With apologies to Doug Pederson, Mike Zimmer and a strong cast of other worthy candidates, Sean McVay should be the NFL Coach of the Year winner. No coach has done more facing more questions entering the season than the 11-4 Los Angeles Rams, your shocking NFC West champs.
This has nothing to do with age. Yes, by now you surely have read that McVay is 31 years old. Indeed, he’s the youngest head coach in modern NFL history. That’s a stunning reality, but this belief is rooted completely in meritocracy — not in a terrific storyline.
The Rams entered this season with 10 straight losing campaigns. They were 4-12 last season in a tumultuous return to L.A., and Jeff Fisher was canned midseason. The roster wasn’t bare, but Jared Goff looked like a project and Todd Gurley appeared broken. On top of that, a once-impressive defense fell back in 2016.
But credit McVay for getting the most from Goff, a Pro Bowl alternate, and Gurley, a legitimate MVP candidate this season. And McVay’s most commendable move might have been landing Wade Phillips — a former head coach twice his age — to commandeer the defense. It is a top-shelf unit again. Moreover, GM Les Snead also deserves credit for diffusing the Aaron Donald contract situation, as Donald is unofficially the most destructive interior presence in the NFL.
All of this has painted an obvious template for many other NFL teams to follow this offseason. The young-gun offensive-minded head coach isn’t to be feared. In fact, we could see a few try to mimic the Rams’ blueprint to look for their own guru.
On the one hand, we’d invite NFL teams to seek new blood in their future head coaches and remove ageism from the equation. McVay being 31 was all anyone could talk about when he first got the job, but behind the scenes in other NFL cities, team officials quietly were peering in on L.A., knowing this could be a game-changing move.
Some — in hushed voices — wondered aloud if it wasn’t too soon for McVay. Other decision makers raved about his coaching chops and lauded the Rams for having the stones to hire a guy who wasn’t as old as a few of the players on his roster.
Now no one is talking about McVay’s age. He’s been that good. And we think that will lead to a few younger, more non-traditional candidates getting jobs. That could end up being a trend that opens doors for some fantastic future head coaches. Or it could end up being a troublesome trend that derails a few men’s careers unfairly.
For every Jon Gruden, Mike Tomlin and Bill Cowher — the 35-and-under coaches who rightfully were elevated to head-coaching perches when they were — is a Lane Kiffin, an Eric Mangini, a Raheem Morris or a David Shula. All of these men can coach. But not all of them were given a fair shake after their initial head-coaching experiments failed to varying degrees.
Kiffin clearly knows his stuff, but it has taken him almost 10 years and three college coaching stops to find his footing again after being fired by the Oakland Raiders’ Al Davis after a 20-game flier. Mangini — once dubbed the “Mangenius” — is now out of the NFL, as is Shula, who helps run the family steak business. Morris is an offensive assistant for the Atlanta Falcons after being dubbed a defensive savant and the next Tomlin when the Bucs made him head coach at age 32.
The point is that teams need to find the right coach, not follow the current wind direction. With a slew of teams moving on from old-school coaches — including the Chicago Bears, who might seek the proper Sherpa for Mitch Trubisky — it’s very possible many will be replaced by young, offensive-minded coaches.
Not all of them will have first-year success, a la McVay, and some might flop entirely. Teams must find the right candidates, offense, defense or otherwise. McVays don’t grow on trees. This is the worry when you see how a team such as the Bears might proceed. Are there new, fresh head-coaching candidates to be discovered? Indeed. But teams seeking changes shouldn't lock themselves into a formula that worked for the Rams but hasn’t worked out for other teams.