Sean McVay Readies for Year Two With Higher Expectations

Sean McVay is not going to like this.

In stark contrast to his credo of "We not Me," the next 700 words are all about McVay, his least favorite topic. When the conversation focuses on him, he prefers to change the subject.

Perhaps the most illustrative example is his 2017 NFL Coach of the Year acceptance speech from February.

In two minutes and 38 seconds at the microphone, he mentioned 19 other people by name, including the two head coaches of the Super Bowl participants, Bill Belichick and Doug Pederson. He recognized the top tier of the Rams organization, from owner Stan Kroenke and COO Kevin Demoff to general manager Les Snead and vice president Tony Pastoors. He acknowledged his coordinators, his family members, his girlfriend. He tipped his cap to Aaron Donald, Todd Gurley, and Jared Goff. And he even credited Wolfgang Puck.

How's that for a two minute drill?

Surely, this is a fundamental component of his leadership model. Blame he absorbs before it reaches the second level, but praise he distributes more evenly than Jared Goff targets.

"With all of this, it's about the players," McVay concluded in Minneapolis. "They're the most important thing… They built a culture amongst themselves that's something as a coach you feel proud to be a part of."

However, to hear those players tell it, McVay has it reversed.

"The players still have to go out and perform, go out and execute," says John Sullivan, who was introduced to McVay in Washington before centering the most stable offensive line in the NFL last season. "But Sean's the most important guy here."

Safety Lamarcus Joyner contends that the revamped culture McVay referenced actually came straight from the head coach. "He came in with high standards, when we didn't even believe that we should have, you know, a ceiling that high with standards," Joyner recently told ESPNLA. "And now, we have an identity. Now, you think about the big name organizations ... now we feel like we can compete with those guys as far as a brand and as an organization."

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On the eve of a new season, one in which the Rams are expected to repeat as NFC West champions before contending for a Super Bowl, the overwhelming consensus within the organization is that their head coach remains the driving force.

That's not to take anything away from the work Snead and his staff have done, acquiring 12 additional Pro Bowls on defense.

It should not minimize what Demoff and Pastoors have done, extending the contracts of four pieces of the Rams nucleus (Aaron Donald, Todd Gurley, Brandin Cooks, and Rob Havenstein), while preserving the salary cap puzzle for 2018 and beyond.

The Rams won the offseason because of these front office efforts, and Los Angeles' roster stands as one of the best in football.

But now that the season is here -- and what a gauntlet it is -- the head coach is the franchise's ultimate competitive advantage.

He's the primary reason the Rams rocketed from 32nd to first in the NFL in scoring; the reason Jared Goff matured from 0-7 to a Pro Bowl quarterback; the reason Todd Gurley's sophomore slump morphed into an Offensive Player of the Year campaign; and he's the reason they ascended from 4-12 to division champions.

"He is the guy," says outside linebacker Matt Longacre. "There's so much respect given from us to him."

Knowing McVay's reticence in this regard, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips speaks up on his behalf when asked about the 32-year-old's second season as a head coach. "He won't say it, but I will. He's the best."

And for Los Angeles to attain its ultimate goal, he'll need to be. The Rams are staring down a regular season schedule that includes virtually all the NFC favorites. Critics have questioned the wisdom of adding so many "big personalities" to a young locker room. Others have suggested the Rams might regress in 2018, after opposing coaches spent the offseason studying McVay's ways.

So I asked Sullivan, entering his 10th season, if the Rams feel like McVay is worth a few points every time they take the field.

"He's worth wins. Coaching in the NFL is incredibly important. I think Sean's right up at the top. He's just got to do it for a long time. There's nobody I'd rather be playing for.

"Sean McVay equals wins. That's just the way it is."

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