Sean McVay is talking football. At least you think it’s Sean McVay.
The arched eyebrows, the wide eyes, the passion dripping from every syllable and his deliberate hand movements remind you of someone.
Jon Gruden can’t deny that the Rams head coach sounds exactly like Jon Gruden.
“Yeah, I do. I think he’s better than (comedian and impressionist) Frank Caliendo really,” said Gruden when his Raiders met the Rams this season.
At 33, McVay is the Pride of Chucky.
Before McVay became the youngest coach who could win the Super Bowl when his Rams play the Patriots on Sunday, he was a first-year offensive assistant helping with receivers on Gruden’s Bucs staff in 2008.
The Bucs receivers were largely a veteran group with Joey Galloway, Ike Hilliard, and Michael Clayton.
“Everybody loved Sean,” said Clayton, who was in his fifth season. “He was learning, he was real intelligent and quiet in meeting rooms but when he got on the practice field and would run the scout team, he would mimic Jon Gruden a little bit. It was just his posture and his energy.
“Oh, man, without a doubt, he was identical to Gruden. And it was surprising. I knew Gruden’s persona. We knew what he was about. The difference was Sean was totally different on the inside.”
McVay has been described as a nicer Gruden. “Oh, 100 percent,” Clayton said. “I couldn’t see him ever getting a spat with any of any of his players. Look at his mannerisms when (quarterback) Jared Goff does something wrong. He’s calm and he’s still his guy and understanding. He doesn’t show that facial expression. That’s great to see. He’s going to successful a long time and players love to be around that type of head coach.”
The McVay and Gruden families have been intertwined in football for nearly five decades. McVay’s grandfather, John, hired Gruden’s dad, Jim, to his coaching staff as an assistant at Dayton. John went on to become the head coach of the Giants and the 49ers general manager.
Jim Gruden returned the favor as an assistant coach at Indiana when he recruited Tim McVay, Sean’s father. In 1990, John McVay gave Gruden a chance to be a young assistant with the 49ers.
With the Bucs, Gruden noticed early that McVay was going to be a special coach. He was a grinder, somebody who was early to arrive and stayed late. No job was beneath him. He was A quick study with an appetite to learn as much as possible and apply it in on the field.
“They’re all class, they’re all football people, they’re all hardworking,” Gruden said of the McVay family. “As good a brand of people as you’ll ever find.
“You could see right away his ability to take something from the chalkboard, from the meeting room, out on the grass and coach it. He earned the respect of players right away because they knew he could help him. He’s just enthusiastic, knowledgeable, hardworking and driven to be great. He’s a chip off the old block. He’s a chip off his grandfather that’s for sure.”
Nobody could captivate a team meeting room like Gruden. He found creative ways to stimulate his football team using his biting sarcasm, wit and vast film library of NFL greats.
McVay had a front row seat to watch the energetic Gruden, who guided his team to a 9-3 start that season until the wheels fell off. Needing only one more victory to clinch a playoff spot, the Bucs lost their final four games. Three weeks later, the Bucs stunned the NFL when Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen were fired.
Just two years out of college at 26, McVay was hired as the tight ends coach for the Florida Tuskers of the now extinct United Football League. The Tuskers’ offensive coordinator? Jay Gruden, Jon’s brother.
The Tuskers went 6-0 but lost the championship game by a field goal to Las Vegas. By the next year, McVay began a seven-year stint as a Redskins assistant coach, first under head coach Mike Shanahan. Then in 2014, Jay Gruden was hired as head coach, eventually promoting McVay to offensive coordinator.
“Jay is as big a reason as anybody why I even had the opportunities,” McVay said this week. “Nobody else would have given me a chance to be an offensive coordinator. The confidence that he instilled in me, the ability to be able to learn and grow as a coach under his leadership and guidance, I couldn’t be more thankful for Jay Gruden.”
But it’s Jon Gruden that McVay seems to parrot with his voice inflections and mannerisms.
“We both have a healthy respect for the profession of coaching. It’s being mentally tough, it’s teaching, it’s continuing to work and try to find ways to help your team, it’s being a competitor,” Gruden said. “…It’s a relentless yearly, daily grind. I think those are the similarities and that we’re both offensive guys, both call plays, both enjoy being around a quarterback. So, we could talk about the similarities probably endlessly.”
Of course, McVay recognizes when he slips into Gruden mode.
“I hear it all the time,” McVay said. “But I think probably subconsciously you pick up on some of those things just from being around somebody.”
However, Gruden, 55, has noticed some differences.
“He’s just a lot younger and better looking,” Gruden said.