One of the annual pieces I always enjoy, though not from the vantage point as a Los Angeles Rams fan, is Pat Daugherty’s ranking of all 32 NFL head coaches at Rotoworld. For years, it was always a reaffirmation of the beleaguering mediocrity of former Rams Head Coach Jeff Fisher.
Two years ago heading into what would be Fisher’s final season in charge and the first in LA, I said this of Daugherty’s ranking of Fisher at #18:
One pullquote from that, emphasis mine:
“Fisher, six seasons removed from his most recent winning campaign, might finally have the offensive counterbalance to his ever potent defense”
That’s what Fisherball does. It muddles reality into a paste, shoves it through a sieve and smears it on stained glass. What seems close to reality isn’t.
He’s six years removed from a winning season.
That offensive counterbalance he got in Todd Gurley who was as good as you could possibly have expected? He headlined the league’s worst offense.
As we saw, that offensive counterbalance never materialized as the Rams would go on to put up the league’s worst offense, one that was one of the worst of the last three decades.
So yeah. Not fun.
Fast forward to a year ago when Sean McVay was an unknown quantity, albeit one we were all eager to find out just what kind of a head coach he could be in his first year. The results were, well, spectacular. The Rams put up one of the best offenses in the NFL en route to their first winning season since 2003 and earned a home game in the wild card playoffs.
So now with the fun restored, Daugherty’s rankings take on a bit more interest. There is, though, the difficulty of sample size. Whereas Fisher was a known commodity after more than two decades as a head coach on his resume, McVay has a single season under his belt. His biggest tests are still in front of him, both in terms of personnel management and (hopefully) deeper postseason runs. So where to rank him?
9. Sean McVay
Career Record: 11-5 (.688)
With The Rams Since: 2017
Last Year’s Ranking: — —
Coach worship can be a dangerous thing. Today’s Chip Kelly is often tomorrow’s Marc Trestman. One-year sample sizes mean very little. We can still marvel at what the youngest coach in NFL history did in his first year on the job. The 2016 Rams scored 224 points under Jeff Fisher, 40 fewer than the second-most futile offense, the 1-15 Browns. Sean McVay doubled the Rams’ 2016 output by Week 15. The rookie head coach didn’t just embarrass Fisher, he oversaw the league’s No. 1 offense. It was only the second time ever a team went from worst to first in scoring (1965 49ers). Amongst many changes, McVay’s most important was his system for audibling. McVay hurried his offense to the line so he could survey the defense and bark adjustments at Jared Goff before his headset was cut off with 15 seconds remaining on the play clock. If that sounds less like a brilliant innovation and more like something every team should have already been doing, that’s because it is. That will be the challenge for McVay in 2018. Innovation has a short shelf life in the copycat NFL. The best coaches find new edges on a yearly basis. McVay has set the bar extremely high. 2018 will be about staying above it.
The Rams didn’t actually have the top scoring offense in 2017, but this doesn’t seem the time to quibble over semantics. The point is that McVay oversaw a sea change in terms of the quality of football the Rams played and has completely reset the bar after just one season. Now, the challenge is to continue to push that bar upward and to see if they can match their regular season efforts while getting more out of the postseason than a single game appearance.
Of course (as always), this isn’t beyond him:
"You’ve got to earn it every single day in this league. It’s too competitive to think that what we did last year will have any sort of carry over."— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) March 5, 2018
Coach McVay checks in from the #NFLCombine pic.twitter.com/8MEhp66lEg
So ranking McVay is tough on the merits. He’s the reigning NFL Coach of the Year and deservedly so. If he can stack up a three-year or five-year run beyond the bar he set last year, we could be talking a top 5 or even top 3 head coach soon. But as it stands, McVay had a hell of a successful rookie season as a head coach.
But he, and Rams fans, are sure to want more in 2018 and beyond.