LOS ANGELES — It was Week three of the 2017 season, within the aftermath of an exhilarating Thursday evening recreation between the Los Angeles Rams and the San Francisco 49ers. The 2 division rivals mixed for 80 factors, accumulating 4 touchdowns throughout the closing 13 minutes. The Rams stopped the two-point conversion that may have tied it, then fumbled the following onside kick and wanted a fourth-down, Aaron Donald sack to win a recreation that at one level appeared destined for a blowout. Feelings ran excessive within the coaches’ locker room instantly thereafter, exhaustion and adrenaline clogging the air. Wade Phillips casually strolled inside and minimize via all the rigidity with one sentence.
“We positive kicked their ass, didn’t we.”
The Rams’ coaches burst into collective laughter. Sean McVay, solely three video games into his rookie season as a 31-year-old head coach, couldn’t assist however smile. It was a second that captured the very essence of Phillips, the now-72-year-old defensive coordinator who by no means lets the stress of his job sap any of the enjoyment that he extracts from it.
“He all the time enjoys the second,” McVay mentioned. “And I simply suppose that’s such an excellent reminder, as a result of folks really feel that.”
McVay was requested if his character would ever enable him to do the identical — to take the ebbs and flows in stride, snigger off the inevitable struggles alongside the best way, even take a second to understand his place on the earth infrequently.
“I don’t suppose so,” he mentioned, “however I believe it’s an excellent measuring stick.”
McVay is one among boundless power and unbridled enthusiasm, the sort that stands proud inside a occupation composed of the hyper-obsessed. However he’s additionally an unrelenting perfectionist. The smallest indiscretions — misused timeouts, botched playcalls, inefficient practices — ceaselessly gnaw at him. It’s each his present and his curse.
“He would most likely say he’s acquired a little bit ADD or one thing,” Phillips’ son, Wes, mentioned. “He’s simply on on a regular basis.”
Phillips navigates via life with distinct ease and calm. An urgency lies inside it, however one enveloped by perspective, upheld by a mantra of having fun with successes with out lamenting failures. Nothing appears severe sufficient to dwell on.
“Wade’s acquired a very neat, easygoing approach about him that camouflages he’s one hell of a competitor,” McVay’s father, Tim, mentioned. “He’s a fantastic competitor, however he’s an actual cool buyer about it.”
The 2 coaches reside on reverse ends of the spectrum, each in age and in character, which is what makes their dynamic so fascinating.Gregory Payan/AP
“The yin and the yang,” is how Rams assistant head coach Joe Barry described McVay and Phillips.
“Completely totally different personalities, completely totally different teaching kinds on the sector,” Wes mentioned. “However I believe philosophically they’re very comparable in the way you deal with gamers, the way you strategy the instructing side of the sport, and the way you in the end get gamers to play higher is to point out them respect, give them the information, and inspire them to need to do it for his or her group and do it for themselves.”
Wes, now the Rams’ tight ends coach, had an workplace subsequent to McVay’s when the 2 had been on Jay Gruden’s workers with the Washington Redskins from 2014-2016. Wes was consistently getting known as over to take a look at a brand new play McVay had both drawn up or seen on movie. McVay spoke so passionately, so totally, so shortly. He’d ask a query and transfer on to a distinct subject earlier than Wes might summon a solution.
Wes can perceive how his father may wrestle to get a phrase in with McVay.
“I don’t know that he desires to get a phrase in both,” Wes mentioned with amusing. “He’s fantastic simply letting Sean go.”
When Phillips agreed to hitch McVay’s workers in 2017 — a pre-arranged deal just because McVay requested and Phillips needed to work — he additionally vowed to stay within the background, to by no means be overbearing. If McVay had a query, he might ask (and sometimes, he did). In any other case, Phillips would let him be. His solely recommendation was to deal with the whole group relatively than focus solely on the offense.
His strategy reminds McVay of his grandfather, John, the adorned former 49ers govt.
“He’s all the time been so prepared to share, nevertheless it’s by no means pushed on you, and Wade’s very comparable,” McVay mentioned. “He’s acquired expertise, and he’s acquired his arms on every little thing, however I believe there’s a refreshing safety that he has in himself, that he doesn’t should show himself. He simply desires to be an advocate to assist our soccer group, and me, on this function.”
Phillips was shortly blown away by McVay’s work ethic and management potential. Over time, he got here to understand his understanding of defenses and his fixed willingness to shoulder blame. He by no means noticed himself as a crucial sounding board for an up-and-coming coach, and he lately dismissed the notion of offering a needed steadiness for McVay.
“I imply, he’s a terrific coach now,” Phillips mentioned. “And he’s a terrific head coach. I believe that’s the important thing factor. He’s not solely a very good coach and he’s actually sensible — he’s a terrific head coach. He’s a fantastic chief that the gamers comply with. And I’m simply one of many guys that comply with him.”
Phillips as soon as famously made a joke about how the Rams had been the one group with a defensive coordinator on Medicare and a head coach in day care. When McVay turned a viral sensation for naming all 11 of the Chicago Bears’ defensive starters, Phillips got here again the following day and named all 11 offensive starters. When the Arizona Cardinals made it a degree to notice that their new head coach, Kliff Kingsbury, is “mates” with McVay, Phillips quipped that his son, Wes, is aware of McVay “actual nicely.”
They banter with each other, however with a mutual respect that’s ever-present.
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“I identical to their potential to have a dialog that’s very constructive,” mentioned Rams particular groups coordinator John Fassel, who served as a ballboy for Phillips when he was in highschool. “All people can, however they discuss lots. And the conversations are very constructive, all the time about what’s in the perfect curiosity of the group. It’s actually so simple as that.”
McVay, who led a downtrodden franchise to back-to-back division titles and a Tremendous Bowl look via his first two seasons, shortly turned a dynamo within the head-coaching ranks. He’s thought of an offensive genius and a grasp chief, at an age that enables him to narrate to gamers in methods few head coaches ever might. Phillips by no means had the outgoing, magnetic character that might so simply rally a bunch. He needed to discover his personal voice inside a laid-back character.
“It’s all the time been a problem to me,” mentioned Phillips, who totally intends on teaching past this coming season. “I’m not a holler man, so I’ve gotta do it a distinct approach. I gotta inform them that I’m dissatisfied in them, and it’s gotta imply one thing.”
In Phillips, McVay has discovered what he lacks — what he may perpetually lack. He sees somebody who’s all the time even-keeled, who seamlessly transitions from one play to the following and who is continually current within the second. He sees the identical ardour in an entire totally different package deal.
“That’s one thing that has positively helped me, the place I’m all the time scuffling with the steadiness,” McVay mentioned. “Watching the best way that he’s been in a position to maintain such a excessive degree over a course of time; I believe you’re seeing why — as a result of he enjoys it, he actually has enjoyable with it, and he doesn’t take it too critically. He’ll always remember that it’s a recreation.”