Alexander: Rams should explore a break for Sean McVay

There is a way to give Sean McVay the break from football that he needs and deserves while ensuring that when he’s ready to return, the Rams will be the beneficiaries.

Make it official: A sabbatical from coaching, be it one year or a couple. Keep him on the Rams’ payroll, as a consultant or advisor or whatever the appropriate terminology might be, under the terms of his current contract (which was extended last year). Promote an assistant – and defensive coordinator Raheem Morris would seem the logical candidate – as interim head coach, with the idea of further polishing his own head coaching resumé.

The benefit? Everyone involved – players, coaches, executives – would understand the situation and the process, and any disruption or confusion would be kept to a minimum. And when McVay was ready to resume coaching, the adjustment would be minimal.

This would be different, true. Usually, the “interim” tag is applied following a mid-season firing, the assumption being that the replacement is only biding time until the full-time hiring process begins. Only two of the 17 “interim” head coaches promoted over the past decade were been retained, Mike Mularkey by Tennessee in 2015 and Doug Marrone by Jacksonville in 2016.

The sabbatical idea isn’t new, but the execution would be. Usually, it’s a forced sabbatical – the coach gets fired, re-charges his batteries for a year or two at home, and gets back into circulation for whichever vacancies exist.

Even in the most familiar example of the concept here, Phil Jackson’s one-year break from coaching the Lakers in 2004-05, there was no certainty that he would come back, Jackson was fired by Jerry Buss shortly after the Lakers had been swept by Detroit in the 2004 NBA Finals, with the Shaquille O’Neal-Kobe Bryant relationship having reached the “he goes or I go” stage. Complicating that, Jackson had bluntly criticized Bryant (who stayed) in a book that came out that October.

But the job was available in the spring of ’05 because his replacement, Rudy Tomjanovich, had to step down for health reasons in February, and the team ultimately missed the playoffs. At the June 2005 news conference announcing his return, Jackson said “this is something I never thought could possibly happen.”

That’s funny. Everyone else did. But Jackson had been in Australia for much of the previous season, which allowed him to tune out the speculation.

The closest thing to a pure sabbatical the NFL has seen was Sean Payton’s year off in 2012, but that had a catch, too. Payton was suspended by the NFL for a year because of the scheme, concocted by Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, to offer bounties for knocking players out of the game. The Saints were 7-9 under interim coaches Aaron Kromer and Joe Vitt in 2012, and when Payton returned in 2013, they went 11-5 and got back into the playoffs.

(Payton is available again, by the way. He’ll likely be hired quickly.)

McVay is worth keeping, at whatever the cost. The 60-38 record, three division championships, two Super Bowl appearances and one Lombardi Trophy – all before his 37th birthday, on Jan. 24 – should speak a lot louder than this season’s finish, especially since you can’t coach health. Give the Rams a healthy and functioning offensive line and keep Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp and Aaron Donald upright, and they finish a lot better than 5-12 and might still be playing this week.

But burnout is real. At some point, “all in” becomes all-encompassing, and no matter how passionate you might be it becomes too much.

McVay told reporters Monday that it wasn’t so much that he wasn’t OK as “more about just how can you be at your best.

“This has been years. This isn’t a new thing … (Making) sure that this joy, this zest, this ability to be able to do the things at the level that you know you’re capable of, how do you not let the challenges and the grind and the competitor in you … how do you not let that change the dynamic of who you want to be as a leader in those types of things? And that’s kind of where I’m at.”

Much of what McVay talked about at his end-of-season news conference concerned his responsibility for his assistant coaches and others who would be affected by his stepping away. Along those lines, he reportedly gave his assistants permission to seek other jobs “without resistance,” as ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler put it. Offensive coordinator Liam Coen is already gone, headed back to the University of Kentucky and a similar role. Other changes might have been afoot in any case.

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“Do I love coaching? Hell, yeah,” McVay said. “Have there been a lot of things that have made it a challenge and a strain because of my own self-inflicted things? No question about it.”

The recognition that balancing that desire to be great with the need to not let what you can’t control consume you, and being able to let things go when necessary, seems to be part of his evolution as a coach. And the support he described from those above him, from GM Les Snead and COO Kevin Demoff all the way up to owner Stan Kroenke, includes the space to be able to make the decision that’s best for him.

“I have got a great support structure,” McVay said. “Sometimes you need to be able to let them help you more and not be afraid to acknowledge the fact that you don’t have to try to feel like you got to bear the weight of all of those types of things.

“It’s a beautiful torment, if you will … Tom Brady had a quote before about (how) he hopes that his kids can find something that they’re as passionate about as he is about football, but he wouldn’t wish that torment on anybody else. And I can really relate to that.”

A sabbatical, then, would be a win-win.

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