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Sean McVay is back, but Rams must build sustainable culture around head coach

The marriage continues for a least one more year. A healthy environment could let it flourish for longer.

San Francisco 49ers v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The decision by Sean McVay to return to the Los Angeles Rams extends his pact with the team for one more year. We still await word from LA’s best player, Aaron Donald, whether he will also come back for another run at a championship in 2023.

The vast majority of fans will be satisfied if all we get from McVay, Donald, Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp, and Jalen Ramsey is a victory in Super Bowl LVI and then whatever they accomplish together next season. It’s all setting up for one final ride before the onset of a new era in 2024, even if some of the younger stars like Ramsey or Kupp stick around past then.

But the challenge in front of owner Stan Kroenke, COO Kevin Demoff, and general manager Les Snead is to help build a sustainable environment around McVay and allow the head coach to flourish with the team for years to come. It’s about tapping into the longevity of the youngest lead man in the NFL despite putting the weight of the franchise around his neck for the last six years.

They’ve already secured a chance at a last dance, but perhaps keeping McVay around to help design the next iteration of the Rams is still on the table. Evaluating the coach’s future prospects first requires taking inventory of how he got here in the first place.

Why is McVay specifically prone to burnout?

McVay asserts that his struggles with burnout is a years-long problem, and that it’s something he’s had trouble managing since becoming the lead man for the Rams.

But what is the difference between the supporting cast around McVay now versus when he took over in 2017?

The Rams’ coordinators in McVay’s first season were Matt LaFleur, long-term friend of McVay and now head coach of the Green Bay Packers; Wade Phillips, one of the most decorated defensive coordinators in NFL history; and John Fassel, who held the title of interim head coach in 2016. Also on the staff were Shane Waldron (Seahawks OC), Joe Barry (Packers DC), Ejiro Evero (Broncos DC), Greg Olson (favorite to become Jets OC), and Zac Taylor (Bengals HC).

NFL: Los Angeles Rams-Training Camp
McVay and Shane Waldron in 2019
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Flash forward to 2022 and the staff has some rising stars that could draw coordinator or head coach opportunities this cycle, but there are also coaches that have not drawn any interest from other teams in larger roles - why is that?

Eric Yarber seems to do well with the receiver room, but there’s never been a whisper of him becoming a coordinator somewhere. Zak Kromer was initially on the staff only because his father, Aaron, was the offensive line coach. On the defensive side Chris Shula is a life-long friend of McVay but has always flown under the radar.

These aren’t personal attacks, but I am questioning what you are left with after the rest of the NFL has picked away at your coaching staff.

Then there are the hires that didn’t quite work out last year. Liam Coen is headed back to the college ranks and taking his old job as the offensive coordinator at Kentucky. Ra’Shaad Samples - reportedly handpicked by assistant head coach Thomas Brown - was by all accounts not ready for the role of running backs coach (he’s 27). How much of a toll did it take on McVay when he essentially had to take on the role of head coach and offensive coordinator while his second man, Brown, had to assume the duties of Samples?

The coaching staff faced a great deal of change after a disappointing 2019 season. McVay, who had not hired an OC after losing LaFleur in 2018, decided to bring on Kevin O’Connell (now Vikings HC). The first we publicly heard of burnout to the point the coach considered retirement wasn’t until after the 2021 Super Bowl victory.

Was the 2022 coaching staff so bad that it almost pushed out it’s lead man?

What needs to change in order to support McVay?

The biggest question facing the 2023 coaching staff is whether defensive coordinator Raheem Morris returns or if he will take a head coaching job elsewhere. Morris is a NFL coaching veteran and someone McVay leans on heavily, so it’d be a big loss if he’s not back in Los Angeles next year.

Regardless of Morris’ status, the Rams still need to hire a coordinator on the offensive side - and it seems McVay is leaning towards a more experienced option than he’s historically chosen. Landing someone like Frank Reich or Kliff Kingsbury would take a certain weight off the shoulders of the head coach. It might even signal that McVay is willing to give up play calling duties and move into a more executive role with the team.

The position coaches on offense also need overhauled, and Mike LaFleur is reportedly likely to join the Rams’ staff. Kevin Carberry has been enigmatic as the offensive line coach - perhaps LA would be better off with an NFL veteran in this spot as well? Zac Robinson and Thomas Brown will likely draw interviews elsewhere and they’d leave big shoes to fill.

What needs to change in order to better support Sean McVay and promote a more sustainable culture around the head coach?

The answer is hiring competent coaches that can carry their own weight and bring independent ideas to the table, so McVay doesn’t have to do all the thinking and heavy lifting all the time. Of course that’s easier said than done, but it could be a theme we see as the Rams put together their new staff for 2023.

The best case scenario

Perhaps, if McVay gives up play calling duties and moves into a more executive role while still maintaining the effectiveness he’s shown in his first six years as a head coach, he won’t feel as weary as he normally does at the end of the season. There’s no reason to expect other teams around the league to stop pilfering the Rams’ staff, but the team should still strive to create a flatter organization around the head coach. Empower individuals to take on a larger role with the team, which empowers McVay to seek balance between his personal and professional lives.

There’s also the idea that winning cures all wounds, and the Rams returning to a power in the NFC conference with strong seasons from the core players and breakout years from the next generation could convince McVay to lead the team for a long while. If the future is more than pending retirements from Aaron Donald and Matthew Stafford, or the inevitable contract impasse from Jalen Ramsey, maybe McVay could talk himself into more than just one last dance.

San Francisco 49ers v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Harry How/Getty Images