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Sean McVay’s last ‘internal’ coordinator hire didn’t go so well

Liam Coen lasted only a year as LA’s OC in 2022 before returning to Kentucky

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Rams have filled their vacant defensive coordinator opening as Sean McVay promoted linebackers coach and pass rush coordinator Chris Shula to replace Raheem Morris who was hired as the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons. Shula was gaining interest for similar openings across the league and was slated to interview with the Miami Dolphins on Thursday.

Promoting from within his own coaching staff is a bit out of character for McVay. Usually McVay turns to external candidates because they bring a skillset or schematic background that he is unfamiliar with, and their addition offsets the brain drain that the Rams’ coaching staff faces on an annual basis.

The only similar hire we can point to in a coordinator role is Liam Coen in 2022, and history does not reflect well on that decision.

Read: Why this is Sean McVay’s least consequential coordinator hire

Now, with that said, Coen isn’t a true “internal” hire as he spent three seasons in Los Angeles—two as an assistant receivers coach and another with the quarterbacks—before transitioning to the college game and serving as the offensive coordinator at Kentucky. Coen found success in his year away from the Rams and coached Will Levis to a strong year that ultimately boosted his draft stock as a future second round pick for the Tennessee Titans.

When then-offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell was hired away as the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, McVay turned to Coen as a familiar face to lead LA’s offense. In hindsight winning Super Bowl LVI extended the Rams’ season by as many as five weeks while other teams around the NFL were putting the final touches on their coaching staff.

Sure, a lot went wrong—including unpredictable injuries—for the Rams in Coen’s lone year as offensive coordinator in 2022. he returned to Kentucky in the same role after. The offensive line started to crumble as early as the first game. Matthew Stafford, almost as a consequence, fell soon after and was shut down midseason with concussions and a spinal cord contusion. Perhaps Coen’s stint as OC was doomed from the start or it’s simply a coincidence that McVay’s only hire from his own coaching tree quickly flamed out.

The point is that Coen’s time as the lead offensive coach for the Rams underscores (1) how rare it is that McVay has promoted from within his own coaching staff to a coordinator role, and (2) his last “internal” promotion was ultimately unsuccessful.

We’ll never know the details, but was McVay’s first choice for DC Dennard Wilson from the Baltimore Ravens who instead ended up with the Titans? How hard did the Rams pray at Ejiro Evero before it was confirmed he’d remain with the Carolina Panthers? The other options McVay was considering, such as Aden Durde of the Dallas Cowboys and former Washington Commanders head coach Ron Rivera, don’t exactly inspire confidence.

Did Sean McVay choose Chris Shula because he’s a young, up-and-coming coach in the NFL ready for the next level in his career? Or was this the best the Rams could do once the dust settled elsewhere around the league?

Time will tell if Shula can be successful as the defensive coordinator of the Rams.