Has the McVay Coaching Tree Lost Most Of Its Luster?

A little over a week before Super Bowl LVI between the Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals in February 2022, ESPN’s Ben Baby wrote:

Three years ago, it was one of the biggest jokes in football.

If you ever had a cup of coffee with Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay, you had a good chance of becoming an NFL head coach yourself. Three years ago, the Cincinnati Bengals hired Zac Taylor to be their coach after he spent two seasons coaching wide receivers and then quarterbacks under McVay.

The culmination of the 2021 NFL season was the single greatest validation of that same joke from the late 2010s. Sean McVay made his second Super Bowl appearance in five years with the Rams. But instead of matching up against Bill Belichick, the offensive whiz kid had a former pupil in Zac Taylor as his opponent on the final Sunday of the season.

The Minnesota Vikings had just moved on from the Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer regime and recently hired Kwesi Adofo-Mensah as their new general manager. Instead of embarking on a slow-build organizational teardown, the Vikings jumped on board the McVay express, hired Kevin O’Connell — McVay’s offensive coordinator in 2020 and 2021 — decided to throw their hat into the ring of the NFL’s most popular fad and/or running joke.

Fast forward nearly two full years later. A matchup of two former McVay guys with teams fighting tooth and nail to punch their ticket to the postseason is not even a blip on the national radar. The easy explanation would be that both offenses are hamstrung without Kirk Cousins and Joe Burrow leading the way.

Or could it be that the McVay coaching tree/fad/joke has lost much of its luster?

Even though McVay’s Rams were finally handed the credit card bill in 2022 following their comical amount of win-now moves to reach the NFL’s mountaintop the year prior, Taylor’s Bengals were still just a handful of plays away from becoming back-to-back AFC Champions. And despite what the general consensus had to say about how they did it, O’Connell’s Vikings still won 13 games in his inaugural season.

But this trio of McVay and his minions are a combined 20-19 in 2023, with rather pedestrian offensive outputs, at least by their standards.


  • 10th in points
  • 10th in yards
  • 9th in Expected Points Added (EPA) per play
  • 11th in Success Rate


  • 17th in points
  • 22nd in yards
  • 11th in EPA/play
  • 9th in Success Rate


  • 21st in points
  • 12th in yards
  • 18th in EPA/play
  • 12th in Success Rate

On the surface, it’s understandable that the Vikings are in the bottom half of the league in points and EPA/play. Most NFL offenses would experience that sort of dip without their starting quarterback and arguably the NFL’s best wide receiver for most of its season. Just look at last season’s Rams, when they were without both Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp for the bulk of their season.

  • 27th in points
  • 32nd in yards
  • 29th in EPA/play
  • 23rd in Success Rate

If McVay couldn’t come even remotely close to making it work offensively without his bread and butter, should that be considered a serious indictment of the pedestal the football world has put him on? On one hand, it’s less about the X’s and O’s and more about the Jimmys and Joes. On the other, the mystique surrounding McVay and his offensive mind lends one to expect noticeably more. Because, ultimately, isn’t that a big reason why Taylor and O’Connell have head coaching positions in today’s NFL? While there’s only one McVay, the remaining franchises have sought the guys closest to him in hopes of obtaining McVay’s scheme and culture for their own ball clubs.

While this year’s Vikings and last year’s Rams point to the verdict of McVay and his coaching tree needing all hands on deck to maintain high-level NFL offense, Taylor and the Bengals have been the exception lately.

With Jake Browning filling in for Burrow over the past two weeks, Cincinnati is 2-0 against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Indianapolis Colts, two playoff contenders. They’ve scored 34 points in both contests while averaging 438 yards of offense. For context, this season, the Miami Dolphins, the No.1 offense in the NFL, is averaging 31.6 points and 424 yards per game. Over these same two weeks, Cincinnati is sixth in both EPA/play and success rate.

It’s worth mentioning that O’Connell’s Vikings experienced a similar two-week exception to their widely predicted offensive setback in the immediate weeks following Cousins’ season-ending injury. In Weeks 9 and 10 against the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints, Minnesota was averaging 29 points and 375.5 yards per game. For context, the San Francisco 49ers are second in the NFL this season, with an average of 29.2 points per game.

Does this mean that it’s only a matter of time until the rest of the NFL — and Brian Flores in particular this week — figures out how to bring Taylor’s shorthanded offense back to reality, just like how the Chicago Bears and Las Vegas Raiders potentially laid the blueprint for O’Connell’s shorthanded unit over the past two games?

Considering how well Flores has his unit playing right now, if Taylor and the Bengals can have success against the Vikings’ defense with Browning at the helm, it could be the exact type of performance that reminds the entire football world why having a cup of coffee with McVay once upon a time still might mean something in 2023 and beyond.


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