If there’s a silver lining in the Los Angeles Rams finishing with a disappointing 5-12 record this past season, it’s that the team can get a jump start building the next coaching staff around Sean McVay. Change has been the only constant as it relates to the Rams’ coaches since McVay came to Los Angeles in 2017. Getting assistants pilfered by other teams over and over again is not a new problem, but the weight of McVay’s choices are as significant this offseason as they’ve ever been.
The dilemma facing Sean McVay as he constructs his support staff transcends football and sports - he’s become the face of the franchise more closely related to the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. He’s now in the plane of the Jack Welch’s (General Electric), Mary Barra’s (General Motors), and Bob Iger’s (Disney) of the world. Only the most competitive and high performing individuals can understand and appreciate the looming staffing decisions in front of the head coach.
This isn’t Brandon Staley choosing an offensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Chargers - the opportunity to work with a blossoming quarterback, Justin Herbert, is the true selling point there. Instead, coaches join the Rams for only one reason: to study under McVay and accelerate the trajectory of their careers. Being a coach in the Rams’ building is like going back to school, but only that school has the best career fair in the county and almost guarantees you a better job.
From McVay’s perspective he needs people that bring out the best version of him - that keep his competitive juices high but also to the extent he can keep a level head.
To understand where the Rams coaching staff is going, we first have to examine the times it has been at its most functional since 2017:
OC - Matt LaFleur
DC - Wade Phillips
Somewhat forgotten over the last six or so years is that the Rams weren’t just hiring the youngest head coach in NFL history when they handpicked Sean McVay, they were also joining him with one of the most decorated defensive coordinators of all time in Wade Phillips.
Phillips took full ownership of the Rams defense during the first couple of years with McVay at the helm, and it was fairly common for the head coach to be alone on the sideline studying opposing defenses and plotting the next offensive possession when Phillips’ unit was on the field. McVay has evolved beyond that point - he’s a true NFL head coach now - but back then he operated more as a glorified offensive coordinator.
LaFleur, while relatively unknown to the NFL community at-large back in 2017, was a long-term friend of McVay and the two worked together in Washington. LaFleur was hired as the OC for the Tennessee Titans after one year, but it took a while for McVay to backfill his position.
OC - Kevin O’Connell
DC - Brandon Staley
McVay has commented that Phillips’ defensive scheme felt stale at times, and the head coach thought his defense was falling behind the shifting tides of the league.
Enter Brandon Staley who implemented his iteration of the Vic Fangio scheme - it was clear as soon as training camp that McVay and Staley were heading towards an iron sharpens iron scenario. Los Angeles was a breeding ground for innovation back in 2020, and that season set a path for the Rams to win Super Bowl LVI a year later.
What should change schematically for 2023?
McVay’s primary focus heading into the 2022 season was a more effective rushing attack, though his offense struggled mightily in this aspect of the game before Cam Akers’ late-season surge (which came far too late to salvage the season). The next offensive coordinator for the Rams must bring a fresh approach to running the football, and that person will probably help decide who will lead that charge at the position of offensive line coach.
Mike LaFleur, brother of the aforementioned Matt, could be the right man for the job. He coached an impressive rushing attack with the New York Jets this past season before rookie Breece Hall was lost for the year with injury. LaFleur also did a fine job of involving receivers in the running game to create misdirection, because only a single step the wrong way by a linebacker can create important space in the NFL.
If the Rams want to promote someone internally, Thomas Brown seems to get the credit for Akers’ turnaround in production late in the year. He’s been on the team for several years and last season took up the mantle of tight ends coach and assistant head coach.
Building a sustainable culture for the long haul
McVay needs to surround himself with coaches he trusts and those he is comfortable delegating to. It’s no longer sustainable for the head coach to be the center of the Rams’ solar system, and instead others must start carrying their own weight.
If the Rams hire the right assistant coaches this offseason, we could see the team return to winning and be led a refreshed McVay. The upside of these decisions could keep the team together for the foreseeable future, but if you get this wrong it could all come spiraling apart and head straight for a rebuild.