ATLANTA - Rams head coach Sean McVay credits his players for putting Los Angeles in Super Bowl LIII.
NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald made sure McVay told the entire story.
"He was thanking the players," Donald said. "I thanked him. I told him, ‘Once you came, you changed this thing around. He changed the culture."
McVay's innovative offense boasts two 1,200-yard receivers and a 4,000-yard passer, not to mention running back Todd Gurley, who put up 21 total touchdowns and more than 1,800 yards from scrimmage.
"He's crazy," Gurley said Thursday. "I think he comes up with this stuff in his sleep. He tells you something he thought up one morning, and then does it the next morning, the next morning, the next morning. He doesn't stop."
The 33-year-old McVay has deep NFL roots, but his approach to leading a team is anything but traditional. Wednesday's practice was more of a sped-up walkthrough. McVay based the schedule on the "sports science and nutrition" side, deferring the heavy lather type of practices at the Atlanta Falcons team facility for Thursday and Friday.
Player-first dynamics are part of what makes McVay a player's coach.
At 15-3 this season, including playoffs, McVay is tied for the best winning percentage in the NFL since he was hired to take over a 4-12 team.
Gurley, essentially benched in the NFC Championship Game in favor of journeyman C.J. Anderson, said he appreciates McVay as a leader and competitor.
"He makes it all about communication," Gurley said.
Rather than sulk as Anderson stepped into the spotlight, Gurley congratulated Anderson and said he would do the same on Sunday should Super Bowl LIII follow a similar script. Gurley said his "dream outcome" this week in Atlanta has nothing to do with statistics or individual accolades.
"Honestly, just win," Gurley said.
The theme is nearly universal among Rams players who addressed personal bonds with McVay and the chemistry he brought to a locker room that could be too small for this many stars.
McVay was on the phone with Donald before the opportunity arose to acquire Ndamukong Suh in free agency and general manager Les Snead reached out when Khalil Mack was being shopped by the Raiders. The franchise makes every effort to eliminate the common football refrain, "It's a business."
For Snead and McVay, the goal is to present a different label, football as family.
"He holds us accountable by being accountable," third-year quarterback Jared Goff said.
For wide receiver Brandin Cooks, set to play in back-to-back Super Bowls following an offseason trade from the Patriots, the contrast between McVay and Bill Belichick is stark. On his third team in three seasons - Cooks was acquired by the Patriots via trade from New Orleans - it took only a matter of days for the speedy receiver to know he'd finally found the perfect fit.
And for that, he credits McVay.
"He's special," Cooks said. "I enjoy being a fly on the wall just watching how he works."
McVay said he's also smart enough to know what he doesn't know.
One of his first moves as a head coach was to go after former NFL head coach and longtime defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.
"He's got so many things he can draw on from all the success he's had in this league, but it never feels like it's pushed on you. When you go to him and ask him for advice he's been so supportive to me," McVay said. "With the inexperience I do have I feel so fortunate to be around Wade Phillips."
Phillips, 71, had eight years coaching in the NFL on his resume when McVay was born. But Phillips has seen natural born leaders in his day, and he puts McVay in that class.
"He's brilliant at what he does, not just coaching-wise, but leadership-wise," Phillips said. "He has command of the team. The players know what he wants, how he wants it done. They've bought into what he says."
--By Jeff Reynolds, Field Level Media