24 Hours ... with Sean Mcvay
This is the fourth installment of The MMQBâs â24 Hoursâ series, inside-inside, multimedia stories for the 2017 NFL season, chronicling a day in the life of an important figure in pro football.After seven years in Washington, the last three as Jay Grudenâs offensive coordinator, a soon-to-be 31-year-old Sean McVay took over the Los Angeles Rams in January, becoming the youngest head coach in NFL history (modern era). Itâs been a whirlwind first off-season, though if you observe McVay running the team, youâd think heâs been at it for a decade. In May, during the Ramsâ third OTA session (which meant full days with the players and live practices), McVay welcomed us behind the curtain.* * *Los Angeles, Calif. May 24, 2017 9:43 p.m. PTSean McVay answers the door to his contemporary-style house in Encino Hills, a neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley northwest of downtown L.A. He moved in a few weeks earlier. His mother, an interior designer in Atlanta, has been furnishing the place. Sheâs off to a strongâand, to McVayâs occasional astonishment, expensiveâstart. But her work is far from done. About half of the homeâs 4,660 square feet remain bare. McVay lives here with his girlfriend, Veronica, who moved with him from Virginia.After McVay, the former offensive coordinator in Washington, got the Rams job on Jan. 12, he planned on returning to his Reston, Va., townhouse to gather his things. But there was too much to do in California. So Veronica and a few friends took care of clearing the townhouse, and it sold in a day. McVay never made it back.Heâs wearing his usual: shorts, t-shirt and running shoes. âCome in, make yourself at home,â he says.* * *10:01 p.m.McVay toured six houses when he got to L.A. The fourth felt like the winner. But then he saw this one. It overlooks Burbank and has an enormous open patio. The bells and whistles abound: a gas fire table near the edge of the balcony; a miniature balcony overlooking the pool; floodlightsâremarkably powerful floodlights; surround sound inside and outside; an Alexa system that controls the lights on command. (âAlexa, turn all off.â) And a glass wall that slides open at the push of a button, converting the living room into essentially a fancy covered patio.âPretty cool, huh?â McVay says as he reveals each nook and cranny. Heâs too earnestly impressed to be bragging. He grabs a beer and takes a seat near the gas fire table, only to discover that the cushions of his new patio furniture are damp. Oh well. Heâs calling it a night soon anyway. The youngest head coach in NFL history explains that the consequence of waking up early is going to bed at the hour of an old man.* * *May 25 4:01 a.m.The alarm was set for 3:45 a.m. And now heâs ready for work. The plan was to leave a little after 4:00. The camera crew following him today was to arrive at 4:10. They show up at 4:06. McVay is welcoming but clearly eager to go. The day is already slipping away.* * *4:17 a.m.McVay winds his black BMW 750i through nearly two miles of his Encino Hills neighborhood to the freeway. His commute to the Ramsâ temporary football offices at Cal Lutheran in Thousand Oaks is 28 to 30 minutes at this hour, depending on how you hit the lights. Some mornings McVay will listen to an audiobook. (Lately itâs been Extreme Ownership: How Navy SEALs lead and win.) Other mornings heâll call people back east. He can catch his parents at this hour. Today he just chats with the camera crew, as hip-hop plays quietly in the background. 24 HOURS WITH ... ADAM SCHEFTER: Behind the scenes with the NFLâs top newsbreaker* * *4:37 a.m.McVayâs office is sparse. Thereâs a large oak L-shaped desk and cabinet, and four screens: two computer monitors, a laptop and a large flat-screen, which displays the contents of McVayâs main computer. On the wall is a blowup picture of Rams linebacker Alec Ogletree leading a huddle. Thatâs it. Thereâs also a blowup of running back Todd Gurley and a painting of Eric Dickerson, but theyâre yet to be hung. The room comfortably fits two large leather arm chairs, a small leather sofa and a round table with three chairs. On the table is a list of hour-by-hour daily schedules covering all the way through August. In the back is a one-man locker room equipped with a shower and toilet.McVay, drinking black coffee and a sparkling water (Rams general manager Les Snead got him on it), is at his desk watching clips of plays from Atlanta and Washington that heâll be installing today for his young Rams offense. Itâs Day 3 of the third OTA session. Practice is from noon to 2:00, but players will arrive for meetings at 8:00 a.m. McVay wants to show examples of how these new designs play out against different defensive looks. âOne thing about going through all these clips,â he says with a smile, âis you gain a real appreciation for how good some of your former players were.â* * *6:10 a.m.Heâs still watching clips. The only break is for a bowl of cereal, which he takes back to his desk. Today itâs Frosted Flakes; the cafeteria was out of Frosted Mini-Wheats. He eats with a plastic spoon out of a small paper bowl. Distractions keep popping up, and he winds up barely finishing half. Itâs all McVay will consume for the next eight hours.* * *6:41 a.m.Offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur pops into the office. McVay and LaFleur have been friends since 2011, when they worked together on Washingtonâs staff. They discuss a wide receiver screen play.âI think itâs so hit-or-miss for a running back to block this defender when heâs offset,â McVay says, pointing to an example on the video.âSo you want me to switch it out?â LaFleur asks.âWell, Iâm asking your opinion here, too.ââYeah, I think it just depends. If you do have the running back aligned there, you have to have other plays off of that.âThe discussion continues for several minutes. They go over which plays to install today and which to hold until next week. Thereâs a fine line here, because in the NFL you donât have plays per se; you have variations of concepts. It all must tie together.* * *7:03 a.m.Tight ends coach Shane Waldron stops in. McVay also solicits his opinion as well on whether to put in the package he discussed with LaFleur. It directly affects Waldronâs players, and heâd prefer to wait until next week. âIf you donât mind,â Waldron says.âNot at all,â McVay says. âThatâs why Iâm asking.â* * *7:08 a.m.Now itâs Rams head trainer Reggie Scott who drops by. He has injury updates. McVay asks him which player so far has run the most total yards in OTAs. (The Rams track this data with a GPS program.) McVay guesses wide receiver Mike Thomas, and heâs correct. (Naturally; wide receivers run farther downfield on each snap than any other player, plus they must jog to and from the huddle.) McVay also guesses Todd Gurley is near the top because of the way he continues to run through the whistle. Scottâs polite tone suggests this guess is close but not spot on. âYeah, heâs top third,â Scott says.* * *8:00 a.m.Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is in the defense meeting room, addressing his whole unit. Heâs wearing a red plaid shirt but will later change into Rams gear. McVay stands in the back alongside cornerbacks coach Aubrey Pleasant. In a few minutes, Pleasant and safeties coach Ejiro Evero will take over, addressing the defensive backs. Theyâll go back and forth, playing off one another and challenging safeties and corners to understand who is providing help in Los Angelesâs matchup coverages. McVay sits quietly in the back, taking notes.* * *8:55 a.m.Now itâs McVayâs turn to run a meeting. Heâs addressing the entire offense. He jumps right in, no intro. âToday weâre going to be exclusively in â11â personnel (one back, one tight end), working against pressures.âMcVay calls on players at random throughout the meeting. Rams employees have come to fear this. Nothing is worse than the head coach catching your daydream in front of the entire room. From quarterback Jared Goff to the quality control assistants, many have learned the hard way to pay undivided attention. Some have even taken to keeping a cheat sheet at the front of their binder, listing all the Ram slogans and acronyms that McVay asks about. Itâs not unusual for McVay to call on a potential victim and hear frantic page-turning.A few weeks ago star defensive back Trumaine Johnson was asked to name one of the two Câs that define their culture. With abrupt certainty that only a corner can conjure, Johnson said commitment. Wrong. âBut he was so confident about it,â McVay later recounts for Veronica and friends, âthat I paused and thought, âson of a gun, am I wrong about the two Câs?â (For the record, itâs character and communication.) 24 HOURS WITH ... JOHN LYNCH: A whirlwind draft day for the new Niners GMTowards the end of the meeting, McVay goes through a tight red zone route combination. âHere weâd tell the F receiver on this stick route to tight-turn it.â The video shows a Washington receiver catching a short pass and turning upfield towards the end zone. The next clip shows the same play, only run a little crisper. âWe tight-turn it, get a little further away from the nickelback.â On screen, the receiver pushes the ball down just a yard short of the goal-line. âAnd then we give Todd [Gurley] another TD.â* * *9:50 a.m.Special teams coordinator John Fasselâknown as âBonesâ for his lanky buildâis leading the next meeting. Itâs in the same room as the offensive meeting and is slated to start at 9:50. The second the clock ticks over from 9:49, McVay calls out, âWhat time does this 9:50 meeting start?â Heâs busting Fasselâs chops, but the veteran assistant hastens anyway. Fassel dives in, full energy, a few seconds before the clock ticks to 9:51.* * *10:10 a.m.Itâs time for the full team meeting. This is where todayâs emotional tone is set. McVay explains that there will be a competitive session near the end of practice, offense vs. defense at full speed (no pads, so no tackling). Three drives, each valued at one point. The offense gets a point by either gaining three first downs or 40 yards. The defense gets a point by forcing a punt or turnover before then.McVay reiterates some of the mantras that he wants his team to live by. He talks about the importance of operating with poise and tempo. Of communicating. Of pursuing daily excellence. âWe expect to achieve and live our highest standards,â he bellows, pacing back and forth. âYou know those three things we have. Coach Wade Phillips, whatâs one of those three things?â McVay keeps pacing, knowing his renowned veteran defensive coordinator will answer quickly and get the ball rolling.Except Phillips says nothing.McVay stops and turns. âOur APP [slogan], whatâs one of its three things?â McVay asks again. Saying the three lettersâAPPâis a disguised lifeline for Phillips; a few weeks earlier Phillips himself had come up with the acronym. Heâd picked off three values McVay commonly preachesâapproach, preparation and performanceâand proudly announced, âI have an âappâ for that.â Now hereâs Phillips sitting in Row 1, before the entire team, drawing a blank. He starts to blush. âHelp him out!â McVay barks. âApproach, preparation and performance,â nearly 100 dumbfounded voices mutter. Giggles start to creep across the room. Purely by accident, McVay has caught his unlikeliest daydreaming victim yet. Phillips can only laugh.* * *10:25 a.m.More meetings with the offense. McVay focuses on wide receivers, going over the nuances of spacing, blocking rules and how to set up routes that achieve separation. There also is discussion about Jared Goffâs progressions. The emphasis is not just on where the ball goes, but also why. This is for everyone to understand.One player McVay calls on consistently is Robert Woods, a free-agent wide receiver formerly with the Bills. (And always by full name. Whatâs our rule for five-step timing on this play, Robert Woods? What do you do here against two high safeties, Robert Woods?) Shortly after the meeting, on McVayâs way out, Woods, a diligent student with whatâs planned to be a big role in Los Angelesâs passing attack, stops the head coach with a question. By the time he and McVay wrap up, five other players have gathered to listen.* * *NoonPractice time. McVay recently tore a quad sprinting, so heâs not running from station to station as much as he normally would. Though an observer would never know. The coach traverses the Ramsâ two fields, spending most of his time with the offense. Itâs McVayâs prime area of expertise, plus the defensive staff is highly experienced, starting with Phillips, who has served as a head coach in Denver, Buffalo, Houston and Dallas. Those coaches can run much of their own show.* * *12:21 p.m.The first of many offense vs. defense sessions is beginning. âLeft hash, â11â personnel!â McVay yells. âLetâs start this thing off right!â Then he turns his attention to his young quarterback. âAlright Jared, here we go buddy. Right tight, Y-left, draw left, 16-4 vice blaze. Hey, letâs set the tempo here. Letâs have a good day. If something bad happens, donât blink.â* * *12:30 p.m.The Rams are practicing a run alert play. Thatâs when the huddle call is a run but Goff has the option to throw a quick slant depending on the defense. McVay takes Robert Woods through it. âL 17-dancer, 13-slider. You get these corners, they play off just in no manâs land on you, when you get into a reduced split. We get it to you, right through that outside âbacker whoâs up on the line of scrimmage. You catch that thing clean, man. Julio [Jones] caught a couple of balls for about 20 yards. Itâs a great way to make people pay. And you throw the ball about four feet.â 24 HOURS WITH ... PATRICK MAHOMES: A top QB prospect prepares for his big audition* * *12:41 p.m.The receiver drills need more precision. âHey, listen! Listen! Listen! Listen! Listen!â McVay yells. âWhen we do this, in routes on air, come on man, youâre too on top of this, be three yards inside the numbers, right? Youâre selling this through to the hash. Give somebody room to feel this, know what I mean?â* * *12:54 p.m.âHey Robert Woods! Good finish, man.â* * *1:02 p.m.Backup quarterback Sean Mannion is intercepted on a deep ball. A receiver ran the wrong route, bringing the free safety into play. Mannion watched it happen and threw anyway.The defense, which has talked trash for much of the scrimmage, goes nuts. Someone yells, âYes sir!ââNo, no thatâs not âyes sir,ââ McVay hollers. âThatâs what happens when you do your own shit. I love that that just happened.â He walks over to Mannion. âHey, donât let [the receiver] screwing you cause you to make a bad decision. Because youâre going to bring the safety over there.ââI just donât want to throw from one side to the other,â Mannion says.âAnd hereâs what I would say to you: Throw it away,â McVay responds. âBecause thatâs the only play [available] when he screws you. Because when you stay on that side, that safetyâs going to key over the top.âMcVay keeps Mannion on the field for the next snap.âAlright buddy, letâs do this: right hash, â12â group, 3-jet Y bird slice.âBefore the snap, LaFleur whispers something to McVay about the interception. âI know, you canât do that,â McVay agrees. âBecause youâre going to take the safety to the freaking play. Thatâs what I said to him.âMannionâs throw on the 12 group, 3-jet Y bird slice is complete. McVay perks up. âGood. There you go right there. Good job, Sean.â* * *1:17 p.m.Mannionâs interception is one of several poor plays for the offense. McVay says for anyone in his vicinity, âDefense, you guys are kicking our ass on offense.â* * *1:26 p.m.Thereâs a problem: Soon-to-be-32-year-old center John Sullivan, a former Viking in his first year with the Rams, is too smart. Heâs reading the defense and immediately calling out perfect offensive adjustments. Thatâs great in live action but counterproductive in practice when youâre trying to develop your second-year quarterback. âHey, John,â McVay barks. âLet himââGoffââmake these calls!â* * *1:45 p.m.The defense continues to defeat the offense. McVay gets frustrated at his second unit. At the end of a third-down play that, in an actual game, would have surely been measured by the chain gang, he yells âTwoâs are off! [i.e., Second team, leave the field.] Point to the defense!â A little later, after the defense has won the drive-battle 3-0, left tackle Andrew Whitworth approaches McVay and tells him he got it wrong. The offense should have been granted a first down at the end of that second drive. The score should have been 2-1 defense. ALBERT BREERâS GAME PLAN: On Mike Zimmerâs new perspective, and his plan for the Vikings* * *2:05 p.m.Practice is over. The entire team is gathered at midfield. âFirst of all,â McVay says, âitâs a good start for next week. What we know is this: We go through some of those situations, itâs a great test of our poise, for everybody. But our communication, getting in and out of the huddle, weâve got to be better with that. It starts with me, okay? Weâve had three days of great work. Love your effort, love your intensity. Letâs see if we can start tightening up the screws. In the competitive period, give it up for the defense today, you guys got the best of us.â Muffled applause. âBut weâll come back, weâll continue to compete, weâre all making each other better. Whereâs Robert Quinn at? Give us a breakdown, Robert Quinn! Give us a breakdown, Big Rob!â1-2-3 Rams!* * *2:16 p.m.Drinking one of the dozens of smoothies that team nutritionist Joey Blake prepared for the team, McVay sits at his desk watching film of the practice, which ended seven minutes ago. In a few minutes the entire offensive staff will watch and analyze it together. Various staffers flow in and out, many catching snippets of McVayâs concerns. There were some time-related issues that hindered the practiceâs flow. The passing game could have been sharper. A receiver got hurt. The offense got shorted some yards by unfavorable spots of the ball. That one isnât a big deal, but still. Most maddening of all: The film reveals that defensive linemen consistently lined up offside. No one noticed.* * *2:53 p.m.In the offensive meeting room, McVay sits at the head of a long table, opposite the projector screen. The other eight chairs are filled by assistant coaches. Theyâll be there for the next three hours. McVay calls out every play beforehand, often analyzing from memory whatâs about to happen. He runs the remote, which can be maddening. Heâs known as a âremote tyrantââsomeone who rewinds plays again and again. He used to drive Jay Gruden crazy in Washington.* * *3:02 p.m.âTheyâre lined up offsides,â McVay says, pausing to examine the defensive line before the snap. âNo shit,â deadpans offensive line coach Aaron Kromer. The helmets of three defensive linemen are clearly in the neutral zone. âLook at these guys,â McVay whispers.* * *3:17 p.m.âThis is not a good route,â McVay says. âWatch this. Heâs been better than this.â The film shows Robert Woods getting absorbed by a press corner. âHeâs not threatening anybody vertical on this play.â Woods already knows this. Heâs the type who harps on his own mistakes. He had approached McVay after practice. Toward the end of the film meeting, when the position coaches each sum up their final thoughts, receivers coach Eric Yarber will admit that Woods is generally more consistent than he was today. Two bad routes were the difference. No one is worried. OFF-SEASON REPORT CARDS: NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West | AFC East | AFC North* * *4:41 p.m.McVay wonders something: Is his presence on the field during the hurry-up drills hindering the offense? Does he need to let the players grow under fire a bit more? He honestly doesnât know and asks the room what they think. Every coach assures him the current setup is fine.* * *4:49 p.m.âGood progression by Todd, man,â McVay says, watching Gurley make a blitz pickup from his running back position. In the offensive meetings earlier, Gurley had worn an affable, subtly bemused smile, making you wonder if his mind wasnât drifting toward topics a little more entertaining than the protection rules that were up on the whiteboard. But McVay called on Gurley several times, and each time his answer was quick and spot on. And now his actions on film verify his focus. McVay turns to running backs coach Skip Peete. âGurleyâs a smart guy, isnât he coach?â Peete concurs.* * *5:11 p.m.âThis is where my blood really boiled,â McVay says. The film shows the second-team offense lining up incorrectly just before McVay called off their drive in the scrimmage. âI yelled âTwoâs are off! Points for the defense!ââ He laughs.* * *5:33 p.m.One thing the film reveals: Whitworth was right. The offense had indeed gained three first downs on one of its drives. âI love that he cares so much, that heâs so competitive,â McVay says. This presents a golden opportunity: When practice resumes the following week, McVay will announce the mistake. The defense, which had been cocky and believed it won the scrimmage 3-0, will learn that the score had actually been 2-1. Theyâll throw a fit and cry politics. (McVay, being so offense-minded, constantly worries about playing favorites.) And from that, the next scrimmage will be infused with competitive energy.* * *5:42 p.m.McVay broaches an interesting topic with Peete and Kromer: Gurley needs to keep his shoulders squared downfield when running âduo,â which is an inside zone run with two double-team blocks. In the formation theyâre watching now, Gurley knows the run will often bounce outside. Thatâs why heâs turning his shoulders outside. But if he stays square, defenders will react differently and, long story short, itâll create better blocking angles for when the ball does bounce outside. McVay stands up to demonstrate. Peete and Kromer fully agree. âThatâs why I think Matt Forte was so good for you guys in Chicago,â McVay says to Kromer, who was the Bearsâ offensive coordinator under Marc Trestman. âHe was patient to the line, and he could jump cut with his shoulders square. Whoâs the other best duo runner in the league? LeâVeon Bell. Those guys are patient. They play with their shoulders square to the line of scrimmage. I think Toddâs going to be awesome at this play.â ROBERT SALEH, FROM 9/11 TO THE NINERS: Robert Klemko on San Franciscoâs new defensive coordinator* * *6:16 p.m.The meeting is over. The building is mostly empty. A three-day weekend is coming up, which McVay will parlay into a four-day break for everyone. After finishing some miscellaneous office work, he heads over to the trainers room to meet with Reggie Scott. Thereâs an update on the injured receiver. Scott also advises that the 35-year-old Whitworth and 30-year-old free-agent defensive end Connor Barwin should have their practice reps reduced. McVay agrees. Both veterans will hate it, but you have to save them from themselves. Before he goes, McVay gets instructions for healing his injured quad: light running over the next four days, but only on a treadmill, where he can regulate his speed.* * *6:37 p.m.Time to head home. But first, a quick shower in the one-man locker room at the back of his office. Usually McVay does this right after practice, before the coaches watch the dayâs film. Today there wasnât time.* * *6:46 p.m.On the drive home, McVay calls Robert Woods. âHey, I was thinking about our conversation after practice. We can definitely clean up a couple of those routesâyou can run them betterâbut donât let that take away from all the good stuff that youâve been doing, man.â McVay and Woods spend a few minutes discussing the specifics of those routes.âBut the main reason I was calling is because I could name about 25 good things youâve done over last week and dating back to the minicamp, too. So, keep being hard on yourself because thatâs why you are who you are, but donât let it affect your weekend, man. Youâre wired to separate, and youâve done it consistently. And just watching how conscientious you are, and how youâre competingâshowing the other guys how to compete, youâre making them better, too. And thatâs what itâs about.â* * *7:08 p.m.McVay gets a call from Mom. Just a quick check-in. Before hanging up, he remembers something. âHey those cushions on the patio chairsâhow are they at absorbing moisture? It didnât rain last night but they were a little damp.â* * *8:15 p.m.Veronica has just gotten back from the gym and isnât sure that sheâs presentable enough to be seen by The MMQBâs cameras, which have followed McVay inside. Her boyfriend chuckles at this.Rams assistant linebackers coach Chris Shula (son of Dave, nephew of Mike, grandson of Don) comes downstairs. He and McVay were friends in college at Miami of Ohio, and now Shula lives in one of the six bedrooms at McVayâs a house. The two coaches have a beer by the fire on the balcony while Veronica and a friend visiting from back east get ready to go out. The group has a 9:30 reservation for sushi on Sunset Boulevard. The fireside conversation never veers from football.* * *9:04 p.m.McVay trails the group out the door. âAlexa, lights off,â he says. Nothing happens. He tries again, this time with a more deliberate delivery, like how you talk to a dog that wonât sit. âAlexa, lights off.â Still nothing. âAlexaâ¦.lightsâ¦..off.â Finally, darkness.âHe loves that light-switching thing,â Veronica says. 24 HOURS: THE SERIES: Adam Schefter | Patrick Mahomes | John Lynch* * *9:17 p.m.An Uber takes the group to sushi. Just one complication: The driver speaks zero English. McVay, in the vanâs middle-row seat, pitches ideas to Shula (front seat) for how to explain that after the car reaches its first destinationâShulaâs girlfriendâs houseâit needs to continue on to the restaurant. That means a whole separate Uber ride. Itâs only a matter of time until the ride ends and the gentleman behind the wheel is left wondering why no one is exiting his vehicle. Nothing Shula says to the driver gets through. Thankfully, at the girlfriendâs place, the driver produces a vocal translating device on his phone. McVay couldnât be more impressed with the app.* * *9:42 p.m.The group gets a table near the front of the restaurant. Itâs a trendy place devoid of sports atmosphere. McVay goes unrecognized the entire dinner. He and Shula drift in and out of conversations about football. At one point they quiz Shulaâs girlfriend: How many wide receivers are on the field in â12â personnel? She says three but then quickly remembers that you subtract both of the personnel digits, 1 and 2, from five, not six. âTwo! Two!â she says. Even at dinner, you must be prepared to answer McVayâs pop quiz questions in front of everyone. Question or comment? Email us at email@example.com.