Saturday, January 29, 2022

Two Wunderkind Coaches Get a Second Crack at the Super Bowl

This is very good.

At WSJ, "The Rams’ Sean McVay and the 49ers’ Kyle Shanahan have established themselves as two of the NFL’s brightest young coaches. Now they both have a second chance to take their teams to the Super Bowl":

Five years ago, two teams in the same division made the same decision. The Rams and 49ers placed their futures in the hands of young, offensive-minded, first-time head coaches. Both had last names that had been familiar in football for decades.

Los Angeles tapped Sean McVay. San Francisco picked Kyle Shanahan. The hirings jump started a rivalry and years of success for both clubs, but they have never coached against each other with as much on the line as Sunday: a second chance at a Super Bowl for both of them.

One of them is guaranteed to coach in the final game of the NFL postseason because the other won’t. The 49ers and Rams will play in this year’s NFC Championship after both teams secured thrilling upsets, over the Green Bay Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, last weekend. Those victories, which ousted Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, were two more crowning achievements for coaches who have already spawned disciples across the league.

Yet they both still lack the same accomplishment: a Super Bowl win.

What’s uncanny about the similarity in profile between these two coaches is how far back it extends. Both came from football families, got their professional starts under the same coach and even coached together.

McVay’s grandfather, John McVay, was a coach of the New York Giants and longtime executive—coincidentally, for the 49ers. Shanahan’s father, Mike Shanahan, won back-to-back Super Bowls coaching the Denver Broncos. After Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan got their first NFL gigs at different times under Jon Gruden in Tampa Bay, they were on Mike Shanahan’s staff together in Washington.

They went on to establish reputations as offensive wizards. When Shanahan was the offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons in 2016, the team had one of the most productive offensive seasons in NFL history. McVay lasted just three seasons as Washington’s offensive coordinator, from 2014 to 2016, before he became a 30-year-old head coach. The Niners and the Rams hired them both within weeks of each other in 2017.

The Rams’ bet on a coach barely old enough to run for the U.S. Senate has paid off spectacularly and quickly. In McVay’s first season, he took an offense that had been the NFL’s worst and transformed it into the best in the league.

The success didn’t stop. The Rams have had a winning record every season under McVay. They have made the playoffs in four of those five seasons. They made it all the way to the Super Bowl in McVay’s second season, before losing to Brady and the Patriots.

McVay’s success sent ripples across football. He has gone from the youngest coach in modern NFL history when he was hired to an archetype. A number of his former assistants have gone on to be head coaches, including another still alive in these playoffs: Cincinnati’s Zac Taylor, who had been Los Angeles’s quarterbacks coach.

There is one coach, though, against whom McVay has struggled. That happens to be the coach who will be on the opposing sideline this weekend...