It’s funny how perception can change at lightning speed. One minute Sean McVay is the innovator, wunderkind who turned the league on its head, and then after a Super Bowl loss, many are questioning whether their praise was misguided. That’s how it goes though. Someone comes out of nowhere and defies expectations and when they stumble suddenly the doubters claim victory. That might sound a little dramatic but that’s where Sean McVay sits these days. He’s in an odd position now, however, as he’s now forced to prove he can adapt as well as innovate.
Sure, no one is calling his success a fluke, hell three teams hired McVay assistants or in the case of Kliff Kingsbury a guy who simply knows Sean McVay. That’s not his fault of course but it makes his detractors only want to detract further especially since McVay failed to win a Super Bowl yet the league fell over themselves to copy him. What’s true in sports and every other industry is that the copycats fail to miss what made something or someone a success in the first place. Yeah, McVay created an offensive system that is both efficient and deadly but that’s not why he’s a success. He’s a success because he also created a lasting culture that players old and young have bought into. But let’s not let the truth get in the way of an idiotic talking point.
The next step in McVay’s young coaching career is to prove that when he fails he can adapt. What cost him the Super Bowl wasn’t just that the Patriots drew up a great game plan (gag) but that McVay seemed to double down on his system despite ample evidence that it wasn’t working. He was Red Beaulieu, afraid to deviate from his green notebook. It’s fair to ask the “what did they know and when did they know it?” line of questioning as it pertains to the mystery of Todd Gurley and his knee but its equally important to ask why McVay who knew something was wrong, pulled a reverse Elizabeth Warren and didn’t have a plan for that. It was obvious early on that Gurley wasn’t right and that the team’s offense really needed Cooper Kupp to stretch the field. That said if Brandin Cooks catches that touchdown pass things could be different, but alas they can’t exactly fire up a time stone and find out.
This isn’t all about relitigating the Super Bowl, but simply the first case where Sean McVay lost some of his shine. He knows it too. He admitted to drinking a lot following that game (ditto) and appears to understand that he can’t be afraid of changing things up. Luckily both that loss and the rest of the league might force him to. Two of his assistants are head coaches and he not only has his mentor Kyle Shanahan coaching in his division but also Kingsbury who is going to bring even more “Air Raid” to the NFL. He’s no longer an anomaly but that’s a good thing.
What’s made Andy Reid last as long as he has is that he’s constantly finding ways to reinvent himself. His west coast McNabb teams are vastly different from his “Air Raid”/option hybrid he has in Kansas City. That’s no accident. Reid is always looking at high school, college, and wherever to find new ways to score. If only he applied that same level of research into clock management. The point is Sean McVay can do that too and now that Gurley’s no longer dependable and Cooper Kupp has had his own health issue he has to reshape what he’s done and for the rest of the league that can be scary. He obviously won’t abandon the system that got him to the Super Bowl in year two but to think he won’t have extra packages and formations for a rainy day is simply naive.
This season is the biggest test for Sean McVay. He’s now got an entire league trying to emulate and surpass him. He’s got a team that needs to win now, and he’s got a media that will turn on him if it looks like his binge drinking sessions left him with nothing more than a Super Bowl hangover. Fortunately, the truly great coaches thrive on pressure and Sean McVay seems more than up to the test.