Rams: Why Sean McVay Isn’t the Coach of the Year

There is no doubt that Sean McVay has done an outstanding job for the Los Angeles Rams offense this season.  Under his predecessor, Jeff Fisher, the Rams had the worst offense in the NFL.  The young rookie head coach has flip-flopped that standing to where L.A. now leads the league scoring with nearly 33 points per game.  Jared Goff has improved under McVay’s tutelage and the weapons they’ve put around him.  While McVay is garnering most of the early season vote for Coach of the Year, I beg to differ for one major reason. . . An NFL head coach should encompass the entire team.

The great head coaches in this league pay attention to every aspect of the game and manage accordingly to the flow of each match-up.  I’m not sure how Sean McVay can do that with his head buried in the offensive playbook while his defense is playing on the field.  How can he argue a call or throw out the challenge flag if he isn’t paying attention to the game?  A head coach should be standing on the sideline ready to get into a players face in case he makes a mistake on a given play.  McVay acts more like an offensive coordinator than a head coach.

Granted, many head coaches will pay more attention to one side of the ball.  Mike Mularky of the Titans, or Doug Pederson of the Eagles and even Kyle Shannahan of the 49ers generally focus on the offense more than the defense or special teams.  The difference between these guys and McVay, other than not being carded to see an R-rated movie, is that those three head coaches and virtually every other are actually watching the game and making decisions — even when their offense isn’t on the field.

Now, one could make the argument that McVay made a smart move along with the front office to allow long time great defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to basically be the head coach for the defense.  McVay has that wonderful luxury of not having to even look at the field when Phillips’ defense takes over.  Smart? . . . perhaps.  But that doesn’t make you the Coach of the Year?

An NFL head coach must know what’s going on in all three phases of the game.  I laugh when I see McVay sitting on a Gatorade cooler staring at the playbook while his team is in the middle of a game.  As far as I’m concerned, I don’t believe someone should win such a great award by only paying attention to one aspect of his team.

Bill Belicheck is known for his genius intellect as a defensive head coach.  His offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels does a great job calling plays and getting his offense prepared for game-day.  But Belichick still oversees the offense, gives his input and most important is able to scheme and prepare for his opponents strengths and weaknesses.  Andy Reid is one of the longest tenured head coaches in the NFL because he is involved with the offense, defense and special teams.  Even though he’s an offensive guy, he understands that he’s in charge and shows it every day by being the team leader.  He also watches film on his opponents in every phase of the game so he can help his staff put together the best strategy possible.

That’s what head coaches do.  Their job title is “Head Coach.”  Not offensive or defensive coordinator.  Not special teams coach or the secondary coach or even the wide receivers coach.  They all have their individual role to play and are all important. However, a great head coach will check in with their respective position coaches to get updates and give input on how to improve the game plan.  They actually watch the players play!  What a concept!

I think of a guy like Mike Zimmer who gets left out of the conversation all too often.  He’s in the talk this time around for head coach of the year and deservedly so!  The Minnesota Vikings are 7 – 2 with one of the league’s best defenses, which is Zimmer’s forte as the former D-Coordinator for the Bengals, Cowboys and Falcons.  The difference between Zimmer and McVay is that the seasoned veteran understands that he needs to show his players that he has his finger on the button for every player and every scheme.  Zimmer may work with the defense more than the offense because he’s a defensive minded coach and that shows by his teams performance over the past few seasons.

Yet, the Vikings are not treading water with Case Keenum at quarterback.  They’re actually driving the boat and scoring points at a much higher clip than usual.  Nobody expected a signal caller who was cut by the Rams last season to become one of the league’s top passers in 2017.  But that’s what great coaching is all about.  The head coach needs to look around and evaluate all his players.  Zimmer could have tried to get Bradford healthy to come back and reclaim the starting QB position.  Bradford’s injuries and poor play hampered that.  Teddy Bridgewater is now eligible to play and while there were talks about Teddy taking over once he was ready to play, Zimmer put an end to that idea rather quickly.  Keenum and the Vikings top-skilled position players have developed a rapport with their new quarterback and it would be a sin to make a change now because this team is playing excellent football.  The biggest reason for the Vikings success is that hard-hitting, ball-hawking defense.

Players have been known to rally around Zimmer and play very hard for him because of his demeanor and love for his players.  He’s a tough guy but an emotional one as well.  That combination earns him the respect and empathy among his players.  You’d be hard-pressed to find a coach as beloved by his guys as Mike Zimmer everywhere he’s been.  For that and other reasons I pick Mike Zimmer as the 2017 coach of the year as we stand here in week 11.

Again, I give Sean McVay a ton of credit for reviving the Rams offense and it’s obvious he has a great and creative offensive mind.  If Wade Phillips wasn’t running the defense, I doubt McVay would even be in consideration for Coach of the Year.  In all my years watching football, I’ve never seen a coach even sit down to take a breather, stare at a playbook for 15 minutes or relax his legs because he’s old and tired..  McVay doesn’t watch half of the game which means he has zero input on defense and special teams.  I mean how could he?  McVay is the head coach and by definition is supposed to get his team as well prepared for every game and adjust to how each game plays out.  How can McVay do that if he’s sitting on the sideline caressing his lovely playbook?!

There’s no doubt that Sean McVay deserves a bunch of credit for turning that offense upside down from worst to first.  He’s done a remarkable job getting the most out of his players.  If Wade Phillips wasn’t running the defense then McVay wouldn’t be able to get away with just focusing on the offense.  Luckily for McVay, Phillips is his football soulmate and allows McVay to concentrate on his offense.  Even though this odd situation is working out well, if the committee wants to give Sean McVay the Coach of the Year Award then it better have Wade Phillips name right next to his. One couldn’t do their job to the best of their ability without the other.  A match made in football heaven.

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