With Raheem Morris leaving the Los Angeles Rams for a head coaching job in Atlanta. Sean McVay must turn his full attention to replacing him. There are certainly good options and L.A. players are letting their preferences be known.
The big question is whether or not to bring in new blood from the outside. Although McVay brought in outsiders with his first two defensive coordinator (DC) hires, Morris did have past ties and overall, McVay has a strong history of bringing in coaches that he’s previously worked with. It would not be the least bit out of character for him to hire someone from his past or make an in-house move.
Luckily, McVay doesn’t have a 30 year career to research and his defensive ties can be covered from three basic sources, the mid-200-’s Tampa Buccaneers and Florida Tuskers (UFL) as well as the 2010’s Washington Commanders. Here are all, I believe, of the possibilities.
In his own backyard
Jimmy Lake- Goes back to McVay’s early days as an offensive assistant with Tampa Bay when he was a defensive backs coach. Lake’s ties to Raheem Morris are deeper. Morris was also a Bucs coach at that time and he would later hire Lake when he got his first shot as an NFL Head coach.
Aubrey Pleasant- Was a defensive quality control guy in McVay’s last two Washington seasons and came west with him. After four season s as cornerback coach, he left L.A. for a promotion with the Detroit Lions. He re-joined the Rams in 2023 as defensive backs coach and pass game coordinator.
Chris Shula- In that original group of McVay assistants. He’s moved up steadily since 2017, beginning with inside/outside linebackers and graduating up to passing game and pass rush coordinator titles.
Another bite from the apple
Joe Barry- Was DC in Washington for McVay’s final two years and came to L.A. with the original group of coaches. Also has deep ties to Raheem Morris from early 2000’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers and both are schooled in a similar style defense.
Ejiro Evero- Worked 10+ years as an assistant/quality control on offense, defense, and special teams before McVay hired him as safeties coach in 2017. When he left in 2021, his responsibilities were the entire secondary and pass game coordinator. DC in Denver and Carolina in the past two years.
Eric Henderson- Over his five seasons in L.A., he added run game coordinator to his duties as defensive line coach. Recently left the Rams to take on a multiple role as co-DC, run game coordinator and defensive line coach at USC.
Brandon Staley- Let go from his head coach job with the San Diego Chargers after two seasons and 14 games. Only spent one season in L.A., but turned the defense in a top unit, finishing first in the NFL in points allowed, total yards allowed, passing defense and third in rushing defense.
Wade Phillips- McVay’s first DC hire. Had a three-year good run (2017-2019) before contract was not renewed. Brought the 3-4 base defense the Rams still use. Almost 50 years of NFL experience and has worked in the UFL/XFL the past two years.
Blasts from the past
Jim Haslett- Has extensive experience as a DC and HC over a 30-year career. Actually hired McVay when head coach of the UFL Florida Tuskers in 2009 and were together again in Washington from 2010-2014.
Robb Akey- Only logged three seasons in the NFL, two of those as coach mate of McVay in Washington. But has an extensive background as a DC in the college ranks, currenty at Central Michigan.
Greg Manusky- Had gigs as a DC with San Francisco 49ers, San Diego Chargers, Indianapolis Colts, and Washington Commanders, where he worked with McVay. Presently mentoring linebackers for the Denver Broncos.
Never a bride, nor a coordinator
Thad Bogardus- Came to L.A. as part of McVay’s original staff and worked with defensive line and linebackers before not having his contract renewed for 2023. Now with the Minnesota Vikings.
Kirk Olivadotti- 14 years as a defensive assistant with the Commanders, three of those with Sean McVay, highlight a 25 year coaching career.
Steve Jackson- Spent 2011 in D.C as safeties coach. Been coaching the secondary since the beginning of the current millennium.
Brian Baker- Been coaching defenses since 1984. Was paired with McVay on 2014 Washington Commanders squad.
Not yet ready for prime time
Marcus Dixon- Assistant defensive line coach on the Rams 2021 Super Bowl winning season who left to join the Denver Broncos the following offseason. Logged time at his alma mater, Hampton, before joining McVay’s staff.
Andrew Carter- Joined L.A. in 2023 after a season with the Denver Broncos. Before that, he had college jobs as a graduate assistant at Kansas, and defensive lie gigs at Hampton and Eastern Illinois.
Joe Coniglio- Sean McVay’s college roommate has been in L.A. for one season after years at the college level. Most recently, he mentored at The Naval Academy, but lists a couple of stints at Kent State and others at Rhode Island and Northern Michigan.
Navy defensive assistant Joe Coniglio ultimately could not say no to Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay, who was his college roommate for four years at Miami (Ohio) and remains one of his best friends. @navyfb @ramsnflhttps://t.co/LwexT81QN5— Capital Gazette (@capgaznews) February 22, 2023
Skyler Jones- One and done (2022) with the Rams as a defensive line assistant.
Jonathon Cooley- Spent 2020 through 2022 in L.A. as a defensive assistant. Last year, he moved on to the Carolina Panthers as cornerback’s coach.
Jacob Burney- With McVay from 2010-2014 on the Commanders staff as Defensive line coach. Retired in 2018 after 24 NFL seasons and 11 in the college ranks
Perry Fewell- Spent 2015-16 as Defensive backs coach in D.C. as part of 22 pro seasons. Interim Head coach on two separate occasions (Buffalo Bills, 2009 and Carolina Panthers, 2019). Currently tasked as NFL’s Senior Vice-President of Officiating Administration.
Chad Grimm- Washington defensive assistant from 2015-19. Retired to loan brokering and real estate business.
Jumped to the other side of the ball
Bobby Slowik- Currently a hot ticket in the coaching ranks as offensive coordinator for the Houston Texans. Started his coaching path as a defensive assistant with the Commanders from 2011-2013.
Richard Hightower- Long-time Special Teams coach, did four seasons with Sean McVay in D.C. (2010-2014), with two of those coming on defense.
So much for the history lesson, any possible candidates for DC?
Yes. In-house candidates would be Chris Shula and Aubrey Pleasant and the recently departed Eric Henderson should garner strong consideration.
They all know the Rams system, not just the defense, but how McVay does things from an overall view. Each has had different positional responsibilities as well, and have taken on some coordinator aspects. While young and relatively inexperienced, the Rams could bring a veteran consultant, similar to what they have done in the past with Jay Gruden and Mike Munchak. Maybe a long-time colleague like Jim Haslett.
Would Brandon Staley want to return to a coordinator role? Will the new Carolina Panthers coach keep Ejiro Evero? The buzz on the Chargers was the defense was too complicated and over-thought itself into problems, not allowing players to play fast and loose. Evero has done fairly well considering the hands he was dealt in Denver and Carolina and looks to be an upcoming star.
Jimmy Lake and Joe Barry have the backgrounds, but are more likely to follow Raheem Morris to Atlanta. Lake’s title as assistant head coach makes me think he’s grooming for a head coaching job and not a coordinators. McVay had three chances to make Barry the DC while he was with the Rams and decided on Wade Phillips, Brandon Staley and Raheem Morris instead.
So, what will it be? Should the Rams bring in some new blood from the outside? Or follow McVay’s history of bringing in a coach he has ties to?