After a tumultuous end to the 2016 season, the Los Angeles Rams have finally solidified their coaching staff for the 2017 campaign. The organization has hired Sean McVay as their head coach, Wade Phillips as their defensive coordinator, Matt La Fleur as their offensive coordinator, and John Fassel will return as the special teams coordinator.
The recent losing habits and inability to capitalize on their high talent level led many to predict the “house cleaning” effort of the team, and many fans were in full support of the changes. With the new faces entering the base of operations, some background information and analysis of each leader will herein be examined.
Examining the New Los Angeles Rams Brain Trust
Head Coach Sean McVay
Coach McVay’s introduction has been highly discussed, most notably due to his age. He will be the youngest coach in the NFL’s modern era. However, his youth does not take away from his past success.
McVay is coming to Los Angeles from his previous post as offensive coordinator of the Washington Redskins. In D.C., McVay developed his quarterback, Kirk Cousins, to his best season last year where he finished third in the league in passing yards. Cousins was destined to be a career-backup until he had a chance to take over for an injured Robert Griffin III, and used the opportunity to assert his position as a bona fide NFL starting quarterback. In McVay’s first year as an offensive coordinator, he guided Cousins into the new territory and has since silenced critics who wanted to return him to a backup role.
The team has made it no secret that these coaches were chosen with one factor in mind: the development of Jared Goff. An expensive, high-profile pick, the team is determined to build their future around the young signal caller. McVay’s history with Cousins was a big factor in his hire and he will be expected to open the talent of Goff up to the world in his first season as head coach. This will be done by intense work with offensive coordinator Matt Fleur, a quarterbacks expert himself, but perhaps more importantly with offensive line coach Aaron Kromer and receivers coach Eric Yarber.
The task will not be an easy one, but the organization had the faith to bring in the young coach and he has already shown the wisdom of one much older in his astute coaching staff choices.
Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips
With a career filled with the highest NFL honors, coach Wade Phillips brings over 40 years of wisdom to the team. With the release of Gregg Williams, there was a large gap to fill in what has all the talent to become a top defense. Phillips brings head coach experience, an NFL Assistant Coach of the Year Award, and a Super Bowl championship ring to his new defense as well as the hunger to achieve more.
Phillips has already begun the work of retooling his squad, claiming that he will switch the standard look to a 3-4 scheme. Fortunately for skeptics, he has made this change four times before, including with the Denver Broncos, who went on to win the championship in 2016. The new system should help the Rams lock down their pass defense while allowing for more intricate looks and schemes. The bigger challenge will be working with the talent in the front seven and not impeding their natural ability to attack the quarterback and stifle the run game.
With regards to that, an interesting aspect to look out for will be how Phillips works with All-Pro lineman Aaron Donald, who has thrived in 4-3 systems. No doubt, he will be happy to work with an elite defender and has the coaching ability to strengthen Donald’s game in this new system. However, there may be a break-in period for the new technique that Donald will have to power through to thrive in the new look.
Overall, Phillips is bringing everything the Rams need for their defense. His experience speaks for itself, and players and fans alike are already excited to see him work his magic on the defensive side of the ball.
Offensive Coordinator Matt LaFleur
Former Atlanta Falcons quarterback coach Matt LaFleur was chosen to take up the reigns for an offense that features Jared Goff and Todd Gurley. LaFleur is coming off coaching Matt Ryan to his first MVP honor and the best season in his outstanding career. Ryan threw for over 4,000 years for his fifth straight year, ranked third in the NFL for completions, fifth in yards, and sixth in completion percentage. Once again, the Rams send a clear message in their approach to the future, i.e. nurturing Goff.
LaFleur has developed many quarterbacks in his career including young ones like Robert Griffin III, who posted Redskins’ rookie records in completions, passing yards, touchdowns, and rushing yards by a quarterback. His rookie year would take him to the Pro Bowl and have him leading the team to an NFC East title.
Once more, the Rams will also need LaFleur to tighten up his receivers and offensive line if they are going to find any success moving the ball in 2017. However, with his work with both a tremendous passing quarterback and a highly mobile one, Goff will be in great hands for the foreseeable future.
Special Teams Coordinator John Fassel
A player, fan, and colleague favorite, coach John Fassel will return to his role as special teams coordinator in 2017. Fassel is coming off a great season with Pro Bowl punter Johnny Hekker, place kicker Greg Zuerlein, and returners Benny Cunningham and Tavon Austin, as well as a stint as the interim head coach. Not only a solid strategic coach, Fassel shines as a presence with the players that makes him a man for which a team wants to win. The ultimate players coach, the return of Fassel will add stability and familiarity to the transition.
Whether seen as good or bad, the Rams strongest group this past season was their special teams and they are doing everything they can to have that be the case in 2017. Although they have a big free agency issue with Zuerlein and Cunningham, they should be able to return a nearly identical unit in terms of personnel. Barring this, coach Fassel will be sure to get the most out of anyone the team brings in and keep starting field position and all kicking issues well in check.