The Sean McVay Effect: How does Vikings’ Mike Zimmer stay relevant amid seismic shift in NFL?
EAGAN, Minn. -- Mike Zimmer has a reputation of being one of the most stubborn head coaches in the NFL, a trait that should serve him well as the league continues its seismic shift away from his area of expertise.
It was only a month and a half ago that the 62-year-old Zimmer cited his distaste for the 105 points and 1,001 yards of offense produced together by the Los Angeles Rams and the Kansas City Chiefs in a “Monday Night Football” game.
“Not my cup of tea,” Zimmer said at the time. “It might run me out of football.”
While he hasn’t been run out of the league quite yet, Zimmer might have been on to something back then, as his defensive-minded approach is quickly becoming obsolete in the modern-day NFL as teams search for the next Sean McVay to run the show.
Hired by the Rams at the ripe age of 30 years old, McVay boasts a 24-8 record in two seasons as L.A. head coach. He has used his vast knowledge as an offensive-minded savant to unlock the potential of quarterback Jared Goff, while simultaneously turning the Rams into a legitimate Super Bowl contender that seems to have staying power amid an ever-changing league.
The domino effect it has had on the league is impossible to overlook at this point, according to ESPN analyst Field Yates.
“I’m looking at a window of the last a couple of years,” Yates said. “It came into focus after the hiring of Sean McVay and the immediate success the Rams have had under him. He has become sort of the symbol of how this thing has changed over the past couple of years in the NFL and that’s a credit to him and his brilliance.”
That phenomenon — aka The Sean McVay Effect — has never been more prevelant than this offseason with a bulk of the head coaching vacancies being filled by candidates with an offensive-minded background.
Whether it’s Bruce Arians scoring a job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Adam Gase retreading with the New York Jets, Freddie Kitchens locking down the full-time gig with the Cleveland Browns, Matt LaFleur getting a shot with the Green Bay Packers or Zac Taylor reportedly being the frontrunner with the Cincinnati Bengals, it’s no coincidence that teams have made a concerted effort to hire the best offensive-minded candidate.
That said, no hire illustrates The Sean McVay Effect more than Kliff Kingsbury being named head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, a couple of months after being fired by Texas Tech.
Heck, in the original news release sent out to announce the hiring of Kingsbury, the Cardinals actually emphasized his friendship with McVay, seemingly using that as a selling point to the fan base. That wording has since been changed online.
“There’s nothing that I can say that is going to change that,” Kingsbury said, responding to those critics who think he’s in over his head. “I know it’s about the work that started (on Tuesday) and what we do from this point forward. That’s how I’m attacking that.”
Nonetheless, Kingsbury didn’t deny the fact that his relationship with McVay contributed to landing in his current role.
Neither did LaFleur, who actually thanked McVay in his opening statement after being introduced by the Packers.
“He is a close friend of mine,” LaFleur said. “Just watching him empower everybody around him, from the other coaches to the players, really brings out the best in everybody.”
It’s become a meme at this point. Any sort of connection to McVay is something that can actually set candidates above the rest of the field.
“I do think the NFL has the copycat mantra to it and because Sean McVay has been one of the most successful people in recent years, teams are trying to find a way to replicate that success,” Yates said. “You’re talking about a lot of coaches that are much younger. We have seen this dramatic shift where I don’t know that the timeline that we used to have is still in place.”
Perhaps the biggest misconception within The Sean McVay Effect sweeping the nation, Yates notes, is the fact that teams might be conflating what they are looking for in an actual candidate. They aren’t looking for the next McVay at all. They are simply looking for the success that McVay has produced.
“I think the success he has had delves a lot deeper than him simply being a young offensive-minded guy,” Yates said. “It speaks to his connectivity with his players. It speaks to his in-game management. It’s speaks to his ability to adjust on the fly. It’s all of these things. And what we’re doing is using the things we have learned about Sean McVay since he has become a head coach rather than what we knew about Sean McVay before he became a head coach. That’s where some of this doesn’t always add up. There’s always going to be a wide range of outcomes for how head coaching tenures turn out.”
That’s where some of these hirings could backfire down the road. Just because someone looks, or feels, like McVay, doesn’t mean they will perform like McVay.
That seems to be what Zimmer is hanging his hat on as the NFL landscape continues to change. As far as he is concerned, if he can hold on long enough, everything will start to balance out.
“You know, football has always been real cyclical (as far as) what’s working for this team,” Zimmer said. “I go back to like Tampa 2, right? Everybody in the world ran Tampa 2 because the offense couldn’t figure it out. Then they figured it out and then everyone had to start doing something else. Everything kind of catches up to everything in time. That’s part of it.”
Still, Zimmer also realizes that “the league wants scoring” so the rules are always going to be skewed to favor the offense over the defense. In that sense, he, and the other defensive-minded coaches around the league, simply have to find a way to combat The Sean McVay Effect.
“It all goes round-and-around and guys study it and study it and they try to figure out ways to stop it,” Zimmer said. “Once they do, they have to go to something else.”