Is Sean McVay Demonstrating True Leadership?

The week of the Super Bowl is one of my favorite weeks of the year. It’s the culmination of the NFL season with one team hoisting the Lombardi trophy. With this week comes the pageantry, the story lines, and all the hype before the big game. One particular story about Los Angeles Rams coach, Sean McVay, garnered lots of attention. Apparently, he takes the use of the team’s “get back coach” to a new level. This got all the leadership gurus lathered up about this laser-focused, natural-born leader. I saw something quite the opposite.

I had this whole story in my head about how Sean McVay was displaying a lack of leadership by using this coach in such a way. He’s saying, “hey, I have this blind spot, but instead of working on it and taking accountability, I’m going to hire some dude to do it for me.” I’m not that strong of a writer, so I hit the Googles and found a post that stated, so eloquently, everything I wanted to say. Take a look at this post on The Ringer. Here’s just a bit of the goodness:

The first is that coaching high-level college or pro football is a demanding job. A job that requires meticulous attention to detail. Are we supposed to believe that McVay is adequately detail-oriented to run an effective NFL offense, but not detail-oriented enough to notice another adult human, dressed in high-visibility stripes, in his path as he walks around his workplace? Or perhaps McVay registers the official’s presence in some abstract way but doesn’t view him as an obstacle worth avoiding.

Is McVay supposed to chide Jared Goff for not reading an incoming blitz while both Goff and McVay know that McVay himself can’t or won’t read where the gigantic white stripe on the side of the field ends? Presumably McVay has driven a car or taken a subway at some point in his life, and is therefore capable of recognizing boundaries on the ground in front of him, and altering his own path to avoid obstacles should the need arise. He could stand on the sideline without help if he wanted to—most football coaches do. Frankly, anyone who loses the ability to navigate when he hits the gridiron ought not to be trusted with a football team.

If you take a look at the clip, you will see coaching legends like Bill Bellichick (yes, I just said that), Sean Payton and Mike Tomlin. They all understand the importance of staying off the field. They understand this so much that they are taking the matters into their own hands and telling others to get off the field. They know the rules and wouldn’t think about having the team’s “get back coach” solely focused on them. As the leader of the team, it is their job to lead by example and make sure others follow. Oh, and these are all Super Bowl-winning coaches.

You know what would’ve made this a great leadership story? How about a clip where Sean McVay shows some vulnerability and admits he struggles to stay off the field. But instead of using his get-back coach during a game, he uses the coach in practice. McVay then takes the practice film, sees the times when he was out of position, and becomes aware of when to move. He takes previous game film and breaks down his mistakes just like he would of his own players and comes up with a plan to get better. He watches other coaches who have roamed the sidelines without the use of the get-back coach, while still coaching and winning. That would be a great story on leadership, learning, and accountability.

In this era of “visionaries” like Elon Musk who glorify the grind and determination of the 90-hour work week, it’s no wonder we look at actions like McVay and see nothing but grit and success. That “win at all cost” attitude is what memes are made of. But if I’m peeling back the McVay onion, I don’t see a leader who is hyper-focused. I see a leader who lacks accountability or feels some rules don’t apply to him. This isn’t disruption, this is selfishness and arrogance with a finely-groomed beard.

Look, nothing would make my Super Bowl Sunday more than seeing this super genius out-genius the hoodie genius. And if McVay pulls it off, I’ll give him all the credit he deserves. I’d just like for the leadership professionals to hold off on the “hot takes” and examine what leadership characteristics are truly at play. Do we value a leader who is only concerned with themselves and is not willing to work on the areas of opportunity? I’d rather have one who leads by example.

Go Rams. Patriots 31 Rams 24.

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