LA Rams’ Sean McVay on the enlightening conversation that made him a ‘better coach’

The coach, looking to steer the LA Rams to their first Super Bowl since 2000, had a moment of disbelief that changed his perspective on coaching and life, forever.

In January 2021, what would turn out to be the most significant move of the National Football League off-season was starting to swirl.

As the Los Angeles Rams pursued a trade for Matthew Stafford and perhaps laid the foundation for a Super Bowl title, a separate conversation was taking place in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

Rams coach Sean McVay sat at a dinner table and listened intently, wide-eyed and seeking information. Also present was McVay’s friend, FOX NFL insider Jay Glazer, and Rams offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth, who is now the oldest active NFL player after Tom Brady’s retirement.

Sean McVay‘s players credit the Rams coach for being kind-hearted in his approach. Picture: Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images
Sean McVay‘s players credit the Rams coach for being kind-hearted in his approach. Picture: Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

McVay had invited Glazer to Cabo after the reporter’s recent break-up with a girlfriend. The coach was expecting a lighthearted time, full of carefree laughs, but the talk had taken a different turn when both Glazer and Whitworth started to discuss their ongoing struggles with mental health.

At first, McVay couldn’t believe some of the things he was hearing. That when Glazer wakes up every day of his life, there is an omnipresent cloud of sadness that he refers to as “the gray.” That Whitworth battles inner demons on a daily basis and has done so for years.

That Glazer regularly suffers panic attacks even when speaking on the air during NFL broadcasts but can hide it well enough that only his longtime colleague Howie Long notices something is amiss. That Whitworth is caught in a paradox, because he believes the mental darkness makes him better able to handle the brutality of professional football, but it doesn’t constitute an optimally happy existence.

Andrew Whitworth has become the oldest player in the NFL following Tom Brady’s retirement. Picture: Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Andrew Whitworth has become the oldest player in the NFL following Tom Brady’s retirement. Picture: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

“Sean was sitting there, leaning forward, asking question after question,” Glazer told me this week. ”He had all the Stafford stuff going on, but it was like he was transfixed by this. He couldn’t believe that it was possible to live with that level of depression and still be able to function. The biggest credit to him is that he is someone who always wants to learn, to understand better, and he’s not too proud to admit when there’s something he knows nothing about.”

Just hours after the dinner, Stafford, who had been given permission to talk to other teams by the Detroit Lions, arrived at the same resort. He and McVay hit it off instantly. McVay urged the Rams hierarchy to make the trade in exchange for Jared Goff and a rich portfolio of draft capital, and now, a year later, the Rams will take on the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday in Super Bowl LVI.

Matthew Stafford has been critical to the LA Rams season, steering the team to Super Bowl LVI. Picture: Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images
Matthew Stafford has been critical to the LA Rams season, steering the team to Super Bowl LVI. Picture: Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

Even in the middle of one of the biggest weeks of his professional life, McVay was able to clearly recall that January talk with Glazer and Whitworth. In a media session Wednesday, he went into detail about how his greater level of understanding about mental health has had a profound impact upon him.

No fewer than five Rams players I have spoken to this week highlighted how McVay’s communication skills and level of personal kindness are among his strongest attributes. On Wednesday, I asked the coach about how his thinking on mental health continues to evolve.

“No question, I would say a lot,” he said. “I think there has been a heightened awareness about this just in general with our public. Having friends like Jay that are so willing to share and create an understanding and an empathy has been really helpful. I have learned a lot. It has made me a better person, a better coach, a better communicator.

“What you realise, especially in a leadership role, [is] everybody goes through certain things in their own way. Even though the problems might be different in a lot of instances, they don’t weigh the same.

“Just being there, having a good support system of people you can work through problems with, is vital and instrumental. That’s one of the most important things a coach can do is provide support, and the best leaders make people, in any situation they are part of, better.”

Jay Glazer hopes his new book will help remove the stigma surrounding discussions of mental health. Picture: Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SiriusXM
Jay Glazer hopes his new book will help remove the stigma surrounding discussions of mental health. Picture: Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SiriusXM

Glazer recently wrote "Unbreakable," a book that highlights his own journey and some of the techniques he has learned to thrive. His goal, he says, is to break through some of the stigma and shame that those struggling with their mental health often feel.

For the task of writing, he went full “method actor,” he said, staying off his medications for two months in order to feel the depths of depression more fully, ostensibly so he could explain them in greater detail.

“Often, when I am telling the viewers who is in or out and talking about the news, I will be having a conversation with the roommates in my head,” he said. ”For example, I don’t remember the entire first hour of our Super Bowl Sunday coverage two years ago. I just find a way to make it work.

“I see my role in this as being the guy who describes things in a real way. I am not your therapist, your clergy, your teacher. I am just a dude who lives in ‘the gray,’ and I have used it to fuel me instead of cripple me.”

McVay’s talk with Glazer and Whitworth highlights a significant issue. It can be difficult for those who have not experienced mental illness — or have experienced it only mildly — to understand what those most afflicted are going through.

LA Rams coach Sean McVay hopes that his conversations with Stafford, Whitworth and Glazer will help to cultivate a more understanding environment within the franchise. Picture: Michael Hickey/Getty Images
LA Rams coach Sean McVay hopes that his conversations with Stafford, Whitworth and Glazer will help to cultivate a more understanding environment within the franchise. Picture: Michael Hickey/Getty Images

To bridge that gap, to get strong figures such as McVay on board as a supporter and advocate, is critical.

McVay lives what some would consider a charmed life. In high school, he was Georgia’s Mr. Football, beating some guy named Calvin Johnson, who apparently was pretty good at making catches.

In 2017, McVay became the youngest head coach in NFL history when he was hired by the Rams. His overall record is 55-26. He has reached two Super Bowls. His fiancee is a model.

“It is so important to get guys like Sean to understand,” Glazer said. ”He is a role model, and he has an impressive, inspirational platform. I want people to realise we are all on the same team here.

“For people who are finding things tough, realise that for everything we go through, the scars can be worn as a badge of honour. It is a sign of strength, not a sign of weakness.”

Order Jay Glazer's book "Unbreakable" at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

-Fox Sports US

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