By GREG BEACHAM
ATLANTA (AP) — The tenets of Sean McVay’s coaching philosophy are never far from sight at the Los Angeles Rams’ training complex.
“We Not Me” is emblazoned everywhere from the Rams’ playbooks to huge wall signs in the locker room. “The Standard Is the Standard” adorns T-shirts.
“Trust the Process” isn’t a sarcastic joke in Thousand Oaks, as it became among basketball lovers in Philadelphia. It earnestly greets every player in large letters when they cross the Rams’ facility for team meetings.
“I think what football really represents is there’s something special about being part of something bigger than yourself,” McVay said this week in Atlanta. “The star of the team is the team, however you want to say it. But words are words. You’ve got to really live it.”
In just two years in charge, the 33-year-old McVay has utterly changed — or perhaps created — the identity of a franchise that had 13 consecutive non-winning seasons before his arrival. Though they’re years away from having the success necessary to finish it, the foundation is set for a culture that could someday emulate the best parts of the “Patriot Way,” the unofficial name for coach Bill Belichick’s ability to unite his franchise under his core principles.
On their way to the Super Bowl on Sunday, the Rams navigated a trying regular season at home, with a mass shooting and two wildfires all occurring near their training complex in Thousand Oaks, California.
According to players and coaches, that adversity and the franchise’s response to it cemented the rightness of McVay’s methods — and through it all, the Rams kept winning.
“Sean has implemented an unbelievable culture,” Rams general manager Les Snead said. “We always say around here that we’re not collecting talent. We’re building a team, and there’s more to a team than just a skillset on a football field.”
McVay never claimed to invent his motivational phrases, which mean exactly what an outsider would presume. “We Not Me” isn’t Shakespeare, but the NFL isn’t English lit class.
McVay’s cutting-edge offensive acumen and coordinator Wade Phillips’ defensive know-how are the pillars beneath this Super Bowl team, but the Rams believe McVay’s commitment to simple, direct communication is another key component.
The players know what McVay means because he repeats his messages constantly, and then he shows them with his actions. His players have responded in kind, and the result is a tight-knit group of disparate personalities that could win a championship this weekend just two years after many of the same players went 4-12.
“When (McVay) got here, it was all about buying into what he was talking about,” defensive tackle Michael Brockers said. “Buying into character, and buying into the ‘We Not Me’ mentality. Ever since we’ve done that, and this team has carried that on our shoulders, we’ve been winning. For a man to come in here and just change it like that, I have to show my respect to him. It started with him.”
Brockers joined the Rams in St. Louis in 2012, and he endured five straight losing seasons before McVay arrived. When asked to name the biggest changes during his Rams tenure, he can’t stop: “The leadership we have. The coaches we have. How confident we are in our game plan. How confidently we go into each game.”
“I’ve just seen the changes over these years, and it’s beautiful,” Brockers added. “It makes me emotional, because things like this don’t happen in a short amount of time, and I’ve watched it grow. Like they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day. And I’m seeing it in its beauty right now.”
The results are indeed beautiful: The Rams have won 26 of their 35 games since McVay took over. Los Angeles is 15-3 this season and on the brink of a championship despite a tumultuous autumn.
Twelve people were killed less than five miles from the Rams’ training complex on Nov. 7 at the Borderline Bar and Grill. Later in the month, wildfires forced dozens of Rams employees, including Phillips, and their families to evacuate their homes.
“We’ve had a lot of different challenges we’ve had to rise up to this season, and I’m so proud of our guys for how they handled it,” said left tackle Andrew Whitworth, a locker room leader and spokesman. “But to me, life in general is lived best when it’s about more than just yourself. We’ve tried to embody that in everything we do.”
The Rams responded by taking care of their work and then striving to improve others’ lives. Along with extensive charity fundraising efforts fronted by quarterback Jared Goff, the team welcomed thousands of victims and first responders to their Monday night home game against Kansas City before Thanksgiving, an epic 54-51 victory.
“I had so many people tell me that the game gave them some respite from what they had been going through, and that’s the best feeling,” said Whitworth, who donated one of his paychecks to relief efforts. “It’s not a burden. It’s an opportunity to inspire a whole lot of people.”