Sean McVay: ‘Some of the Best Coaches Are the Best Thieves’

Sean McVay

Getty Sean McVay reacts to a play during a 2021 NFC playoff game at Green Bay.

How does Sean McVay keep at it as an offensive genius in an ever-changing National Football League?

Is it through free agency pickups to upgrade his offenses? Perhaps through the NFL Draft? Or is it by adjusting to what defenses throw at the Los Angeles Rams weekly? McVay gave a unique answer on the Wednesday edition of the “Flying Coach” podcast with Peter Schrager.

“I’ve referenced this before: Some of the best coaches are also the best thieves,” McVay said.

The incoming fifth-year head coach explained this analogy near the 61 minute mark of the show when answering fan mail, or as Schrager calls it “Air Mail.”

Explaining Going the ‘Thief’ Route

What exactly does he mean by that? McVay often will scrutinize fellow offensive coaches and gather his own ideas for his system.

He told new Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith during the June 16 show that “I’ve been copying his S*** for years.” That interview can be listened to here. The latest episode featured New York Giants head coach Joe Judge. McVay, himself, told Judge how much he respects his ability to coach up offenses and prepare his teams, plus how Judge learned from two legendary coaches in Nick Saban and Bill Belichick as an assistant under both.

But back to the Rams head coach, he was asked by a fan “How do you adjust your looks on offense each year and stay creative in this game? Because it amazes me the amount of new concepts that guys like you bring into the league.” To which McVay responded with the “thieves” reference.

One example: This 2-point conversion attempt that McVay admitted he and former assistant Shane Waldron took out of the Miami Dolphins playbook.

McVay confirmed that he and his ex-assistant swiped the idea via South Beach, even sending out the warning to offenses “Look out for that on the Seattle Seahawks film next year.”

McVay takes ideas for one of his pet peeves of coaching: Applying pressure, saying “You’re always trying to put pressure on people with your tempo, your formations and your motions to really apply pressure to the defense. You want to try to use personnel groupings as well.”

‘Illusion of Complexity’

Along with the pressure aspect, McVay mentions another key in keeping defenses on their toes: The illusion of complexity.

What exactly is that? The term was coined during a time McVay worked alongside Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur and San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan on the same staff in Washington. LaFleur verbally illustrated the concept in January 2019 when he was introduced as the Packers head coach:

“We want to have like plays, meaning, plays that start out looking the same that are different. We also want to create what we call an ‘illusion of complexity,’ meaning we’re going to run the same concepts, but how many different ways can we run them? Whether it’s out of 11 personnel, 12 personnel, 13 personnel, just to make it a little more difficult for the defense.”

One example of McVay’s “illusion of complexity” can be found in this 2018 clip.

But a similar concept from last year involving tight end Tyler Higbee is seen here, which leads to six points.

The ideas derive from how coaches use their routes and formations from what’s considered a simple formation. But again, McVay gets creative because as he put it, some of the best coaches become thieves by snatching knowledge and nuggets from watching other coaches.

“So we might be running the same play, but the presentation of it looks different based on how we motion to it, how we create the final formation, what personnel grouping we’re doing it out of. But it’s that illusion of complexity that I think you see a lot of the best offenses do year in and year out. And I think that’s one of the things we try to stay true to as well,” McVay said.

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