The NFL’s coaching landscape is changing so quickly that 32-year-old sapling Sean McVay now has a coaching tree and a genius decree from a division foe.
Not bad for a young fella looking for his first playoff victory when the Rams play host to the Cowboys on Saturday night.
Three of the league’s eight head coaching vacancies were filled Tuesday. The first two announced were 39-year-old offensive whizzes Matt LaFleur to Green Bay and Kliff Kingsbury to Arizona.
At that point, 16 NFL head coaches had been hired since 2017. Their average age was 41. Eleven of them (68.8 percent) had offensive backgrounds.
Compare that to 2014-15, when 13 teams changed coaches, including the Vikings, who hired Mike Zimmer, the then-57-year-old longtime defensive coordinator. Their average age was 50. Only five of them (38.5 percent) had offensive backgrounds.
Tampa Bay was the third team to announce a coaching hire Tuesday. The Bucs continued the stampede toward offensive sages but bucked the young buck trend by luring 66-year-old Bruce Arians out of a one-year retirement.
In LaFleur, the McVay coaching tree has dropped an intriguing young seed in Zimmer’s backyard. Like 40-year-old first-year Bears coach Matt Nagy, who wrestled the division title away from Zimmer this season, LaFleur is young, well-schooled in new-school offensive gumption and essentially the embodiment of the new NFL coaching prototype.
LaFleur didn’t call plays until this season. The Titans missed the playoffs and finished 25th in total offense (312.4) and 27th in scoring (19.4).
But LaFleur was McVay’s offensive coordinator with the Rams in 2017 and Atlanta’s quarterbacks coach under then-Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan in 2016.
And in today’s NFL, those are two really big buts.
In 2017, the Rams went from a league-low 14 points per game the year before to a league-high 29.9. Jared Goff went from 0-7 bust to 11-5 and a 100.5 passer rating.
In 2016, the Falcons scored a league-high 33.8 points per game while quarterback Matt Ryan won NFL MVP. That got Shanahan fast-tracked to 49ers head coach at age 37 and LaFleur promoted in L.A.
Will some NFL teams overreach and fail as they charge forward in their steadfast belief that they’ve identified the next McVay?
Anytime a trend develops in this copycat league, not all the cats are capable of copying correctly. Someone always hires a Steve Spurrier while looking for the next Jimmy Johnson. Or a (fill in your favorite failed Bill Belichick disciple) while looking for the next Belichick.
Some teams choose odd paths with nothing more than a guess that they’re outsmarting the league and not themselves.
Speaking of Kingsbury …
Poor Kliff got fired as Texas Tech coach in November. In early December, he obviously had no clue multiple NFL teams would be interested in him, so he took the offensive coordinator job at USC.
Kliff went 35-40 at Texas Tech. He had no NFL ties other than throwing two passes in a three-year career over a decade ago.
But he’s young and has an offensive mind and a résumé that says he once coached Patrick Mahomes.
And he also has this line from a Cardinals news release that pulled out all the stops in justifying the hire: “Kingsbury is friends with Rams coach Sean McVay — the 32-year-old offensive genius who has become the blueprint of many of the new coaching hires around the NFL …”
Of course, they never actually coached together.
Meanwhile, the Packers believe they’ve found the offensive breath of fresh schematics to squeeze a second Super Bowl from the twilight of Aaron Rodgers’ career.
Of course, the first step is reclaiming the NFC North. Nagy won a division title in his first try, Zimmer has won two of the past four and Matt Patricia went 6-10 in his first year in Detroit.
Whatever happens, it should be fun to watch. Four diverse minds hailing from the coaching trees of 77-year-old Bill Parcells (Zimmer), 66-year-old Bill Belichick (Patricia), 60-year-old Andy Reid (Nagy) and, of course, 32-year-old genius Sean McVay.
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org