The Rams have several top coaching prospects littered throughout their staff.
From the youngest head coach in NFL history to Super Bowl Champion, McVay has racked up a long list of accomplishments in a very short amount of time.
But there’s still one area where McVay remains underrated: his ability to develop coaches. At the age of 36, he’s already seen four of his assistants – Zac Taylor, Matt Lafleur (via Tennessee), Brandon Staley, and Kevin O’Connell – rise to head coaching jobs around the league.
McVay’s pipeline of coaches stems from two things: one, his ability to recognize talent, and two, a willingness to give them on-the-job training to better themselves.
Focusing on the latter, McVay gives his non-coordinator assistants the opportunity to call plays during the preseason, thus preparing them for when the opportunity arises.
In a sense, the Rams’ hotbed of coaching talent is a blessing and a curse. McVay has to constantly reload assistants – which he largely does to great avail – but also fields one of the deepest staffs in the room.
In all likelihood, McVay will have an opening at defensive coordinator following this season, as Raheem Morris has quickly asserted himself as one of the top head coaching candidates in the league.
Fortunately for the Rams, as is the case with the team, the staff has a next-man-up mentality, and defensive line coach Eric Henderson might just be the next in line. Henderson has held defensive play-calling duties throughout the preseason, impressing McVay along the way.
“Aggressive,” McVay said when asked to describe Henderson’s style. “I thought he did a great job, we’ve talked about understanding how they can really continue to use that experience as a learning (opportunity).
“Thought he did a great job in week one, but you could feel the comfort level week two, even just the decisiveness and change in personnel’s, getting the calls in, understanding the different situations that came up.”
Henderson, 39, starred on the defensive line at Georgia Tech, posting a school-record 59.5 tackles-for-loss. He proceeded to play three seasons in the NFL with the Cincinnati Bengals and another three in the United Football League before joining the coaching ranks.
Henderson’s journey started at Georgia Military College, where he worked as a defensive assistant, before joining the Big 12’s Oklahoma State Cowboys as a graduate assistant and, later, defensive quality control coach.
His first job as a defensive line coach came in 2016 at the University of Texas-San Antonio (UTSA), where he worked with future New Orleans Saints first-round pick Marcus Davenport. However, Henderson’s stay lasted just one year, as he left to take over the same position with the Rams’ cross-town rivals, the Los Angeles Chargers.
Henderson departed for the Rams in 2019 and is now in his second season as the team’s defensive line coach and run game coordinator. In just one decade, he went from a defensive assistant at a junior college to calling plays in the NFL preseason.
According to McVay, the big reason behind Henderson’s success is his ability to relate with and deliver tough love to the players in his room.
“He’s really developed a culture within the culture in that D-line room,” McVay claimed. “Everything starts with building and developing relationships, being able to connect and communicate (and) care about these guys. We’re big believers in you got to love guys and then you can be tough on them. It’s not the other way around. So, I know that he loves those guys.”
The admiration Henderson has for his players isn’t a one-way street. Whether it’s a superstar like seven-time All-Pro Aaron Donald or consistent role player such as veteran nose tackle Greg Gaines, Henderson has built a stout environment inside the Rams’ defensive line room.
“I know those guys love him because there’s a mutual respect, a mutual appreciation,” said McVay. “All the hard work that he really puts in week in and week out, to try to help those guys shine as bright as they possibly can and go play with clarity and a quieted mind. I think that’s all you can ask for from a coach and he’s checking all those boxes.”
If anybody is qualified to comment on when someone has all of the qualities of a successful coach, it’s McVay, whose coaching tree is quickly adding more and more branches by the season.
While Henderson’s path from player to coach has been arduous, he’s positioned himself nicely to be one of the next in line to go from McVay assistant to NFL head coach. For now, he’ll continue building on the special foundation he’s established inside the walls of the Rams’ facilities, working towards one goal: defending the Super Bowl title.
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