp laughed. Aaron Donald hydrated. Jared Goff smiled and nodded along.

It’s all part of the Sean McVay experience with the Rams.

The Rams are 4-1 as they prepare to open division play against the San Francisco 49ers (2-3) on Sunday Night Football (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC).

After an offseason packed with personnel changes, with McVay hiring three new coordinators and bidding farewell to running back Todd Gurley II, receiver Brandin Cooks and a host of defensive standouts, it’s the fast start few could have predicted. That is, unless you’re the players and coaches closest to McVay, who spent the offseason examining how to approach the season more like a CEO and less as an offensive-minded micromanager.

“He’s going to always push the envelope,” said cornerbacks coach Aubrey Pleasant, who followed McVay to L.A. from the Washington Football Team. “He’s going to always move forward.”

McVay experienced unprecedented success when he was hired at age 30 as the youngest head coach in modern NFL history, taking the 4-12 team he inherited and turning it into an NFC champion in two seasons. However, after winning back-to-back division titles, last season ended in utter disappointment with a 9-7 record, as the Rams missed a third consecutive playoff appearance because of a Week 16 loss to the 49ers.

But McVay didn’t sulk or try to recapture his 2018 model. Instead, he implemented change, starting with himself, then forged ahead.

“What I wanted to try to do is just be more present with our team,” said McVay, who is 37-16 through 53 games and a win away from tying Barry Switzer and Blanton Collier for the ninth-most wins by a head coach in the Super Bowl era through 55 games. “Be around defense, special teams and the offense a little bit more. Be around the staff members a little bit more.”

McVay hired 35-year-old offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell to manage each of Goff’s snaps and hired 37-year-old defensive coordinator Brandon Staley to dial up coverages that take full advantage of the dominant talents of Donald and cornerback Jalen Ramsey.

“Adding those guys has been huge in terms of being able to just kind of step back,” said McVay, emphasizing his trust in each assistant and his desire to empower them. “That’s definitely something that I’m trying to do.”

But even as McVay attempts to move through the season with more of a big-picture outlook, he remains as involved as ever.

“I feel like he has no days off — it’s all football,” safety John Johnson III said. “I don’t know what he does in his free time, but I would guess that it’s probably more football.”

Though McVay did reveal himself on “Hard Knocks: Los Angeles” as a somewhat normal rosé-drinking, pool-dipping 34-year-old, Johnson isn’t wrong.

Football runs through McVay’s veins. It’s in every fiber of his presence and he’s seemingly never afraid to show it.

“He’s always trying to tell jokes and it always relates back to football,” Donald said. “So everything he talks about always, somehow always circles back to talking about football.”

When put on the spot, Donald had difficulty recalling any of McVay’s comedy, though he delivered a laughter-inducing line of his own. “I don’t think it was funny,” Donald said, chuckling.

Left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who is four years McVay’s senior and among players who have built a great bond with him, says his coach is a “degenerate” for football.

“I don’t think the guy can ever get enough,” Whitworth said. “He loves it and it sticks out when he runs a meeting and you can feel his passion and his love for the game, and I think that helps you as a player feel good about it, too.”

Since becoming head coach, McVay not only has grown as an offensive mind but has improved his relationships and communication. He increasingly listens to coaches and players who provide input and feedback, while empowering his players through a leadership committee to say even more.

McVay remains a mainstay in offensive meetings given he’s the playcaller, though he’s no longer letting himself get bogged down by installs. And he’s made time to get more involved with the defense and special teams.

“He is in on all that and that’s where there aren’t many guys that can do what he’s doing in that fashion,” said offensive line coach Aaron Kromer, who joined McVay’s staff in 2017. “There’s not enough time in the day, there’s not enough brain power, but he does it.”

It might seem like overload, but for McVay, it has resulted in a more efficient process.

“It has been a better rhythm and a routine that I think will be more sustainable,” McVay said.

It has also produced results.

The Rams are in second place in the NFC West behind the undefeated Seattle Seahawks.

The offense is averaging 27.2 points per game, and the defense is allowing 18 points per game, ranking third in the NFL.

Donald has 7.5 sacks and is on pace for 24 this season, which would break the single-season record of 22.5 held by Michael Strahan and put Donald in contention to earn a third NFL Defensive Player of the Year honor.

McVay reinvented the Rams’ rushing attack without Gurley, as he moved to a committee approach behind Darrell Henderson Jr., Cam Akers and Malcolm Brown.

Together, the trio — along with other skill players who have been used in the running game — have rushed for 698 yards this season, the most by the Rams through five games since 1987. If they rush for 103 yards vs. the 49ers, they will be the third Rams team with 800 rushing yards through six games in the past 30 years. The previous two teams made the Super Bowl, with the 1999 team winning Super Bowl XXXIV.

And Goff is off to a fast start in his fourth season in McVay’s offense, passing for eight touchdowns with three interceptions, second only to the blistering pace he set in 2018, when he threw for 12 touchdowns with four interceptions in five games.

McVay credits O’Connell for Goff’s continued development.

“The leadership that he provides specifically for Jared as a sounding board, somebody that’s giving him feedback every single snap,” McVay said, “I knew Kevin was a great coach, but until you get to be with somebody, you can’t truly appreciate it.”

But it’s still McVay who brings the biggest spark.

“Yeah, he is a football degenerate,” Goff said, smiling, in agreement with Whitworth. “And is obsessed, absolutely.”

During training camp, McVay erupted with enthusiasm when Goff faked a handoff and then rolled to his right to complete a pass.

“Did you feel it?!” McVay yelled, before he busted out the Monday Night Football anthem. “Dun dun dun dunnnn … there it is, baby, love it! Football is fun!!”

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