Super Bowl LIII: A Lesson in Potential and Effective Leadership


In January of 2017, Les Snead, the general manager of the Los Angeles Rams, had a tough choice to make. Hired in 2013, his team had not had a winning record since 2003 and had moved from St. Louis to Los Angeles just a year earlier. Expectations in LA were high, and it was time for Snead to find a new head coach. The safe and easy choice would be a seasoned, veteran head coach who was no stranger to the biggest stage in American sports. Jon Gruden, who won a Super Bowl in 2003 (2002 season), seemed to be an obvious candidate. Or, you take a look at successful college coaches, such as Nick Saban, who has won six NCAA championships as head coach at the University of Alabama and Louisiana State University. Both of these coaches had proven records as head coaches and were realistic candidates to fill the Rams’ coaching vacancy.

Instead, Snead hired Washington Redskins Offensive Coordinator Sean McVay, who also was a former assistant wide receivers coach under Gruden in 2008. At 30 years old, McVay was the youngest coach in NFL history. The results have been tremendous. In two seasons McVay has lead the Rams to a 26-9 record (including playoff games). On February 3, just nine days after his 33rd birthday, McVay will coach his team against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII.

As the spread offense, which is popular in college football, began to slowly infiltrate the NFL, disruption was imminent. All of a sudden, offensive innovation became a priority, but not all teams saw it coming. The Rams, preferring to disrupt rather than be disrupted, took a chance and hired McVay. They hired him because he knew how to get the ball into the hands of those who could score touchdowns, which he did for three seasons as offensive coordinator of the Washington Redskins. It was obvious he had the necessary competencies to orchestrate a successful offense, and that was the top priority.

We don’t know if the Rams used personality assessments to hire McVay, but we do know that you can learn a lot about McVay’s personality by what he does (i.e., his behavior) and what others say about him (i.e., his reputation). Following a game in 2017 when he was criticized for how the Rams poorly managed their timeouts, McVay said the following:

“With some of the previous ones (timeouts) it might have been a miscommunication – guys were confused or things like that – but all things being equal, it starts with me. I’ve got to do a better job with that.”

When talking to media in 2018 just a few days before playing the New Orleans Saints, McVay was asked about what he’s learned from Wade Phillips, his 71-year-old defensive coordinator and former NFL head coach. Here’s his response:

“A guy like him, I feel great to work and learn from him every day.”

Both of these quotes tell us a lot about McVay’s humble character, and his willingness to both admit mistakes and put good people around him, even if one of them (Phillips) was defensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles the year he was born.

Following their 26-23 win over the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship to reach Super Bowl LIII, Rams left tackle, Andrew Whitworth, said this about his coach:

“He’s a coach that knows his team. He knew we needed to do something to get things going our way, and he believed his team could get it done. That sounds simple, but it’s actually huge.”

And, perhaps the most important quote following the NFC Championship came from Snead:

“The idea was for him to come in and help us create a winning environment.”

At Hogan, we believe effective leaders are those who can develop and maintain high-performing teams. This involves possessing the required competencies for the job, being humble, getting the most out of the individuals on your team, and creating an environment where they can succeed. Gruden might have been a safe choice back in 2017, but he went 4-12 as head coach of the Oakland Raiders this year. On February 3, he won’t be coaching his team in the Super Bowl. He will be watching his former assistant wide receivers coach lead the Rams in the Super Bowl instead.