ATLANTA – Other than family, it should not evoke any substantial debate that the one who knows Sean McVay best would be his high school coach Alan Chadwick of Marist High School.
Chadwick has spent this week teaching classes, planning spring practice and making sure the gym is policed-up after pick-up basketball games — some 17 miles or so north of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where on Sunday the Rams' head coach McVay will match strategy with the ingenious Bill Belichick, the Patriots legend and the winningest Super Bowl coach in history.
Chadwick is proud that McVay came his way, but he has not bothered his protégé in the last fortnight except for congratulatory text messages. He has not even asked for a Super Bowl ticket. Unless there is an unexpected godsend from out of the blue, Chadwick will take in the big game, like millions of fans across this great country, from his favorite recliner.
McVay still appreciates his old coach and his Marist days, having returned to the campus while an assistant coach in the NFL before becoming the youngest coach in modern times of the National Football League when, at age 30, he became the head coach of the Los Angeles Rams. Today, McVay interacts with Chadwick’s staff which includes Paul Etheridge, a four year Georgia letterman at tight end (1989-1992).
“He (McVay) has invited members of our staff to visit with him since taking over with the Rams,” Chadwick says appreciatively.
Chadwick has at least three insightful vignettes that, in part, defines the latest NFL coaching sensation. With two of them, Chadwick was directly involved, the other came from an outside source which does not arouse suspicion. That one had to do with McVay’s first day at work after he was named tight ends coach for the Washington Redskins, which had players on the team older than McVay himself.
“He stayed up all night preparing for his first meeting with his position players,” Chadwick says. “Sean was so well prepared that he earned everybody’s respect instantly. I remember a veteran tight end saying afterwards that Sean literally ‘blew away everybody in the meeting room.’”
McVay, according to Chadwick, has underscored preparation from grade school years. In the seventh grade, his team scored one touchdown in seven games, one of the most humbling experiences the Rams coach has ever had. Nonetheless, he remained undaunted. He gave up soccer to concentrate on football. He ran track to become quicker and faster, nobody on the team having a more defining work ethic.
By the time McVay was a senior, he was good enough to lead Marist to the state championship and beat out Calvin Johnson (wide receiver at Georgia Tech and later with the Detroit Lions) for player of the year honors in Georgia.
Chadwick realized early on that McVay was prodigy. Even though he did not call the plays, McVay was given free rein to check off at the line of scrimmage. His insightfulness with regard to understanding the game is illuminated in the following game story.
In a tough encounter with Shaw High of Columbus, Marist faced a third and three at Shaw’s goal line. Failure to score would probably have cost Marist a victory when Chadwick called timeout. McVay huddled with the head coach and Etheridge, the offensive coordinator, on the sideline. A brief discussion ensued when McVay suggested Marist run, “wham naked.” It was a power play with two tight ends and a full house backfield. It called for the quarterback to pivot at the snap. With his back to the line of scrimmage he had to fool the defense before keeping the ball and scoring the winning touchdown.
It worked perfectly as McVay faked to his right with his left hand, put the ball into the running back’s stomach for a couple of seconds, then deftly taking it back and sprinting around left end untouched. “He,” says Chadwick, “called the play and then executed it.” McVay’s football precociousness was always keenly apparent and the beat goes on.
However, there was a time when the player made a mistake that temporarily enraged the coach. The underpinning of the story relates to the importance of discipline and more than likely this vignette is vivid in the mind of the Rams coach. It also underscores McVay’s unflappability which is obviously one of his assets as a coach.
Marist was playing a team that Chadwick knew his team was likely to beat handily. As expected Marist got out ahead and McVay subsequently made a sloppy mistake that resulted with him landing in Chadwick’s doghouse. McVay took a seat at the end of the bench, which happened to be where the medical staff, including several volunteer physicians, were hanging out.
The head coach began berating his quarterback for his ill-disciplined, thoughtless error. When Chadwick finished, he walked back to his coaching vantage point, but realized he had more to say and wheeled around and went back for a “furthermore” tongue-lashing.
When Chadwick walked away, McVay, turned to the medical staff and said, “It is okay. He thinks I’m hard of hearing.”
The guess here is that should the Rams win the Super Bowl, somewhere along the way the L.A. coach will offer a tip of the hat to his high school coach.