News, notes and other updates on 11 people around the NFL this week.
1. Sean McVay
“He is NOT retiring!!” Sean McVay’s fiancée, Veronika Khomyn, said Wednesday on Instagram. It appears McVay will return to coach the Rams for a sixth season in 2022. And maybe that’s the end of the story. It probably is.
But it would be understandable if he strongly considered a TV job. First, if he leaves for TV, he’s not retiring. Not many people retire at 36; Vince Lombardi won his first game as a head coach at 46. For insight on why McVay would even consider this, I give you this name: Tony Romo. CBS pays Romo $17.5 million a year to work about 20 games a year on TV. McVay makes about half that to coach the Rams, and though he’s surely in line for a bigger payday after making two Super Bowls and winning one in five years, it’s pretty logical for McVay to think seriously about being a TV analyst. Why wouldn’t he consider ESPN on Monday night or Amazon on Thursday night, if they’re willing to pay more than $15 million a year? (I thought it was around $15 million; one source told me “more.”)
Two trains of thought here, and I understand both.
• Stay With Rams. McVay got a contract extension in 2019, and told the Rams he wanted quarterback Jared Goff to get one too; they’d be joined at the hip for the future. But after two more years with Goff, McVay was unhappy and pushed for trading Goff, two first-round picks and a third-rounder to Detroit for Matthew Stafford. That two-year marriage to Goff, and the trade, cost the Rams three prime picks and $85 million, and owner Stan Kroenke okayed both that massive contract and the trade. Surely McVay owes the team more than one season after the commitment the team made for him at quarterback.
• Leave The Rams. McVay delivered two Super Bowl seasons in five years. He made the Rams legitimate when they desperately needed to be in their new city with the $5-billion stadium; they won 31 games in the five seasons pre-McVay, and they’ve won 62 in his five years. He delivered a world championship. So he should be allowed to do what he wants.
I see both sides. And isn’t it interesting that football enriches the TV networks, and the networks use that largesse to try and steal from the NFL? Dean Blandino got plucked from the NFL to be an officiating analyst for FOX; that defection wounded the league. If McVay leaves, it would wound the Rams. A generation ago, the NFL didn’t have to worry about its major players leaving prematurely for TV. Now it’s a part of the landscape.
2. Brian Flores
Surprise of the week: On Saturday, the Steelers hired the coach suing the NFL over claims of racism and attempted owner-bribery. Flores will be senior defensive assistant/linebackers coach with Pittsburgh under Mike Tomlin. This shouldn’t be a huge surprise, that a strong and iconoclastic organization such as the Steelers would make the best decision for the team, regardless of the fact that Flores clearly ruffled feathers in several establishment organizations with his lawsuit.
“Brian’s résumé speaks for itself,” Tomlin said, and it does. The NFL is better when Flores is coaching in it.
3. Mike McDaniel
The story of the new Dolphins coach is actually a story about Deebo Samuel. How McDaniel, the 5-9, 165-pound former Yale wide receiver, climbed the ladder from unpaid coaching staff intern/gopher in Denver in 2005 to the exclusive 32-coach fraternity is instructive. In fact, it says everything about McDaniel, who looks far more like a Geico account executive than one of 32 NFL leaders of men.
“So,” McDaniel began, “Deebo. We [the 49ers coaching staff] had him on our team at the Senior Bowl the January before we got to the Super Bowl. We had a saying: From Mobile to Miami, because the Super Bowl was in Miami that year, with our players. And we actually did it. He started calling me his favorite coach then. I don’t really know why. We were always close and whatever.
“This past season, I had a talk with him in the offseason. I was meeting with Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo at 6 a.m. every day during training camp because we needed them to step up. I asked Deebo, ‘Are you the best player on the offense?’ He was like, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘The time is now. Do you really wanna be great? Greatness is hard. That’s why it’s great. It’s not easy. It’s a burden, really.’ “
McDaniel told Samuel, as the best player on the offense, he needed to be more of a leader. Immediately he saw Samuel shift uncomfortably, like, That’s not me. Don’t ask me to be that.
No, McDaniel said. Being leader isn’t what you say. It’s what you do. Be the best student in the classroom. Work the hardest in practice. Give more effort at everything. You know those days you feel like crap? McDaniel said. Everybody else does too. Those are the days you’ve got to ask more of yourself, show more of yourself.
“Then I gave him a quote that he still says to me today. I said, ‘If you do that every day and stay healthy and take care of your body and all that extra leg work that the true great ones do, at the end of the season, you’ll be first team all-pro and you’ll make me a head coach.”
2021 all-pro receivers: Davante Adams, Cooper Kupp, Deebo Samuel.
2022 head coach, Miami: Mike McDaniel.
There was another part of the Deebo maturation/development: “No player in my career has ever bothered me on a Tuesday,” McDaniel said. But last season, every Tuesday around noon, Samuel would come into McDaniel’s office, sit on his couch, and, in the midst of game-planning crunch time, Samuel would wait for McDaniel to have a break in between tape or conversations with other coaches on staff. McDaniel would stop what he was doing for maybe a half hour, 45 minutes, and turn to Samuel to talk about that week’s plan, and what role he’d play.
McDaniel’s imagination, and Samuel’s study/practice habits and athleticism, combined to make Samuel the most dangerous weapon in the league. Prior to Week 10 against the Rams, when McDaniel started feeling good about Samuel’s knowledge of the run game, McDaniel started building regular run snaps in the game plan for Samuel. In Samuel’s next five games, he ran it 5, 8, 6, 8, and 6 times, with three rushes over 25 yards and six rushing touchdowns. Samuel had become a dual-threat player at the highest level. “Each week, I’d add like one new type of run so he wouldn’t have to learn too much, but the defense hadn’t seen it,” McDaniel said. “By the end of the season, he could do almost every type of run that running backs could do.”
That’s how McDaniel plans to coach the Dolphins.
“You set the vision for somebody, and you go and make it happen,” he said.
That’s why the 2022 Dolphins should be fascinating to watch.
4. Covid Combine
Tom Pelissero of NFL Network reports players at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis will be kept on a tight leash and “restricted to secure combine venues during their entire time in Indianapolis.” The league said players will be on-site for a shorter time, and it’s thought the physical and medical testing will be done in tighter windows now while also allowing for the 15-minute meetings teams have with selected players. That’s a big part of the combine learning experience for teams. What will fall by the wayside, much to the chagrin of agents: The big agencies rent out suites and big rooms for their players to relax and make business acquaintances at the combine—and that’s out. We’ll see how it affects the media interactions at the combine, which help the public get to know the 330-plus prospects.
5. Super Bowl officiating
The miss on the 75-yard Tee Higgins TD catch—he grabbed Jalen Ramsey’s facemask on a play at least two officials should have seen—was somewhat understandable; it happened so fast with the ball arriving just as Higgins yanked the mask. Still, a big miss.
But the biggest miss came with 1:44 left in the game and Cincinnati leading 20-16. On third-and-goal from the Rams’ 8-yard line, Cincinnati linebacker Logan Wilson covered Cooper Kupp off the line, and Kupp did an in-cut to his right, closely covered by Wilson. The pass to Kupp was incomplete, and a flag came out. After keeping flags in pockets for the first 58 minutes—four accepted penalties were called in that time—the defensive holding on Wilson was stunning. There was no hold. It was not disputable. As former NFL senior VP of officiating Dean Blandino said on a Zoom call with the NFL think-tank 33rd Team, “It’s not a foul. There’s really nothing to see. That’s just a good defensive play.”
The upshot: The half-the-distance hold gave the Rams a first-and-goal from the 4-yard line. Flagless, the Rams would have had season on the line, fourth-and-goal from the 8. Big call.
That’s the kind of call a Sky Judge upstairs could have corrected. Or more communication from the Walt Anderson-led officiating command center could have. This isn’t a four-alarm-fire kind of error, but it’s significant, and should be discussed by the Competition Committee beginning at the combine next week.
6. Lovie Smith
It’s been a long time since any NFL franchise used Cincinnati as a beacon, but the new Houston coach plans to when he talks to his full squad. “We won four games this year. The Bengals won four the year before, and this was a big year for them,” Smith told me last week. “We don’t have to wonder—we just saw a team do it. Someone’s going to make that jump. Someone always does. Why not us?”
Well, there’s the quarterback position, for one thing. Joe Burrow versus Davis Mills. There’s a sobering comparison. Sounds like the position’s open. Smith on Mills, and the future: “What gives me optimism is … I got a chance to see Davis Mills. How many special quarterbacks are there out there? There’s a few. But there’s a lot of good quarterbacks. I think we will have a good quarterback for the Houston Texans. We have the third pick in the draft right now. There’s a possibility of us getting a great quarterback added to our team, or a lot of draft picks to get in more players. Something positive’s going to come out of that.”
I asked Smith about the elephant in the coaching room—that he wasn’t interviewed till after the Brian Flores lawsuit. The inference, of course, is that the Texans couldn’t hire their supposed coach of choice, Josh McCown, who never coached on the college or pro level, and that the Texans didn’t want to hire Flores. And thus Houston turned to an experienced coach on its staff, defensive coordinator Smith. McCown is white, Flores and Smith Black.
“I tell most coaches in general: Every time you coach, you’re kind of interviewing for a job,” Smith said. “When you say that I wasn’t [a candidate for the job], I think ownership, everyone, players, they all got a chance to see I came in with the background. I’ve been a head football coach. They got a chance to get to know me and see me in a leadership role. Once this job became open, you start looking at everyone. I know there are some public guys, but the organization has been asking my opinion on quite a few things and just what we needed to do going forward. You never know what’s really going on behind the scenes. But to say that I just got popped up at the end, I don’t think that was truly the case.”
7. Patrick Mahomes
The Kansas City quarterback should be getting kudos for making time to attend and contribute to the inaugural HBCU Legacy Bowl in New Orleans, where he was honorary captain and did the coin toss. It was great of Mahomes to take time to spotlight the best players at historically Black colleges and universities as they attempt to further their football careers.
Instead, the bigger Mahomes story of the week was how he was caught up in a crazy catfishing story that intended to tarnish him, his fiancé and his brother. Sam McDowell of the Kansas City Star summed up this blight on us as people better than I could. I know Mahomes; I am not tight with him. But my experiences with him, and every scintilla of evidence I have from those close to him, is that he’s a good person with a good heart. Such a shame in our society that we invent worse-than-Johnny-Knoxville-gotcha crap like this. It’s more than a shame. It’s a disgrace.
8. Micah Banks
The son of the late Sports Illustrated writer Don Banks is a world champion. Micah, a product of the journalism and mass communications program at George Washington, served as an intern in the Rams’ media-relations department under Artis Twyman this year, one of the feel-good stories (at least for those of us close to Don Banks) of this football season.
“Dad really drove me to journalism,” Micah, 23, said Friday. “I think he’d be really proud of me. I mean, first season in sports, home Super Bowl, make Super Bowl, win Super Bowl.”
Give two assists for Micah’s role with the Rams to a good friend of Don’s, Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times, and to Rams COO Kevin Demoff, who was close to Don. After Don Banks, 57, died of a heart issue in a hotel in Canton in August 2019 while covering the Hall of Fame ceremonies, Micah saw Farmer at his father’s Memorial service. Farmer suggested calling Demoff for assistance, and perhaps for professional guidance. When he did, Demoff arranged a summer 2020 internship in the PR department. That had to be virtual, so the experience working from his Virginia home wasn’t as valuable as it could have been in person. But when the Rams had a PR-intern opening before the start of the 2021 season, Twyman offered it to Micah. L.A., here he came.
“He stepped right in and was up to speed in no time,” Twyman said. “He was a delight to work with and really has a future in this business.”
Micah, who hopes to be an NFL GM one day, said his father used to kid him all the time about how lucky he was; things always seemed to work out well for young Micah. “Today,” he said, “I think my Dad would probably say something like, ‘Well, the hot streak continues.’ “
Funny. I can hear Don Banks say that. He said it to me a hundred times, or “World’s luckiest man continues on hot streak.” Don was always right.
9. The Super Bowl MVP
Mike Florio wrote this week—and he is right—that the MVP vote should not be taken till the end of the game. As it is now, the NFL asks 16 voters it chooses (and I have been one several times, and was one this year) for their votes late in the fourth quarter. His argument is that the game is 60 minutes long, and how can you know what’s going to happen in the final moments if you vote before the final moments are played. This year was a perfect example.
Cooper Kupp caught the winning touchdown pass, his second of the game, with 85 seconds left. Aaron Donald made the game-clinching defensive plays with 43 and 39 seconds left. Both were great in the game. Both were deserving.
I voted for Kupp, and am happy with it. Kupp and Odell Beckham were 1 and 1a in the Rams’ game plan, and that ended midway through the second quarter when Beckham went down with a torn ACL. Already playing without starting tight end Tyler Higbee, number two tight end Kendall Blanton also went out with a shoulder injury in mid-game. Already down Robert Woods with an early-season injury, that left Stafford with Kupp and Van Jefferson as familiar targets. On fourth-and-one, game on the line, with five minutes left, McVay called a Jet Motion end around for Kupp; gain of seven. In the last 1:50 of the game, Stafford threw four passes. All were to Kupp. The first three targets ended in a defensive hold, offsetting penalties (Kupp was knocked into next week by Bengals safety Vonn Bell) and pass interference. The fourth resulted in the winning touchdown. In every crucial point of the game for the Rams on offense, they turned to Kupp.
A vote for Donald would have been justice too—he was hugely valuable with the season on the line. Either way, the NFL has to change its MVP voting, as Florio wrote, so that the vote is taken as the clock hits :00. It’s simple to tally 16 votes (or more, if the NFL chooses to expand); it can be done in two minutes after the game, plenty of time for the winner to learn his fate on the field while the confetti is flying.
10. Zac Taylor
I don’t know if Taylor is going to turn out to be a great coach. He’ll have a chance, with a good young roster and potentially great quarterback. Now he’ll have every chance to keep the Bengals a contender—the franchise signed him to a four-year contract extension through the 2026 season.
Of course, owner Mike Brown is one of the few executives in football who doesn’t care what the outside world thinks about his decision-making. They all say they don’t care, but their actions show otherwise. Brown laughs at that stuff. (Literally.) He never seriously considered firing Taylor when he was 6-25-1 in his first two years. “I always felt like I was going to get another opportunity,” Taylor told me before the Super Bowl.
“I think we all understood that we needed to start winning a lot more games than we were. But the beauty of working for Mike and the family here is you meet almost on a daily basis. There is no earth-shattering conversation that needs to be had after a season because you have that conversation every day in the offseason, training camp, during the season. We’re always on the same page to where there’s not these big State of the Union meetings that need to happen where there’s been no communication for weeks or months. I wouldn’t want to have it any other way. Makes sure we’re always on the same page.”
11. John Madden
The NFL said its final goodbye to the late coach/broadcast/video-game entrepreneur last week, and I thought this story from Washington coach Ron Rivera would be a fitting way to acknowledge this seminal figure in NFL history.
In his first two years as head coach in Carolina, Rivera’s teams were 2-12 in games decided by seven points or less. Then-Carolina owner Jerry Richardson asked Rivera to meet with a friend, Madden, to discuss what Rivera might do differently in close games. A meeting was set. Madden told Rivera before he came to California to see him, go back and look at the close games to see what he might have done differently.
“Just as we’re about to start,” Rivera said, “I said I got that homework assignment you gave me. I pull it out, it’s about 15, 20 pages. I go to hand it to him, and he goes, That’s not for me. That’s for you. What did you learn? Well, I said, as I started to flip through, I said, ‘You know this instance, I went by the book. I did it the way you’re supposed to.’ He goes, ‘What do you mean, by the book? There is no book, Ron, you know that. You’ve played enough football, you know enough football, you’ve coached enough football, to go by your gut instinct, by what you feel.’
“From that point on, it made sense. It hit me that you know, what I was doing was safe. It was the least critical thing, criticize-able thing to do, if that’s a word. From that point, now I would get into game situations and I would think them through. Those things, he really helped me to understand and that really changed my thought process going forward. It really did. It really helped me. I really do believe that that was kinda the evolution I needed to become the coach I am today.”
The Panthers were 9-4-1 in the next two seasons in those close games, and Riverboat Ron was born, and now you know the rest of the story.