THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — Sean McVay will often take a few minutes to collect his thoughts before the Los Angeles Rams' next offensive possession, the first-year head coach sitting on the sideline and sequestering himself to prepare to call plays for the top scoring offense in the NFL and second-best in yards per play.
The television cameras have taken notice of McVay's ritual, making those moments the image of the Rams' sudden turnaround from a coaching standpoint. However, offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur plays an equally important and overlooked role in the offense's success by making sure everything is ready for McVay on Sundays, especially communication.
"So thankful to have him here," McVay said Friday. "He's as responsible as anybody for the success our offense has had. In terms of organizing the game plans, being able to run the meetings, making sure that everything is in alignment on the same page, he does it all. Can't say enough about the contribution he has made to our team."
LaFleur joined the Rams after serving as quarterbacks coach for the Atlanta Falcons the past two seasons, a position he has also held at Notre Dame in 2014 and in Washington from 2010-13. McVay and LaFleur first worked together during those three seasons, developing a common understanding of offensive systems and philosophies that made LaFleur a natural choice to serve as McVay's top lieutenant on that side of the ball.
It is that shared language that allows LaFleur to convey McVay's ideas even if the head coach isn't in the room, backup quarterback Sean Mannion said. When they are together with quarterbacks coach Greg Olson, the offense truly flourishes.
"They are good at communicating in a way that it makes sense to everybody in the room. Just the fact they all have sat in our shoes at one point or another kind of helps them understand how best to communicate what they are thinking on a play to us cause, really, sometimes all it is is saying it a certain way and it hits our brain right," said Mannion, snapping his fingers to emphasize the last few words.
As a former college quarterback at Saginaw Valley State who reached the Division II playoffs in three straight seasons, it makes sense that LaFleur can easily explain concepts and provide explanations to young quarterbacks Jared Goff, Mannion and Brandon Allen. Although it wasn't in the NFL, LaFleur has practical game experience with whatever situations can happen on the field. That makes him a powerful voice in the room, Mannion said.
"I think that's great to be a quarterback with that type of coaching, where they really understand the way we see the game ands also have the ability to see it as the big picture for the whole offense," Mannion said. "It's huge."
Game day is when the conversations between LaFleur, McVay and the quarterbacks are the most urgent. Mannion is always listening in as McVay shares the play with Goff in the huddle, benefitting from what LaFleur sees up in the press box to inform his calls, and hears an extremely smooth relaying of information.
"One thing that's important to know about that is it's worked on throughout the whole week," Mannion said. "It's not just a product of doing it well that one day."
Thanks to the guidance of McVay, LaFleur and Olson, Goff has taken several steps forward after a disastrous rookie season and is completing 66 percent of his passes for 1,072 yards and seven touchdowns against one interception.
But it isn't some millennial mind meld as former Rams coach Mike Martz insinuated in August. McVay is the youngest coach in the NFL at 31-years-old, LaFleur is 37. To the 25-year-old Mannion, neither speaks in a way different from any of his previous coaches.
"If there has been a difference in kind of the way they communicate or anything I guess I haven't really noticed it," Mannion said. "But, really, I think they are great communicators, great teachers. I think that's half of what good coaches are is they are great teachers, great communicators. They are good at communicating in a way that it makes sense to everybody in the room."