McVay mum on reasons for Rams’ defensive co-ordinator change

Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay. (Darron Cummings/AP)

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Sean McVay still isn’t saying why he fired defensive co-ordinator Wade Phillips after their third straight winning season with the Los Angeles Rams.

McVay introduced new defensive co-ordinator Brandon Staley at the Rams’ training complex Wednesday, nearly a month after Staley was hired to replace Phillips. The Rams (9-7) finished 13th in the NFL in total defence last season with a unit that over-performed that ranking in many analytical statistics, but Phillips was still dismissed along with a handful of other assistants.

When asked directly, McVay said there “really wasn’t anything in particular” behind his decision to replace a 42-year NFL veteran one year removed from a Super Bowl appearance with a 37-year-old with three years of NFL experience, all as an outside linebackers coach.

“Very excited about what Brandon will add,” McVay said. “His ability to work in unison with our coaching staff that’s currently in place, you look at the foundation that Wade was instrumental in establishing, (and) I think Brandon has done a great job. I’ve really enjoyed sitting in on some of these meetings and watching the collaboration of Brandon’s leadership with the coaches that we’ve had in place.”

The Rams also introduced new offensive co-ordinator Kevin O’Connell and special teams co-ordinator John Bonamego. O’Connell, who also will coach the Rams’ quarterbacks, is McVay’s first offensive co-ordinator since his rookie season in 2017, when current Green Bay coach Matt LaFleur had the title.

Staley is taking a major step up in his career after his brief stints on Vic Fangio’s staffs in Chicago and Denver. Just over three years after Staley was the defensive co-ordinator at Division III school John Carroll, he has taken charge of an NFL defence boasting superstars Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey.

“Sean is just a guy that I’ve held in such high regard for so many years,” Staley said. “As a defensive coach, you’re always trying to stay ahead. You’re always trying to anticipate where the NFL is going. (Los Angeles) was always an offence that you always had to be aware of, a team that you always had to be aware of.”

Staley expects to keep Phillips’ basic 3-4 defensive structure with the Rams next season. Los Angeles could have major turnover at several key defensive positions, with free agency looming for leading tackler Cory Littleton, pass rusher Dante Fowler and longtime defensive lineman Michael Brockers.

Staley’s inexperience clearly was no concern for the 34-year-old McVay, who had five years of NFL experience when he became Washington’s offensive co-ordinator at 27 years old. He took over the Rams shortly before he turned 31 — in a package deal with the experienced Phillips as his defensive co-ordinator.

“When you talk football (with Staley), I’d like to think that I love football as much as anybody, (but) you’re sitting there and you’re thinking, `This guy might be sicker than I am,”’ McVay said with a laugh.

McVay plans to continue calling the Rams’ plays himself, but he is eager to turn over some responsibilities to O’Connell, a former journeyman NFL quarterback who joined Jay Gruden’s staff with the Redskins shortly after McVay left it in 2017. McVay’s offence has finished in the NFL’s top 10 in yards per game in each of his three seasons with the Rams.

O’Connell was Washington’s offensive co-ordinator, passing game co-ordinator and quarterbacks coach at different points in his three seasons.

“The experience and the success that this offence has had, you really want the players to look at you as an extension of the head coach,” O’Connell said. “You want them to respect you the same way that they respect a head coach that obviously has developed a culture and put together a program here where people want to be a part of it. I was no different. This is a place that when this opportunity came about, you can’t get here fast enough.”

Bonamego replaces respected special teams co-ordinator John Fassel, who left the Rams for the Dallas Cowboys.

The Rams also hired Thomas Brown as their running backs coach, replacing veteran Skip Peete. Brown, a former NFL running back who has coached only in college, played against McVay during their high school careers.

Brown also played at Georgia, the alma mater of Rams running back Todd Gurley.

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