It was one of those weeks. The opponent wasn’t any good, and the team that would likely beat it by four touchdowns wasn’t all that focused.
The high school quarterback of the better team wasn’t all that dialed in, and showed such with an early turnover.
His head coach wasn’t all that pleased.
“He had come off the field and walked to the end of our bench and sat down next to our medical staff,” remembers the coach then and now, Alan Chadwick. “I went down there and just gave him hell up one side and down the other, just screaming at him. I walked away but came back a minute later. I wasn’t through with him yet. I just kept yelling at him before finally turning away.
“He then turned to our team doctors and said, ‘It’s OK. He just thinks I’m hard of hearing.’”
Before he was the youngest head coach in history to direct a team to the Super Bowl, before he gained a reputation for having a memory to match da Vinci while wearing a headset, before most every other NFL team secretly began to envision discovering the next him to direct its franchise, Sean McVay ran the option for a private Roman Catholic prep school in the northeastern section of Atlanta.
Marist School was founded in 1901 and is a picturesque setting from another time, 77 acres surrounded by woods, of red brick academic buildings and pristine athletic facilities and a chapel and a library and art studios and a dance studio and computer labs.
One of its football opponents here next season: Canyon Springs of Las Vegas.
Through the stately gates, at the end of a long road, past the guard shack and roundabout that houses one of the country’s better prep athletic departments, is a 4,400-seat stadium that last produced a state champion for the home team in 2003.
Led by a moppy-haired kid named McVay.
A different McVay
His looked is more closely cropped now and what is at stake on an entirely different level, as McVay at age 33 will coach the Rams against the Patriots in Super Bowl LIII on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The fact he holds such a position even surprises some who knew and admired him most at Marist, where McVay was 26-3 as a starter over two years and as a senior was named Georgia 4A Offensive Player of the Year.
The runner-up: a kid named Calvin Johnson.
“The quickness of Sean’s ascent is amazing,” said Dan Perez, assistant head coach at Marist who was in charge of the freshman team on which McVay played. “I’m not going to lie — I was shocked when he got the Rams coaching job just because of his age — 30 at the time. Wow. I knew he was special because of his knowledge of the game, but now he has transformed the league in two years.”
The stories of McVay’s ability to recall even the most insignificant details and plays from decades past have over this NFL season become legendary, and it’s true he spent as much time in the Marist film room as coaches would allow.
His father, Tim, played college football and his grandfather, John, is a former NFL head coach and then executive with the 49ers who owns five Super Bowl rings. McVay has always lived and died with this stuff.
Perez tells of a time Sean McVay, then an assistant with the Redskins, visited Marist and went to lunch with his former freshman head coach.
Perez inquired how McVay was spending his summer.
“He told me he was doing different projects, and I asked to give me an example,” said Perez. “So he tells me that he was taking the following year’s schedule of 16 games and labeling the coordinators of each team so he could study at what point during the play clock they match personnel on every play.
“He was trying to figure out the exact second he could counter with his personnel. At that moment, I knew he was on a whole other level. He was that diligent, that prepared, always looking for an advantage. I thought, ‘Man, this guy has it going on.’”
Wham Naked on Two
The play is as famous at Marist as McVay has become across the NFL. It’s called “Wham Naked,” and was the one a senior option quarterback suggested be run on third-and-goal from the 3 in a 4A state semifinal in 2003, his team trailing by five late in the fourth quarter.
Chadwick, who has been at Marist 42 years, the last 34 as football coach, looked to his offensive coordinator. They nodded in agreement, and the quarterback trotted back onto the field, where he faked a handoff, paused for the defense to react and sprinted around the right side for a touchdown.
“If it doesn’t work,” said Chadwick, “it ends up being about a 6-yard loss. We ran it this past season and got sacked for a safety, but it wasn’t Sean at quarterback. He was one of the toughest kids we’ve ever had. Broke his nose at an eighth-grade camp and was back the next day. Played part of the state championship with a broken foot. He was just special.
“Being coached hard never bothered him. Other kids would have shelled up, but we could rip into him and he would just go right back out and make plays. He had that kind of confidence in himself. He just took it and learned from it and could handle anything.”
The pressure of being the youngest head coach in Super Bowl history?
It’s OK. He just thinks I’m hard of hearing.
Contact columnist Ed Graney at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.