The news is out now: both Wade Phillips and John Fassel are moving on from the Rams; in addition, the Rams moved on from running backs coach Skip Peete. The organization is coming off a tough year in 2019, just a season removed from losing 13-3 in the Super Bowl. While things didn’t seem to go as planned, the Rams finished off the year strong (or rather as strong as they could), securing a 9-7 record and becoming the only team in the league this year to have a winning record and miss the playoffs.
Well, 2020 is a new year and a new season altogether awaits. While the playoffs go on and Sean McVay continues to playback every bit of the season in his head over and over again, it’s important to realize the season is over and you have to move on. McVay went ahead and made sure of that in the decisions to not bring back two of the top coaches on the staff.
What does that signal? A rebirth? Not as extreme, but to put it another way, McVay has grown up from the 30-year-old rookie head coach and now wants to be the head honcho. Now, in his fourth year, McVay will have the opportunity to flip the page and build his own coaching staff the way he wants it to be. Early signs have pointed to McVay wanting to get younger on the staff which could mean there are big changes coming.
In this one, I’m going to do my best to give you my ideal coaching staff and at the same time my prediction for the Rams coaching staff in 2020.
Offensive Coordinator – Kevin O’Connell (Former Redskins Offensive Coordinator)
To the shock of many the former Washington Redskins coach never coached with Sean McVay. It quite honestly has nothing to do with familiarity but it does have everything to do with youth, progression and production. The now-former Redskins offensive coordinator didn’t have the easiest time in trying to cycle through Case Keenum, Colt McCoy and eventual season-ending starter and rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins. However, O’Connell turned his year around as he finally started to get the Redskins offense and mainly the development of Haskins on track. It wasn’t an easy process but Haskins got more comfortable as the year went on and many fans wanted O’Connell to be back to work with Haskins in 2020.
The reason that didn’t happen is because the Redskins hired former Panthers head coach Ron Rivera who then brought over Scott Turner from Carolina to be the offensive coordinator. Turner had success in developing and working with Cam Newton but make no mistake, O’Connell is a good coach that the Redskins are letting walk out the door. He’s already received interest and the Rams are among the teams reportedly interested according to Mike Garafolo of NFL Network:
— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) January 7, 2020
This is very interesting because O’Connell is reportedly likely to end up on Josh McDaniels’ staff if McDaniels is hired as the Cleveland Browns’ next head coach. Now, I don’t think that’s going to happen; I think ultimately the Browns will hire Kevin Stefanski as their head coach and O’Connell will end up with the Rams. The reason one would find it hard for O’Connell to go to the Rams is the lack of play-calling freedom he would have. However, with McDaniels, it’d likely be the same exact thing so this is all in all good news for the Rams.
At the end of the day, I think O’Connell fuels the Rams’ offensive creativity in 2020 and eventually moves on to potentially be a head coach. That is exactly what makes the Rams job so appealing. The hope with this hire would be for O’Connell to come in and add more of a creative gameplan to Sean McVay’s offense and potentially help quarterback Jared Goff get back to where he was on the progress he made in 2018.
Now, the Rams never announced whether or not passing game coordinator Shane Waldron or running game coordinator Aaron Kromer would retain or not retain their current positions on the coaching staff. However, one would believe the Rams truly want to bring in an offensive coordinator after this past season without a true one. Former Redskins head coach Jay Gruden could be in play but I do not see him coming to the Rams unless McVay relinquishes the play-calling and McVay will not do that nor should he do that.
Defensive Coordinator – Aubrey Pleasant (Current Rams Defensive Backs Coach)
This is my biggest lock on the coaching staff. I’m not buying into the talk of Joe Barry falling into the defensive coordinator job. I like Joe Barry, I like what he has done for this team but he is by no means the best candidate. In any event, if you promoted Barry you would be doing so instead of going at it again with legendary Wade Phillips. The Rams only let Phillips go for one reason, which was to give the keys to Pleasant.
Unlike O’Connell, Pleasant has had legitimate coaching experience now with McVay. The two coached in Washington and of course, now they have coached for three years in Los Angeles together. Pleasant is a young and vibrant coach that has a track record of player development and has a great reputation with his players. When you have someone that is able to put the players they developed into key positions for success, and on top of that end up being a likable guy in the locker room, you’ve done what is almost the impossible.
It’s going to be hard to just move on from Wade Phillips, who was extremely well-liked and respected by his players. But by promoting from within, the continuity and familiarity will stay intact and make the transition a little bit easier. As I’ve mentioned in the past, it’s uncertain what scheme Pleasant would run because he has only truly worked under a 3-4 base scheme but regardless, I believe the Rams will ride it out with whatever Pleasant wants to do.
It’s also worth mentioning as Charles Robinson reported, McVay will want more control of the defense and so by promoting his friend and trusty partner Pleasant, McVay would grab hold of a chunk of the defensive gameplan as well:
4. McVay not only wants to be more involved in some of the defensive conceptualizing moving forward, but he wants coaches challenging themselves to be more creative every single week based on the opponent. Be better physically in-game, but think better mentally in preparation.
— Charles Robinson (@CharlesRobinson) January 6, 2020
Special Teams Coordinator – Matt Daniels (Current Assistant Special Teams Coordinator)
The most surprising spot on this coaching staff to have to replace, at least for me, is the special teams coordinator spot. The Rams and John Fassel parted ways this week as Fassel headed onto the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff. The Rams have yet to announce a replacement but the next guy in line is likely Fassel’s assistant that joined in 2018 and played under him with the St. Louis Rams — Matt Daniels.
Daniels has a background of playing defense and special teams going back to his days with the Rams and even in college with the Duke Blue Devils football team. None of that matters as much as the fact the 30-year old was the special teams assistant coach. He was the assistant for arguably the league’s best special teams coordinator. He’s likely picked up a thing or two from one of the greats.
Going back to earlier as mentioned before with the idea that McVay wants a younger coaching staff, Daniels is 30-years-old. He is young, he has the in-game experience and has the necessary experience as well as the familiarity with the team to make a smooth transition. As they say, you don’t know until you try. The Rams will, in my opinion, go with Daniels and see what they have in the young coach.
Running Backs Coach – Anthony Jones (Current Memphis Running Backs Coach)
This is the last hole to fill at the moment and it’s one that is going to take a bit of a shot in the dark. There were many candidates I thought of including but not limited to: South Carolina WRs coach Bryan McClendon, Clemson offensive coordinator and RBs coach Tony Elliott, Stanford RBs coach Ron Gould, Ohio State RBs coach Tony Alford, Georgia RBs coach Dell McGee, Penn State RBs coach Ja’Juan Seider and more. However, I think Anthony Jones of Memphis would be a perfect addition for many reasons.
First off, the guy has production, he helped develop Tony Pollard, Kenneth Gainwell and Patrick Taylor Jr. but the biggest name he helped develop was none other than current Rams running back Darrell Henderson.
Now, it does seem odd going from the guy Todd Gurley wanted to be his coach to going with Henderson’s college running backs coach. However, Jones is someone that will find himself moving up the rungs and into the NFL sooner than later. Teams are noticing what he is doing at Memphis and it will only be a matter of time before he’s with an NFL club.
Before anything, do not discount the job of a running backs coach. Anthony Lynn was basically the best running backs coach for a decade and with only about few months as an interim head coach he was onto the Los Angeles Chargers to be their head coach moving forward. That’s not to say Anthony Jones is the next Anthony Lynn but he has a great early track record and he’s a young coach that McVay himself can develop into a successful coach in the league.
Jones has head coaching experience to go with his running back coach experience from his time as Cordova high school’s head coach. He played football at Chattanooga so he has been around the game for a while now. The only worry is that he’s been around Tennessee for a long time. Would he be willing to leave Memphis to go to the Rams? It sounds funny at first but then you think about how coaches can often get comfortable with their job and location.
If Jones is willing to come to the NFL, he would be a great option for the Rams and would be huge for Darrell Henderson’s continued development.