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Why don’t other NFL head coaches struggle with burnout?

Perhaps Sean McVay’s young age is working against his favor or maybe it’s a generational issue

Los Angeles Rams v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jason Hanna/Getty Images

Ahead of Super Bowl LVI last season, Sean McVay started a chain reaction of retirement and burnout rumors after making what seemed to be a fairly harmless comment on coaching until he is 60 years old:

Hell no. No chance. I love this but doing this till 60 – if I’m doing it till 60, I won’t make it...

I love this so much that it’s such a passion, but... I’m gonna be married this summer, want to have a family and I think being able to find that balance but also be able to give the time necessary

McVay flirted with a career change to broadcasting after earning the title of world champion, but ultimately he elected to return to the Los Angeles Rams and forego a reported five-year, $100M contract with Amazon. Owner Stan Kroenke extended the head coach’s contract through the 2026 season ahead of training camp 2021. Reportedly, McVay’s extension puts him in the top three of head coaches across American Sports. The extension seemed to provide fans with closure that their team’s head coach had the financial security and resources to stave off the allure of a TV role.

Last offseason brought new challenges for McVay

The Rams won the Super Bowl during a year that brought the NFL’s first 17-game regular season and they played another four playoff games on top of that. Overall, their season was extended by an additional five weeks, which takes a physical and emotional toll on players and coaches.

While Los Angeles was making its playoff run, the Minnesota Vikings were honing in on Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell for their head coach vacancy but they lost not one but two assistant coaches when O’Connell brought tight ends coach Wes Phillips with him to Minnesota. The Denver Broncos hired away defensive backs coach Ejiro Evero as their defensive coordinator. The hire of Evero seemed to be a home run decision by the Broncos, but it continued the “brain drain” suffered by McVay’s staff.

By the time the Rams finished up with the Super Bowl and celebrating their victory, the rest of the NFL had already filled their coaching staffs and transitioned to free agency and draft scouting. McVay essentially picked from leftovers as he filled voids left by other teams pilfering his assistant coaches.

The results weren’t ideal. Ra’Shaad Samples was the 27-year old running backs coach, but he left for Arizona State before the conclusion of the regular season. Liam Coen struggled as a first-time NFL offensive coordinator and he seems primed to return to the college ranks.

Instead of delegating tasks to younger, ascending coaches, McVay likely brought more upon himself to overcome the shortfalls of some individuals on the offensive staff.

NFL: AUG 22 Rams Scrimmage
Sean McVay & Kevin O’Connell
Photo by Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

McVay faced new level of adversity during regular season

The injuries and constant churn of players through the 2022 season have been well documented, and there’s not much of a point to rehashing the details here. With that said, constantly plugging new players into the offensive long, changing the offensive signal caller each week over the middle of the season, onboarding a new quarterback in Baker Mayfield, and shutting downs star players with injuries likely all took a toll on the young head coach.

While it had mostly been smooth sailing for McVay since he joined the Rams in 2017, the ship ran straight into a massive storm this year.

And then there were the intentional moves the Rams made that just didn’t work out this year. LA’s return on investment from Allen Robinson's big free agent contract was minimal and far less than anyone could have expected. David Long was supposed to take a step forward at corner, but the Rams were forced to play rookies Derion Kendrick and Cobie Durant for most of the season instead. The plan to head into the season with Justin Hollins and Terrell Lewis at edge rusher opposite Leonard Floyd was a disaster.

The Rams were supposed to “run it back” in 2022, but instead injuries and failing offseason decisions ran them into the ground.

Why is McVay prone to burnout?

I have two personal theories for why the Rams’ head coach might struggle with burnout while it’s not much of a concern for most other lead men around the league.

1 - Most head coaches are not hired when they are 30 years old like the Rams did with McVay. Most are hired in their forties or fifties when after they’ve already had a chance to start a family and their kids are either adults or approaching adulthood. McVay hasn’t started his family yet, but it’s something he’s expressed a desire in. It’s much more difficult to balance the duties of coaching with the attention young kids require.

2 - It could be generational. McVay is one of only few millennial head coaches. Most individuals in the ranks quite literally come from a different time - they were raised with different values. Millennials have caused a stir in the corporate workplace by practicing or working towards a work-life balance. This is something McVay has heard for most of his adult life while it might not be as important to older coaches.

The idea of work-life balance goes out the window when you willingly take on the role of chief executive of an organization, whether that position comes in the NFL or the corporate realm. Executives must buy in with the understanding they are dedicating their lives to their work, and it’s a doable trade-off if they have the support of family and friends to help with the heavy lifting in their personal life.

Why don’t other head coaches struggle with burn out?

Pete Carroll earned his first head coaching job back in 1994, when McVay was eight years old. Carroll’s only break from coaching came in the 2000 season between serving as the HC with the New England Patriots and transitioning to the college ranks at USC. At 71 years old, he remains a fiery and energetic individual. What is his secret to success?

Andy Reid also joined the head coaching ranks during the 90’s, hired by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1999. He hasn’t had a break since but has managed to amass a 246-138-1 (64% win rate) record over his career. Reid is still considered among the best offensive minds in football, and he somehow is still able to generate outside-the-box ideas such as the below play the Chiefs rolled out against the Raiders this past weekend:

There are certainly other coaches that have been maintained a winning culture with their teams for a long time, and there are also younger head coaches that don’t seem to get as emotionally spent as McVay (at least publicly).

Kyle Shanahan has faced his fair share of adversity with the San Francisco 49ers after being hired by the team the same year McVay joined the Rams (2017). Shanahan has faced multiple seasons that have been derailed by adversity, including more than one year where the team lost its starting quarterback to season-ending injury.

Similar to McVay, Matt LaFleur got his first taste of adversity this season with the Green Bay Packers, but he’s still led the team to an impressive 47-19 record over four years. Still, you don’t hear (again, at least publicly) about LaFleur questioning his commitment to the Packers or to his career as a coach. What is the difference?