Sean McVay is 'the happy version of Jon Gruden'

Sean McVay got his start on Jon Gruden's staff in Tampa Bay. Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- The way he's able to captivate a room is among his best qualities. In fact, Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay is sometimes so engaging during team film sessions that left tackle Andrew Whitworth thinks he's watching a television broadcast.

"Sometimes I literally feel like I'm sitting there watching Jon Gruden on Monday Night Football," Whitworth said.

It's no coincidence that Whitworth and his teammates think McVay, 32, bears resemblance to the 55-year-old Gruden. McVay has spent a decade absorbing every detail from the Super Bowl-winning coach.

"So much of what I've learned about this game has been from his mentorship that he's provided," McVay said.

That includes a big-picture view of the game along with Gruden's uncanny mannerisms and the unmistakable cadence of his speech.

"I feel like he's the happy version of Jon Gruden," Rams receiver Robert Woods said. "How he comes out all energetic, like, 'All right! Let's go, guys!'"

Gruden gave McVay his first coaching opportunity in 2008, when he hired the 22-year-old fresh out of Miami (Ohio) as an assistant receivers coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They coached together for only a season; Gruden was fired following a 9-7 finish, six seasons after he led the Bucs to a Super Bowl victory.

Though Gruden's and McVay's paths diverged, the two kept in touch. Gruden mentored McVay as he navigated and quickly climbed the coaching ranks.

Now mentor and mentee are set to meet Monday night, when the Rams and Oakland Raiders play in a season opener at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum (10:15 p.m. ET on ESPN/ESPN App).

Gruden returns to coaching with a 10-year contract worth nearly $100 million after a decade-long career in broadcasting.

For McVay, the opener marks the beginning of a season that comes with Super Bowl expectations, following the addition of three All-Pros to a roster that last season produced a division title for the first time in 14 years.

When the Rams hired McVay in 2017, part of the allure was how much he took after Gruden and his pedigree.

"There are times when I close my eyes that I hear Jon Gruden," chief operating officer Kevin Demoff said when he introduced McVay as coach.

"I hear it all the time," McVay said. "But I think probably subconsciously you pick up on some of those things just from being around somebody."

The McVay and Gruden families have been intertwined since the late 1960s, when John McVay, Sean's grandfather, was the head coach at the University of Dayton and gave Jim Gruden -- Jon's father -- a position on his staff. Then in the 1970s, Tim McVay -- Sean's father -- played at the University of Indiana, where Jim Gruden was an assistant. And then in 1990, Jon Gruden received his first opportunity to coach in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers, where John McVay was an executive.

"I've known Sean since he was a kid," Jon Gruden said, adding, "John McVay was the GM of the 49ers, helped my dad at Dayton and with the 49ers and it was my opportunity to help a McVay. So I wanted to give Sean an opportunity to be a coach and wouldn't you know, two or three years later, he's at the top of the profession."

Sean McVay also worked for Gruden's brother, Jay, with the Washington Redskins. Jay Gruden inherited McVay and promoted him to offensive coordinator upon taking over as head coach in 2014 -- reuniting the two from a short-lived gig with the United Football League five years earlier.

McVay gleaned plenty from the younger Gruden brother, but it's Jon Gruden’s traits that are most apparent when observing McVay.

Rams players laugh at their coach's Gruden-inspired quirks and are quick to produce their own imitations.

"'Guys, guys! It's just like, I love football! Like, I'm sorry!'" Woods said in his most McVay- and Gruden-inspired tone, describing a phrase he said McVay utters when he gets a little too hyped at the start of meetings.

There's also, apparently, an eyebrow thing. Gruden does it when he's uncertain that a player made the correct decision. And apparently, McVay does it, too.

"When he's mad, he's got that little glare, you know, how Gruden made that little glare, like Chucky?" cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman said as he furrowed his brow. "When Coach mad, he be like ..." Robey-Coleman said while contorting his brow again.

Even Gruden gets a chuckle at how much he sees himself in McVay. "I think he's better than Frank Caliendo, really," Gruden said, referring to the comedian who can deliver a spot-on impersonation.

But McVay's inheritance isn't just limited to Gruden's mannerisms and speech patterns. He also picked up the details.

"Anytime that you're around somebody like him, you always try to learn," McVay said. "Whether that's looking at the game from a 22-man perspective, tireless work ethic, bringing an authentic energy every single day because you are passionate about football."

McVay wakes long before the sun rises to arrive at the Rams' training facility to begin his work. An offensive-minded coach, he never hesitates to communicate about specifics with his defensive players -- a trait star defensive tackle Aaron Donald said sets him apart.

At practices, McVay walks around between position groups and demonstrates concepts with his hands, something quarterback Jared Goff said McVay also got from Gruden.

"Just always out and active," Goff said as he flailed his arms. "Just talking through things with them."

Before the Rams selected Goff with the No. 1 pick in 2016, the former Cal quarterback was put through "Gruden's QB Camp" on ESPN.

Now, after working with McVay for a year and a half, Goff said there are "a million" similarities between the two, but none more so than their passion for the game.

"It's all very excited and very energetic," Goff said.

In days leading up to Gruden accepting the position with the Raiders last January, McVay was asked if he would like to face his former mentor.

“No,” McVay said with a grin, before explaining why he’d enjoy it.

"If you get a chance to coach against one of your mentors, and a guy that taught you almost kind of the foundation of what you know about this game, I think it would be a fun, humbling opportunity," he said.

According to Gruden, the similarities between him and McVay are innumerable and could be easy to spot on Monday night.

"We're both offensive guys, both call plays and both enjoy being around the quarterback," Gruden said.

But there is one glaring difference.

"He's just a lot younger," Gruden said. "And better looking."