NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. – It's something Rams general manager Les Snead said he has often thought about.
Why have he and head coach Sean McVay had such a successful partnership?
"It's hard probably to articulate," Snead told theRams.com this summer. "There are many variables."
Ultimately, it can be narrowed down to three key elements: An identical vision, continued trust over the course of an evolving roster build, mutual respect for each other's role and putting the team before themselves.
Heading into the 2022 season, the Rams' McVay-and-Snead pairing is tied with the Bills, Chiefs and 49ers for the second-longest head coach-general manager partnership in the NFL with their sixth season together approaching.
The Seahawks' Pete Carroll and John Schneider rank No. 1 entering their 13th season together. The Patriots don't have anyone with a defined general manager title, but head coach Bill Belichick effectively has served in that role in some capacity given his influence over personnel decisions since 2000.
When McVay and Snead began their partnership in early 2017, it didn't take very long to establish trust.
"I think the first thing is, we had immediate rapport because we saw the game through a very similar lens," McVay told theRams.com.
Los Angeles achieved immediate success in McVay and Snead's first season together in 2017. Its 11-5 record marked its first winning (above-.500) season and first division title since 2003.
Since then, the Rams have made two trips to the Super Bowl (winning one), captured three NFC West division titles, and had a winning record in each of those five seasons.
Along the way, they've built a top-heavy roster that requires the personnel department to find and draft players who can contribute on rookie contracts, while building around those core stars, and trust in the coaching staff to likewise put those drafted players in roles that will allow them to succeed. Not to mention, having the confidence to let some of those players who develop into major contributors – even starters – walk in order to accumulate more of those selections via the NFL's compensatory pick formula.
Jan. 12, 2017 the Los Angeles Rams named Sean McVay as Head Coach of the Rams. Check out photos of McVay during his first year.
While that philosophy first took shape in 2017 with the signings of players like Andrew Whitworth and Robert Woods, followed by trading a first-round pick for Brandin Cooks, trading for Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib and signing Ndamukong Suh in 2018, its biggest move came when the Rams acquired a young All-Pro defensive back named Jalen Ramsey midway through the 2019 season by sending two first-round picks to the Jaguars.
Less than a year and a half later, they acquired quarterback Matthew Stafford in a blockbuster trade with the Lions that sent two first-round picks plus 2016 No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff to Detroit. Selecting Goff was the last time the Rams picked in the first round, and they're not scheduled to do so until 2024.
Eight months after acquiring Stafford, they traded for All-Pro outside linebacker Von Miller and signed wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. after Beckham was cut by the Browns.
Meanwhile, they've seen contributors like linebacker Ernest Jones (third-round pick), safety Jordan Fuller (sixth-round pick), safety Nick Scott and linebacker Travin Howard (both seventh-round picks), and former tight end Kendall Blanton (undrafted free agent) emerge while not having what is traditionally viewed as premium draft capital. In 2021, their starting offensive line featured a veteran free agent signee and former second-round pick at left tackle (Whitworth), a fifth-round pick at left guard (David Edwards), a fourth-round pick at center (Brian Allen), a former second-round pick acquired for a 2021 fifth-round pick at right guard (Austin Corbett), and a second-round pick at right tackle (Rob Havenstein). In other words, all players chosen on Day 2 or later of the draft.
"I always say I give the coaches credit in having the courage," Snead said. "Saying we want to buy Miller, Jalen Ramsey, Matthew Stafford, per se, that's easy. The courage comes in, 'Okay, are we willing to, like, go to a little bit less experienced at offensive line? Are we willing to go a little bit less experienced rotation for tight ends?' Right? And that's, from a financial standpoint, how you're able to go."
For both men and their staffs, the approach has required flexibility.
For Snead and the personnel department, it's becoming accustomed working with picks scheduled to be made on Days 2 and 3 of the NFL Draft – Los Angeles' earliest selection this year was 103rd overall – and unearthing the Jones's, Fuller's, Blanton's, Scott's, and Howard's in the annual college talent pool.
"Everybody has this fun narrative with the 'F Them Picks,' but we really value those picks," McVay said. "There's been a tremendous value, we've just been able to replace some of those early draft capital picks with elite, elite players. And so what that does is it puts a premium on developing some guys and identifying specific pieces that you feel like fit within the framework of your roster. I think we've been able to do that where you find really quality football players that are undervalued, for whatever reason, but we sure as heck have a lot of value for him. And so there's been a lot of guys that are asked to step up and provide depth or playing significant roles early on.
"... You got to be able to have the necessary agility to allow those things do unfold as it relates to, what happens with those upper echelon guys? And then how you fill the rest of your roster accordingly?"
They see the game of football and evaluate similarly. And while there is a key difference in their personalities, there are also some key similarities.
"I think also there's an element of both of us, we're probably different enough, he's extroverted and I'm introverted," Snead said. "So I can rely on him to be the life of the party and I can be me. Even though we're both highly confident, probably both very stubborn, we're also both humble. And with that, it really bleeds into, I don't want to do his job, and he doesn't necessarily want to do my job, but we both know both jobs need to get done. So it's a perfect little partnership."
That mutual respect – "or comfort in the trust that we have in one another's roles," as McVay described it – is why they don't really have disagreements, according to McVay, or why they don't ever look at differences in opinion as them disagreeing, according to Snead.
Neither has been so adamant in their viewpoint that they disagree. It's about being empathetic to one of their perspectives, then letting the other's be heard. When they do have those healthy disagreements, that mutual respect fosters working together to come up with a solution instead of pointing fingers.
"Let's collaborate and connect to make the right decision, and then when we a make decision, decision's made and it's final and we don't look back," McVay said. "The one thing is, whether I make a decision and it doesn't work out, or he makes one and it doesn't work out, we're not keeping score of that sh–. I think that there's just that trust, and there really hasn't been any sort of issues that have led to anything other than smooth interactions as it relates to the natural dialogue that exists between a head coach and a GM."
Which leads into/ties back into why their partnership has lasted as long as it has.
Asked why those partnerships around the league in general succeed or fail, McVay pointed to a power struggle sometimes occurring between those two individuals, or not having the same core values. McVay is also not naive about the role winning plays in how long those partnerships last.
"In a lot of instances, let's not kid ourselves, the success has helped us as well," McVay said. "This is a production-based business."
From Snead's view, it may be personalities clashing when everything goes right in the very beginning. The role of a team's ownership also can't be ignored.
"And then there's the element of the responsibility and accountability, and losses take a toll," Snead said. "And I would say too, ownership's really important, in the ecosystem that the ownership puts in place, so that both head coach and GM, right, can be responsible, but also be accountable and also be vulnerable.
"You can probably add ego in there too. Ego is probably a good enemy in some of those relationships as well. Ego's probably always the worst enemy."
Take a look through photos of the Los Angeles Rams' coaching staff & scouts drafting picks throughout NFL Draft weekend from the Rocket Mortgage Draft House.
Fortunately for the Rams, Snead and McVay have had no trouble putting their egos aside.
It is perhaps summed up best by Snead, using an adjusted version of McVay's familiar "We Not Me" mantra.
"My derivative of Sean's (phrase) is 'We is greater than me,'" Snead said. "Because sometimes 'it's not me' means not you, you're not important, but at the end of the day, the me's actually make up the we. The Rams winning the Super Bowl is greater than myself or Sean getting Coach or Executive of the Year, or Cooper Kupp leading the league in receptions, right? World Champions is just greater than that, and we see that eye-to-eye and authentically live it."
McVay said he and Snead have established such a great partnership – one that will run through the 2026 season following Thursday's extensions announcement – that's it's only getting stronger heading into its sixth year. Snead likewise said that when you have a relationship like that, it would "definitely be an adjustment to doing it with someone else.
"The thing I'm most proud of as anything is that, in a lot of instances, when you have success, sometimes you can have leadership positions where there becomes a tension and a strain, and all we've done is get closer," McVay said. "And the more I work with Les than more, I appreciate him. Love him as a friend and really, I can't envision myself doing it with anybody else, and that's why you're so excited about attacking the sixth year the right way together."
Added Snead: "I don't even think we think about doing it with anyone else."