Well before Sean McVay became the hottest coach in the NFL, he was the 10-year-old quarterback of the North Marietta Vikings.
“He was so much smarter than the other kids with regards to understanding football, even at that age,” said Mike Maloney, his youth coach and friend of the family.
McVay, 23 years later, will lead the Los Angeles Rams against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII on Sunday.
He showed off his football acumen at an early age.
“He always showed up ready for practice,” Maloney said. “He was focused and ready to play. You didn’t have to tell him things twice. He was just a real joy to coach and the McVay family is just great.”
Maloney went to high school with Tim McVay, the coach’s father, at Kettering Alter in Dayton, Ohio.
“I saw Sean when he was three days old in Dayton, Ohio,” Maloney said. “I moved to Atlanta ahead of the McVays moving here with Cox (Media Group, which owns The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and WSB-TV). Then Tim and (wife) Cindy, they became neighbors. Tim and I played high school football at the same high school.”
The McVays are a football family.
“Tim was just like Sean in high school,” Maloney said. “It was like watching the same kid because I saw both of them play. So, I knew that when I was coaching the pee wee football team I wanted Sean on my team.”
Maloney did a little coaching at Fullers Park with his Vikings.
“The only thing I ever told him that may have mattered was when he was running a sweep,” Maloney said. “As the defensive player and he raced to the edge, Sean kind of slowed down because he thought he was about to get tackled, I said to him ‘Sean, trust your speed!’ After that he’d usually just out (ran) kids. He was a real joy to coach.”
After playing at the Marist School and Miami of Ohio, McVay was hired by Jon Gruden as the assistant wide receivers coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
He went on to coach with the Florida Tuskers of the United Football League (2008) and the Washington Redskins (2009-16). He was the Redskins offensive coordinator from 2014-16 when the Rams hired him on Jan. 12, 2017 at the age of 30 and made him the youngest head coach of the NFL’s modern era.
With his offensive play-calling and play diagramming, the Rams went to the playoffs in 2017 and he was named the coach of the year by the Professional Football Writers of America. The Rams lost to the Falcons that season in the wild card playoff round.
This season, McVay and the Rams repeated as NFC West champions and are one win away from hoisting the Vince Lombardi trophy.
McVay’s success led to teams around the league looking to hire young assistant coaches with a track record as an offensive wizard.
The Green Bay Packers hired Matt LaFleur, the former Falcons quarterback coach (2015-16), in part because of his ties to McVay. The Arizona Cardinals noted that their new coach Kliff Kingsbury also knew McVay.
The Cincinnati Bengals are expected to officially hire Rams quarterback coach Zac Taylor after the Super Bowl.
“You look at a coach like Matt LaFleur, he's done such a great job,” McVay said. “This is a reflection of the organizational success we have had with the Rams. He's a great football coach. I thought he did an outstanding job with Tennessee leading those guys as the offensive coordinator this past year.”
He didn’t comment on Zac Taylor because his hiring is not official, per league rules.
McVay credits Gruden and former Washington coach Mike Shanahan with helping to refine his NFL coaching plans.
“Those guys, they're so great to me – when you talk about Mike and Jon,” McVay said. “They both reached out to just congratulate you. My grandpa (former NFL coach John McVay) was a great reference as well. He’ll be at the game.”
McVay is not afraid to admit that he’s borrowed things from his mentors, but especially his grandfather.
“What he’s meant to me and to our family and just the way that he’s handled himself and the perspective that he has, where he's seen it from both ends of the spectrum where he's been a coach,” McVay said. “He's also had an intricate role from a front office standpoint and he's been a part of a championship organization (San Francisco 49ers) that was able to sustain for a long period of time.
“Certainly, you rely on those people, but you also rely heavily on the coaching staff that we do have in place or even some of our players that have gone through this. So, I think it's a balance of making sure you utilize those people.”
McVay is also quick to point to veteran defensive coordinator Wade Phillips when discussing the Rams’ quick rise to title contender.
“Sometimes, I can have a tendency to forget how much fun and what a blessing it is to be doing this,” McVay said. “Seeing the way that Wade handles himself is a great representation of what it looks like to enjoy what a blessing it is to be coaching in this league and to make sure you maximize every day."
Rams running back Todd Gurley, who starred at Georgia, is a big McVay supporter.
"He’s the best,” Gurley said. “It speaks for itself. Last year he came in here and led us to the playoffs, lost first round. This year, came back, do the exact same thing and some more.”
Gurley, who was selected 10th overall by the Rams in the 2015 draft, loves McVay’s offense.
“Working with him, man, it's a good feeling just to have him as our coach,” Gurley said. “He's a players’ coach. He’s a great guy. You can talk to him. You can understand and he does everything for a reason. He does everything for us, for the team. So, you love playing for a guy like that.”
McVay was immediately able to get quarterback Jared Goff to perform at a higher level after a bumpy rookie season.
“Having the right people around is important,” Goff said. “He brought in the right people and the way he’s able to communicate and the way he’s able to lead. The type of person he is, we love him. He does everything for us. “
The Rams have league-wide respect.
“The Rams do a good job drawing it up,” Falcons nickel back Brian Poole said. “They just have to execute their game plan.”
McVay started the ground work for this day back at Fullers Park on Robinson Road in Marietta.
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