Sean McVay doesn't have time for Rams to suck

Charles Robinson
NFL columnist

IRVINE, Calif. — Sean McVay had three hours. Stashed away by the Los Angeles Rams in a hotel room – after a first job interview for their vacant head coaching job had gone into overtime – he was given a little time to kill before an on-the-fly meeting with quarterback Jared Goff.

Hitting the pool was an option. Maybe have a little snack or some coffee. Even a nap wasn’t out of the question after a rigorous interview with the Rams’ brain trust. Instead, McVay reacted in his typical fashion. He went to his room, pulled out his computer and queued up all of his Washington Redskins film. Three hours later, he had created an entire tutorial. We’re talking slides, concepts, film – a crash course on offensive design that could probably be taught in every NFL quarterback room next season.

“We just wanted him to have a little get-to-know-you meeting with Jared,” general manager Les Snead recalled later. “Just get a feel for each other.”

What Goff ended up getting was a three-credit course on how the Rams’ offense would function around him. And what McVay ultimately got was a job.

This is how you become the youngest coach in the history of the NFL. You take a meeting where the Rams assumed you’d likely be a year or two away from being ready, and you force them to pencil you into a second interview within the first 30 minutes. You leave them so spellbound that they ask you to stay one extra night and then stash you in a hotel until they can track down their presumptive franchise quarterback for a meeting. And when the Rams tell you to relax for a few hours before meeting Goff, you pull out your laptop and crank out an entire offensive tutorial for him.

If there’s any question about whether Jared Goff can make positive strides in the NFL next season, Sean McVay isn’t wasting any time finding the answers. And he started before he even landed the Rams job – in that very first encounter – a meeting that wasn’t just about teaching an offense, but also about seeing whether Goff was going to take responsibility for some of the failures in his rookie season.

“I wanted to see if this was a guy who lost some confidence. I also wanted to see if he took the accountability or he kind of looked to play the blame game,” McVay recalled recently. “… The tendency is, when things don’t go well, a lot of people decide when there’s not people around to hear them say it – they blame their coaches or teammates or whatever it is. There’s a lot of people who deflect blame instead of taking accountability and ownership.

“He took the blame.”

New Rams head coach Sean McVay works with second-year quarterback Jared Goff. (AP)

There are already a million stories out there about McVay and Goff and where this Rams franchise is going. Most of them orbit around some prodigal chestnut – how McVay became the youngest coach in NFL history at 30 years old; or how the 22-year old Goff is slated to be the youngest starting quarterback in the NFL when the season starts. But of all the tales that tie them together, that first meeting might be the most poignant, because it represents the bottom-line, no-screwing-around attitude that has settled in.

Simply put, if Goff is the real deal, McVay is going to make that evident this season. Not in 2018. Not in 2019 or beyond. The growth and signs of development have to start now. Long-term plans are great – and Goff is still framed in that light – but the upward trajectory is expected to start taking shape immediately, if not back in that first January meeting. Whatever the quarterback expectations are from the fan base, they won’t exceed McVay’s designs or aspirations.

“Peyton [Manning] and Tom [Brady], in terms of just their motivation – and you hear some stories about Drew Brees – those guys are maniacal in their approach,” said McVay, now 31. “That’s why they are who they are, man. They’re not [screwing] around.”

How does he stoke that in Goff?

“It’s got to be you,” McVay said. “To me, you’re either wired that way or you’re not. Because that’s all intrinsically motivated. You want to be great because you love it or you’re such a competitor.”

McVay doesn’t know if Goff is that type of player yet. Snead doesn’t know it. In reality, nobody inside the Rams knows it. In truth, only Goff can see inside of himself right now. But guys like Snead and others inside the Rams have spent the past year looking for markers. And maybe the biggest one thus far came at the Rams’ lowest point.

That was after week 17, when the Rams were embarrassed at home in a 44-6 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. This was the deepest the hole had gotten. There was no head coach. The season had collapsed. The fan base was roiled. And lest anyone forget it, Eric Dickerson wasn’t about to stop letting everyone know how little he thought of the organization and Goff, in particular.

Right then, in that early January period, Snead watched Goff’s behavior as closely as ever. With no coach and no set direction, what would he do? Would he disappear or sulk? Would he adjourn to an offseason vacation? Or would he simply press pause on his own development – which is often the natural reaction of players who lack a head coach and a defined compass for their offseason.

“He still showed up at the facility by himself,” Snead recalled. “Getting in there, putting on the film, maybe not knowing what direction we’re going in. He was showing, ‘All right, I’m at least going to start working on this on my own and try.’ … He didn’t disappear.”

McVay likes that story. It makes him smile. Because that’s a clear marker of internal drive – not waiting for someone else to set the agenda. Not stopping to wonder who the new boss is going to be. Not wasting time.

Or in the parlance of Goff’s head coach, not letting a few hours pass between meetings without creating an offensive tutorial that could set the tone for all that comes after it. McVay’s got big plans, too. New England Patriots-type offensive plans, where your stars are fundamental but the roster is filled with role-players who devour opponents through matchup dominance. Expect to see a lot of defensive manipulation with the Rams’ tight ends. Expect Todd Gurley to return to his dominant centerpiece role. And expect some other interesting beta tests – like fashioning Tavon Austin as more of a traditional downfield wideout rather than a gadget player.

There’s a lot in store for this team offensively. And that’s not even considering what Wade Phillips will do with the defense.

This is why the Rams have optimism right now. Especially on offense. Not just because Goff is physically getting stronger and is at his ideal playing weight of 220 pounds. Not just because he took McVay’s offseason prodding and challenges in stride. And not just because Rams employees never saw more than a few days go by without Goff milling around their complex this offseason – in film, weight training and at every available workout and classroom session.

The Rams are optimistic because McVay has an abundance of drive and designs. And he doesn’t have time to screw around.

“The best make others around them better,” McVay said. “If you’re really a ‘G’, you bring people with you, man.”

McVay is going. And since that January meeting – before he even had the job – he was drawing up plans to bring Goff and the Rams with him.

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