The running joke around NFL coaching hires over the past couple seasons was if you had any affiliation with Sean McVay, you would eventually land a head coaching job. Four of McVay's assistants have found head coaching jobs in the NFL or NCAA since McVay was hired by the Los Angeles Rams in 2017, including one more from this hiring cycle.
Zac Taylor is one of those assistants who landed a head coaching job, getting hired by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2019. Three years later, Taylor has the Bengals in Super Bowl LVI -- facing McVay's Rams for the NFL championship. Super Bowl LVI is a culmination of the McVay revolution in the NFL, as his coaching tree continues to branch out and take over the league.
Based on the past couple seasons, it was only a matter of time before McVay and his assistants started winning big in the NFL. McVay vs. Taylor is the youngest head coaching matchup in Super Bowl history (74 years and 299 days old come Sunday), making this coaching matchup one of the most unique in the game's storied history. Let's take a look at each coach individually, and then how they match up, including how their coaching styles differ.
McVay's meteoric rise to the NFL coaching elite was an interesting path. An all-state football player in Georgia, McVay beat out Calvin Johnson for Georgia High School Player of the Year in 2003. A wide receiver at the University of Miami (Ohio), McVay got his coaching start as an assistant wide receivers coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2008 under Jon Gruden before moving on to become the quality control/wide receivers coach for the Florida Tuskers of the United Football League.
McVay formed a connection with Tuskers offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, who he later would reunite with in Washington. McVay was hired by Mike Shanahan in 2010 as an assistant tight ends coach at 24 years old before getting promoted to tight ends coach a year later. When Gruden took over the Washington head coaching job in 2014, McVay was promoted to offensive coordinator at just 28 years old -- spending three seasons in the role before being hired by the Rams in 2017.
At 31 years old, McVay became the youngest head coach in NFL history and has taken the franchise to heights not seen since "The Greatest Show on Turf" days. The Rams are 55-26 in McVay's five seasons in Los Angeles, winning three NFC West titles and two NFC Championships. McVay has led the Rams to four double-digit win seasons and is the youngest head coach to appear in two Super Bowls (36 years, 1 month old).
The youngest head coach to appear in the Super Bowl is McVay (33 years, 1 month in Super Bowl LIII in 2018), who is also the second-youngest coach to appear in the Super Bowl (36 years, 1 month). If McVay wins Sunday, he'll be the youngest coach to win the Super Bowl in league history.
Taylor is another coach that took a unique journey to Super Bowl LVI. A former starting quarterback at the University of Nebraska, Taylor was the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year before pursuing a coaching career after being cut by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers prior to training camp and spending a season on the Canadian Football League's Winnipeg Blue Bombers practice squad.
Taylor spent four years as a graduate assistant at Texas A&M before being hired by the Miami Dolphins as an assistant quarterbacks coach in 2012. He was promoted by Miami a year later and spent three seasons in the role before heading to the University of Cincinnati to become the offensive coordinator.
Taylor then went back to the NFL, as McVay hired him as an assistant wide receivers coach on his initial staff in 2017 before being promoted to quarterbacks coach in 2018. The Bengals hired Taylor after the Rams reached Super Bowl LIII, leading the Bengals from a 2-14 record in his first season to an appearance in Super Bowl LVI in year three. The Bengals are just the third team to have the worst record in the NFL and then reach the Super Bowl two years later, joining the 1981 San Francisco 49ers and 2003 Carolina Panthers.
The Bengals have just a .337 regular season win percentage (16-32-1) under Taylor, who has the lowest win percentage by any coach to reach the Super Bowl. Cincinnati had 150-1 odds in the preseason to win the Super Bowl, which would tie the 1999 St. Louis Rams for longest preseason odds by any Super Bowl champion since 1980 if the Bengals were to win Sunday.
Taylor is responsible for one of the greatest turnarounds in NFL history, as the Bengals matched the 1988 Bengals, 1999 Rams and 2019 49ers as the teams with the fewest wins (four) in a season prior to reaching the Super Bowl the following year.
The two youngest head coaches in the NFL are meeting in the Super Bowl, and McVay and Taylor share very similar offensive tendencies. Per NFL's Next Gen Stats, no offense utilized empty formations or "11 personnel" more frequently than the Rams and Bengals this season. The Rams used "11 personnel" 83% of the time while the Bengals ran the formation on 77% of their offensive snaps. McVay used an empty backfield 19% of the time (first in NFL), while Taylor used it on 15% of the snaps (second in NFL).
So where do McVay and Taylor differ? McVay uses the bunch formation 16% of the time, which is the third-most in the NFL. Taylor only uses bunch on 8% of snaps, which is 16th-most in the NFL. McVay lines up in trips formation 58% of the time (second in the NFL), and Taylor uses trips on 45% of snaps (22nd in NFL).
Taylor's offense has changed since the Bengals selected Joe Burrow with the No. 1 overall pick in 2020. The Bengals have had an average formation width of 27 yards this season (sixth in NFL), really utilizing a spread offense compared to the condensed version McVay uses with his players. Having players that can spread the field like Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins helps.
Taylor has averaged 27 yards of formation width since Burrow took over at quarterback, while McVay has been averaging under 25 yards over the past two years -- although that number has slightly increased with Matthew Stafford at quarterback. Also, don't expect pre-snap motion with Taylor as much as McVay uses it.
The different offensive sets will be the most intriguing portion of Super Bowl LVI, especially with the high-powered units both the Rams and Bengals have. The chess match between McVay and Taylor will be something to keep an extra eye on Sunday.