Overtime: What’s Next Isn’t What’s Best


Staff Photographer

Rams Head Coach Sean McVay, left, finishes up a press conference at training camp on the campus of UCI in Irvine on Thursday, July 27, 2017. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Orange County Register/SCNG)

By Jimmy Sullivan

We live in a world that often focuses on the future instead of the present.

When Britney Spears broke through as a pop star in the late ‘90s, some said she was the next Madonna. Now, a young pop star might be labeled the next Britney Spears or Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga; the list goes on and on. The point is that when we see something new and exciting, our initial tendency is to try to think of what that person or thing reminds us of. Politically speaking, the developing Russian collusion story has been often compared to Watergate. The point is that it’s far more interesting to find the “next” version of something than the first version of something new. The desired effect is that we’ve seen that thing before and now we’re seeing it again.

This leads us into the latest round of NFL coaching transactions.

Let’s start with a guy who isn’t going anywhere. Los Angeles Rams Head Coach Sean McVay, who turns 33 tomorrow, has quickly established himself as one of the best in the league. He has led the Rams to back-to-back NFC West titles in his first two seasons at the helm, and his offensive wizardry has done wonders for his quarterback, Jared Goff. Goff has turned into one of the better quarterbacks in the league after struggling in his rookie season under the leadership of the perennially-average Jeff Fisher; Goff has thrown for nearly 8.500 yards over the past two seasons, which is the fifth-most passing yards in the league during that time.

And it’s not just McVay’s work with his offense that has raised eyebrows. You can find at least one video on the internet that shows the Rams coach listing off characteristics — completely from memory, no less — of each starter on an opposing defense. He also appears to be very good at managing a locker room; the Rams added several big names in the offseason, and some have big personalities (Ndamukong Suh, Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib, etc.). That doesn’t appear to have gotten in the way of L.A.’s success this year.

Therefore, it would make sense for teams to be looking for someone like that to man the sidelines. The problem is that said teams will stop at nothing to try to find that person.

The best human example of this just got hired by the Arizona Cardinals.

Former Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury ostensibly fits the profile of someone who can be that guy. He is 39 and has an innovative offensive mind to go along with youthful energy and a good personality. There’s just one problem: in his six seasons at Texas Tech, Kingsbury went 35-40. If a major awards show had an award for failing upward, Kingsbury would win it. However, the Cardinals’ quarterback, Josh Rosen, is coming off of a rough rookie season, and the franchise undoubtedly sees similarities between him and Goff as a rookie. So, instead of hiring the best candidate for the job, they’re trying to do the exact same thing the Rams did. In fact, they even admitted it, as the team’s website dedicated an entire paragraph of their announcement of Kingsbury’s hiring to his friendship with McVay, who the article referred to as an “offensive genius.”

This also happened on a smaller scale with a couple of the other openings. The Jets, in true Jets-ian fashion, eschewed several better candidates to hire Adam Gase, a respected offensive mind who just got fired by the Dolphins and was hated by many of his former Miami players. The Packers hired ex-McVay assistant Matt LaFleur, who is an entirely legitimate candidate and should succeed in Green Bay. Finally, the Cincinnati Bengals have not officially made a hire, but they appear to be zeroing in on 35-year-old quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor. Conveniently, Taylor is currently the QBs coach for the Los Angeles Rams.

Here’s the issue: all of these teams are trying to find the “next Sean McVay.” The unfortunate fact is that the next Sean McVay just doesn’t exist.

McVay grew up around NFL locker rooms. His grandfather John was a head coach for the Giants in the 1970s and later served as an executive for the San Francisco 49ers from 1980-1996; during that time, he oversaw five Super Bowl championships. McVay is an NFL head coaching unicorn; trying to find an equivalent to him is a futile and stupid exercise because there isn’t one.

And beyond that, if you’re going to find the next version of a head coach, why limit yourself to trying to find the next McVay? Someone like Chiefs coach Andy Reid has a prolific and legendary coaching tree that most recently has yielded the coach of the defending champions (Doug Pederson) and Matt Nagy, who won 12 games in his first season with the Chicago Bears. If you’re a team with an opening and you see everyone going for the next McVay, why not go for the next Reid? Reid’s offensive coordinator, Eric Bieniemy, deserved a head coaching gig. He didn’t get one, but he’s infinitely more deserving than someone like Kingsbury, who had to leave his new job as the offensive coordinator at USC to take the Cardinals job.

NFL teams have spent the past three weeks scouring the landscape for the next Sean McVay. In the process, they hired people who bring some of McVay’s positive traits without anything near his complete package.

But if the NFL’s most recent coaching carousel has shown us anything, it’s this: it’s not what you know; it’s who you know.