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Sean McVay isn’t the first NFL coach to deal with burnout and he won’t be the last

McVay isn’t the first coach in NFL history to deal with burnout

NFL: Los Angeles Rams OTA Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past week there’s been a lot of speculation on why Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean Mcvay is considering potential short-term retirement at the young age of 36 years old. McVay is one of the youngest coaches in the NFL. While he’s been in the NFL since 2008, he’s only been a head coach the past six seasons.

NBC’s Mike Florio “reported” that McVay is leaving because he doesn’t want to be apart of a multi-year rebuild.

My understanding is it’s not because of burnout or he wants to get into TV, he won a Super Bowl and now he’s looking at a multi-year rebuild that he just doesn’t want to be apart of.”

Meanwhile, there’s growing speculation and reporting that McVay is dealing with a lot emotionally both on and off the field and he’s dealing with a form of burnout. NFL Network’s Peter Schrager who speaks to McVay regularly said,

“I just think he is so burnt out and I’m not speaking on behalf of him, but I’ll say as someone who speaks to him often, this season has been really tough on him. And I’m talking mentally, emotionally, all of it, and it’s paired with real life stuff.

It wouldn’t be surprising if McVay is burned out. Everyone who’s ever been around McVay understands how high-energy he is and how much he puts into the game. He’s not someone that’s going to put in 50 percent just because he’s tired on a certain day.

For the first time in his coaching career, the Rams finished with a losing record. While that’s not a reason to leave, given all of the injuries that the Rams went through, it was a very draining season on everybody.

Combine that with McVay’s grandfather passing away and his wife’s family being from the Ukraine and that would be a lot on anybody, let alone a football coach.

There’s a reason the average age of the NFL head coach is 50 years old. It’s at this point that their lives have already mostly been established. They’ve been able to start families and establish their personal lives. McVay only got married this past offseason and at some point he’s going to want to start a family. Is that something he can do simultaneously while putting everything into coaching?

While citing burnout for leaving the NFL coaching sphere is rare, it has happened before. Not only has it happened before, but it’s happened to a pair of Hall of Fame head coaches.

In 1978, legendary coach John Madden of the Oakland Raiders surprisingly walked away from coaching at the young age of 42. Madden was the youngest coach at the time and was two years removed from winning the Super Bowl.

After the Raiders failed to make the playoffs for just the second time in Madden’s tenure, he retired from football permanently. At the time, Madden cited burnout and health issues,

“I gave it everything I have and just don’t have anything left...I want to find out if there’s more to life than being a football coach. I have a notion there must be something else. I’ve coached for 19 years, working at my job every moment I’m awake...I don’t have hobbies; I don’t hunt or fish or play golf; I don’t even have a garden. I don’t know how it is to live like anyone else. This is a good time to find out.”

At the time, much like McVay’s situation on potentially leaving a rebuild, there were rumors and speculation that Al Davis was disappointed with Madden’s coaching performance in the 1978 season. Davis shot down those rumors in Madden’s retirement press conference.

The second head coach to leave due to burnout is one that Rams fans should be familiar with. Following his first losing season in five years with the Philadelphia Eagles, Dick Vermeil walked away from coaching in 1982. Like Madden, this was also two years following the Eagles’ trip to the Super Bowl.

In a tearful retirement press conference, Vermeil said,

“I know I pushed myself beyond the point. But with a break, I think I can regroup and regenerate the enthusiasm and the energy that it takes to do it my way. If I can’t do to my standards, I’m not going to do it...The pressure became so intense..A whole lot of things caught up with me. They started eating away at me.”

A few months after retirement, Vermeil cited burnout as a reason why he knew he had to leave coaching.

“At the time, it was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. But I knew I had to. I was a mess. Whatever term you want to put it: burnout, depression, emotionally drained. I was so passionate about what I was doing and so intense that it became a bigger thing than I was prepared to handle.

Madden only coached 10 seasons before he knew enough was enough and that it wasn’t good for his health. He never returned to coaching and became one of the best broadcasters that the NFL had ever seen.

Vermeil was just 46 years old when he retired from the Eagles and had been coaching just seven years before calling it quits. He also spent time in broadcasting before returning to coach the Rams 15 years later.

Burnout is nothing new for McVay. This is something that he’s been worried about and discussing openly since 2020. In the summer of 2020, following the 2019 season in which the Rams missed the postseason, McVay said,

“That’s something that I do need to be aware of because if you’re not careful – I just know the way that I’m going at it, you’re like, realistically, this isn’t the right way to do it, but you’re such a grinder and it’s kind of being able to step back, being still is going to be a key thing...I’m gonna get married next year, obviously want to be able to have kids. That perspective of, all right, now you’ve got a real reason to live when you’ve got a family, you’ve got something else.”

Burnout doesn’t apply to everybody. Other coaches deal with it differently than others and that may be something that McVay is trying to actively figure out so that he does have a better balance. It could be one of the reasons that the Rams are considering bringing in a veteran offensive coordinator such as Frank Reich or Kliff Kingsbury.

With three division titles, one Super Bowl, and another Super Bowl appearance to his name, McVay has accomplished a lot in six years as the Rams head coach. He’s earned the privilege to step back and evaluate what he wants to do.

Until McVay makes a final decision, we won’t know exactly the reason why he’s considering stepping down. As it stands, all anybody can do is speculate. However, when it comes to burnout in the NFL, McVay isn’t the first NFL coach to deal with it and he certainly won’t be the last.