He is the 88-year-old grandfather of the Whiz Kid head coach of the Rams who will be matching wits in Super Bowl LIII with Bill Belichick.
John McVay is certain his grandson, Sean, who turns 33 on Thursday, who will be coaching in his first Super Bowl, will not be awed.
“No. Knowing him, he’ll love the challenge,” John McVay told The Post by phone from Granite Bay, Calif., in the Sacramento area.
“I think he’ll respond just fine. I don’t have any concerns about that. He will respond in the way he’s responded his whole career. He’s one of those guys who stays up late at night working on his game plan and gets up early in the morning. I worry about him, I have seen it with coaches that they can burn themselves out. But he’s full of command vigor, I don’t think he’s gonna burn out for a long time.”
John McVay was the unsung hero of the Bill Walsh 49ers — he was credited with finding 50 All-Pros, starting with Hall of Famers Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott and Jerry Rice — and won five Super Bowl rings as the team’s vice president/director of football operations. He gave one ring to each of his three sons — John, Jim and Tim, Sean’s father — and now Sean tries to prevent Belichick from winning one more ring than his grandfather did. John McVay laughed and said: “I have to admit I never thought of that.”
When John McVay coached at Dayton, he knew Belichick’s father, Steve, who coached at Navy. He admires Bill Belichick, but doesn’t know him. His grandson does.
“Belichick is one of his heroes,” McVay said.
The tale of the tape, in a nutshell: Belichick is the reigning defensive genius. Sean McVay is the new-age offensive genius.
“As I watch him — I wish we just had a camera on him so I could not see anything else — he’s one of those head coaches who coaches everything,” John McVay said. “A lot of guys say, ‘OK I’m just gonna concentrate on offense, or concentrate on defense,’ but he’s doing all sides of it. He’s full of energy. He’s a workaholic is what he is.”
You have to have a special quality about you to be able to command a room of players who in some cases are older than you.
“He has that confidence in what he’s doing,” John McVay said. “If the players say, ‘This guy knows what he’s talking about,’ it comes about easy, and it comes about easily with him because he’s lived in that world.”
And has lived in that world since he was a toddler.
“We had him on the team bus, and we had him at practices and so on and so forth,” John McVay said. “I think the fact that his uncles all played college ball, and I was in the business, I think it’s just something he just kinda grew into. What’s amazing is that he went from playing high school football to Miami [Ohio], where he played, the ‘Cradle of Coaches’, and unlike most guys, he skipped high school coaching and skipped college coaching and went right into the pros [with Tampa Bay in 2008] with Jon Gruden.”
John McVay hired Gruden’s father, Jimmy, as an assistant at Dayton. Jon Gruden returned the favor years later by hiring John’s grandson as assistant receivers coach when he was 22. And Sean was Jay Gruden’s offensive coordinator as well.
“Jon is a workamaniac,” John McVay said. “He constantly studies the game and I think that’s where Sean may have gotten the bug.”
The bug only grew bigger when John McVay gave his grandson the Walsh book, “The Score Takes Care of Itself.”
“The book is a How-To,” John McVay said. “During his formative years, he’d read two pages before he fell asleep at night. If you want to be a coach in the NFL, read the book first.”
Sean McVay’s curiosity was piqued.
“If I told you all the things I mentioned to him, your phone bill would be out of reach,” John McVay said, and laughed.
John McVay played center at Miami of Ohio — where Sean would play — for the demanding Woody Hayes and for the demanding Ara Parseghian before coaching under Duffy Daugherty at Michigan State and as Dayton head coach (37-41-4) and eventually replacing Bill Armsparger as Giants head coach in 1976. He was fired following the 1978 season, which featured The Fumble.
“I have trained myself to steer away from it. What’s done’s done,” McVay said.
What’s not done is his grandson’s swift development of Rams quarterback Jared Goff. Sean McVay is a quarterback whisperer pioneer.
“He’s a student of the game,” John McVay said. “He’s naturally bright. He’s had exposure to the right kind of people with the two Gruden coaches. He’s had playing experience at the college level, and he loves the game.”
John McVay will never forget the thrill of winning his first Super Bowl, Super Bowl XVI over the Bengals at the Pontiac Superdome.
“When we won the first Super Bowl we were like, ‘Holy cow! How did we do that?’ Nobody expected it,” he said. “I was most happy for [owner] Eddie DeBartolo, because he had given so much of his life, he and his dad, to the team to get ’em going in the right direction.”
You bet he’ll be at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Super Sunday.
“I’m sure it’ll be a moment of high anxiety, how about that?” John McVay said. “I’ve watched him coach and I’ve watched him play in high school, in college, and I can watch him as he’s coaching and notice that he maintains his stability. In the course of a game when it gets real hairy, it’s easy then for someone to lose their composure. And he does not. He just keep things calm, cool and quiet.”
What might the grandfather’s emotions be watching his grandson coach in the Super Bowl?
“I guess the emotion is the pride of the family and the pride of a grandpa,” John McVay said.