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The OC Files: Should Sean McVay stay in-house with Zac Robinson or Thomas Brown?

Should McVay stay in-house to hire his offensive coordinator?

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

Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay is in need of a new offensive coordinator. While Mike LaFleur is thought to be the front-runner for the position around league circles, nothing is official. Names like Frank Reich have also been brought up as someone who could be considered from outside the organization. Meanwhile, Thomas Brown and Zac Robinson have been considered popular in-house options.

This week, I’ve done a series called “The OC Files”, essentially breaking down the philosophy of each of these coaches. Earlier in the week, I discussed whether LaFleur is the right hire after being fired by the New York Jets or whether McVay should opt for more experience in Reich.

Grouping the in-house options together, we’ll now discuss the options of Zac Robinson and Thomas Brown.

In the past, McVay has not gone in-house when hiring his offensive coordinators. McVay has done a very good job developing coaches, but that hasn’t necessarily resulted in in-house coordinators. After bringing Matt LaFleur with him in 2017, McVay didn’t have an offensive coordinator in 2018 or 2019 when LaFleur left for Tennessee.

It’s worth noting that McVay lost two guys that he could have developed for these positions in Zac Taylor and Shane Waldron. Taylor became the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals while Wadron became the Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator.

In 2020, McVay hired Kevin O’Connell from Washington who had experience under Jay Gruden which was similar to McVay’s background. According to Gary Klein of the LA Times, O’Connell worked with McVay and other coaches to help put together game plans. He also oversaw meetings while coaching Matthew Stafford and the other quarterbacks.

After losing several offensive assistants in consecutive offseasons, McVay hired someone he had experience with in Liam Coen as the offensive coordinator last season. Coen replaced O’Connell after he was hired as the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings.

Coen had spent three years previously with the Rams, helping coach wide receivers and quarterbacks. He left for one year to be the offensive coordinator for Kentucky.

Under Coen, the Rams offense struggled and had their worst season under McVay. While the offensive line was a reason for that, the Rams struggled in the second half of games and ranked just 18th on third downs. This is an area where Coen would have had his hands on throughout the season.

This leads us directly to Robinson. If McVay were to go this route and go with the natural path of development, Robinson would make the most sense as an in-house option. Robinson was the Assistant Quarterbacks Coach in 2019 before moving to coach wide receivers in 2020. He moved back to Assistant Quarterbacks Coach in 2021 and then was named Quarterbacks Coach and Passing Game Coordinator prior to last season.

This is the same development path as Taylor who was the Assistant Wide Receivers Coach in 2017 when he joined the Rams before he was promoted to Quarterbacks Coach in 2018 and eventually hired by the Bengals. Waldron took over as the Quarterbacks Coach and Passing Game Coordinator once Taylor left and then he was hired as the offensive coordinator of the Seahawks.

The Rams quarterback coaches and passing game coordinators have typically moved into the full offensive coordinator position whether with the Rams or somewhere else.

Robinson has been with the Rams since 2019, working his way up through the assistant coaching ranks. It’s hard to know exactly what Robinson has done in terms of game-planning, but the next step for him would be offensive coordinator. It’s rumored that if Raheem Morris gets a head coaching job, he would take Robinson with him.

Despite all of the changes to the coaching staff, that included letting go of Kevin Carberry, McVay opted to keep Robinson. It’s clear that McVay likes what Robinson brings to the table or he probably would no longer be on the staff.

The biggest thing when it comes to promoting someone like Robinson is that he won’t bring a lot of new ideas to the table. He doesn’t have past experience as offensive coordinator and hasn’t been a coach outside of the Rams building. That’s not to say that he won’t bring his own stuff, but he’s been coaching under McVay for each of the past four seasons.

While Mike LaFleur comes from the McVay-Shanahan offensive coaching tree, he’s been a coordinator and called plays with the Jets the last two years.

With someone like Robinson, it’s also unlikely that McVay would give up play-calling. Robinson is going to make a good offensive coordinator or even head coach in the NFL. Unfortunately, it just might not be with the Rams.

That bring us to the other in-house option which is Thomas Brown.

Brown has been with the Rams since 2020, coming from South Carolina. Brown started as the Rams Running Backs Coach, and after just one year, he made such an impression that McVay promoted him to Assistant Head Coach.

Last season, Brown was moved to Tight Ends Coach so that he would have more of a hand in the offense. After Ra’Shaad Samples left for Arizona State in the middle of the season, Brown went back to coaching the running backs while also still coaching tight ends.

After Brown went back to coaching running backs last season, Cam Akers started playing as well as he’s played since his rookie season. Over the first 11 games, Akers had 117 touches for 395 total yards and four touchdowns. He nearly doubled that over the final four games with 84 touches for 508 total yards and three touchdowns. Akers’ level of play was night and day.

While some of it may have had to do with opportunity, tight end Tyler Higbee had a career-high 72 catches this past season. His 620 yards were also the most he’s had since 2019. A lot of that came in the first 10 games of the season in which Brown was primarily coaching tight ends.

Brown’s work with the Rams hasn’t gone unnoticed around the league. Over the last two years he’s gotten head coach interviews. He was a candidate for the Miami Dolphins position last year and has interviewed for the Houston Texans already in this hiring cycle.

A focus this offseason for McVay is going to be re-vamping the running game. It’s why Mike LaFleur is seen as a front-runner for the position. LaFleur will be able to bring over some of the Shanahan running concepts that have done so well.

However, if LaFleur makes a surprise move and goes elsewhere, that may be why Brown is such a fit. When Brown took over at Running Backs Coach late in the season, the Rams running game made an almost immediate improvement. This is certainly an area in which Brown could be beneficial.

After spending each of the last two years as the Assistant Head Coach, offensive coordinator would be the next logical promotion. Brown is also someone who wouldn’t be afraid to challenge McVay in a healthy way. McVay probably wouldn’t give up play-calling in this scenario, but having Brown in his ear during games wouldn’t be a bad thing.

With LaFleur as the current front-runner, the only way McVay would stay in-house would be if LaFleur surprises and takes an offensive coordinator job somewhere else. If Brown gets passed over once again for the open offensive coordinator role, it will be interesting to see if he looks for opportunities elsewhere to continue to grow as a coach.

The biggest concern if McVay were to stay in-house is that many of the same problems from last season would remain the same. Some would like to see McVay give up play-calling and that likely wouldn’t happen with Robinson or Brown.