By HCR Staff | Dec. 27, 2019
In 2018, Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay could do no wrong. Every decision seemed to be the right one, and anyone in his orbit automatically was deemed a head coaching candidate.
The fawning by the national NFL media was over the top–the question “Is Sean McVay the greatest ever NFL coach?” was treated as a serious one. Even the New York Times led a piece about McVay with a Mozart comparison.
Much of the attention was well-deserved. The facts include McVay being the youngest head coach to ever lead a team to a Super Bowl–that is no small accomplishment. And the Rams have been on an ascending arc upon McVay’s arrival.
And to be clear, we here at HCR feel he is one of the best head coaches in the league as well–certainly top quarter…but that’s a long way from the greatest of all time.
This year, however, we feel he’s the top underachiever amongst his peers. And like the quarterbacks, unfortunately, head coaches get the disproportionate share of the credit, and the blame.
Why do we feel this way? Let us count the ways.
McVay has had no shortage of talent. On offense, McVay possesses a much better than average wide receivers group in Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, and Josh Reynolds. He has two above average young tight ends in Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett–in fact, the Rams just rewarded Higbee with a new contract. The running backs group is at least average to slightly above average with Todd Gurley, Malcolm Brown and young Darrell Henderson. The line is at a minimum average–tackles Andrew Whitworth and Rob Havenstein, and young players in Austin Corbett, Brian Allen, Jeff Noteboom and Bobby Evans. Yes, it’s had injuries, but look at the San Francisco 49ers OL injuries this year–head coach Kyle Shanahan has been juggling all year, including starting a guy who played in the AAF. On defense, McVay has arguable the best defensive player in football in Aaron Donald. On top of Donald, he has Michael Brockers, Clay Matthews, Eric Weddle, Jalen Ramsey (earlier Marcus Peters), Dante Fowler, Troy Hill, Nickell Robey-Coleman, and Cory Littleton. Finally, he has a top three kicker in Greg Zeurlein and perhaps the best punter in Johnny Hekker.
McVay has coaching talent around him. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is one of the best in the game, as is special teams coach John Fassel. Passing game coordinator Shane Waldron often is mentioned as a head coaching candidate. Run game coordinator and OL coach Aaron Kromer is very experienced, as is assistant OC Jedd Fisch.
McVay has a wealthy owner. Owner Stan Kroenke is among the wealthiest of NFL owners–he has few peers when it comes to money. As a consequence, the Rams don’t lack for resources. Contrast this with ownership in places such as Cincinnati and Oakland, where ownership’s primary asset is the football team.
McVay doesn’t have a hostile local media. Unlike head coaches in Dallas, Philadelphia, or Boston, for example, McVay doesn’t have to contend much with a feisty local press corps. Los Angeles is such a big place that the Rams are almost an afterthought, and right now, certainly behind the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Dodgers when it comes to attention. Think about the emotional energy that Jason Garrett or Doug Pederson or Bill Belichick have to expend every day with their local media – McVay doesn’t have that issue.
So with all of these assets, McVay goes into Sunday fighting for simply a winning record. But it’s not just the record that bothers us, it’s been the week-to-week product.
Our biggest complaints about McVay’s performance this year? Game-to-game consistency (or lack thereof), and the alarming inability to make in-game adjustments.
This year, the Rams, on a week to week basis, have been unpredictable. The very best head coaches will have duds now and then, but the consistency of the product won’t vary too much. This year, we simply didn’t know what we would get out of the Rams every single week. There were a few highlight performances, but mostly it was meh. What the heck happened in their first loss to the 49ers? The loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers? The loss to the Dallas Cowboys? The victories against the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns? The loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? For a coach of McVay’s caliber, this was unacceptable.
We can only conclude that McVay has struggled with ascertaining his team’s identity, all year long.
Finally, McVay’s vaunted offensive system–and style–got figured out. That’s okay; it’s going to happen. Things come and go in the NFL all the time. But we sensed some inability on McVay’s part to adjust during games, and that is what disappoints us. Too many times this year, McVay got figured out during games, and he simply couldn’t do anything at all. This is inexcusable, particularly with the talent available to him. In the first 49ers loss, McVay appeared to wave a white flag by the end of the first half. Same thing in the victory against the Chicago Bears. The loss to the Steelers felt the same way as well.
Sean McVay should have a better 2020; he’s too talented, driven, and passionate not to. But for 2019, he underachieved.