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Why Rams assistant Thomas Brown will be the man to satisfy NFL’s next moment

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Thomas and Jessica Brown exchanged a knowing glance as they reminisced about their last decade.

“Becoming an offensive coordinator, a head coach — those were never my goals once I first began coaching,” he said.

“It’s true,” said Jessica, laughing.

After a standout profession at Georgia and a temporary stint within the NFL, Brown’s plan was to educate his old position, running back, for some time, then retire and disappear together with his family into the countryside.

His plans have modified.

After roles at several different colleges, and unbeknownst to Brown, he appeared on Rams head coach Sean McVay’s radar — and McVay’s notorious hiring list. He hired Brown in 2020, and only one season into his tenure because the Rams’ running backs coach, Brown was promoted to assistant head coach.

In 2021, through the team’s Super Bowl run, Brown interviewed for an NFL head coaching job and an offensive coordinator emptiness. In 2022, because the Rams’ latest tight ends coach, he’ll help coordinate the defending champs’ passing game while his name gains momentum in hiring circles across the league.

As a player at Georgia from 2004-07, when he rushed for two,646 yards and twice finished top 10 within the SEC in yards per carry, Brown appeared to attack the position with a selected fearlessness. He dove into the contact with a clear-eyed savviness that switched the advantage — how could he initiate the hit, not simply be the recipient of it? How could he create opportunities in hard-to-maneuver places?

Now 36, Brown admits that, for much of his life, he has feared failure. But, as in his playing days, it hasn’t stopped him from throwing himself into every opportunity.

“I’m not who I’m, or where I’m, due to any successes I’ve had,” he said. “I’m who I’m due to my failures. That’s what made me … Human nature is to run from problems, to run from difficult situations and to run toward safety … (But) I never desired to be ‘OK’ at anything. Don’t tell me I’m ‘OK’.”

Brown never thought he could be on this particular moment, within the space between what he has been and what he seems destined to turn into. But during a time of fixing philosophy and sociology within the NFL, it’s clear he’s more prepared than most to satisfy it.


A school teammate of Rams QB Matthew Stafford, Brown averaged 5.0 yards per carry and scored 26 touchdowns at Georgia. (John Amis / Associated Press)

Jessica greeted me on the Brown’s front door for our interview in late May. She floated — she is a one that floats — through their vivid, high-ceilinged foyer and into their cozy lounge, where Brown sat — he’s a one that plants — in a square leather and wood chair. He watched with an amused expression as Jessica, the people-magnet of the couple, conducted a tour of their kitchen with Bentley, a precocious Goldendoodle prancing in tow.

They’ve known one another since they were 14 and lived a brief distance from one another in Georgia. Now they live in a spacious home just north of Los Angeles, where Jessica, a creative, runs her own business, they usually co-homeschool their three kids (Orlando, Tyson and Judah).

As teenagers, they used to look at Sunday night football games while on the phone together, each cradling receivers to their cheeks. Brown still FaceTimes Jessica before every road game as he walks a lap across the visiting field. It’s their special time to balance one another as they often do, now that their lives have picked up such speed over the previous couple of years.

Brown was a quiet, introverted child, but certainly not was he shy — he simply preferred to review and learn people before opening as much as them. Over time, and coaxed out by his roles in coaching and by Jessica’s own personality, that developed into a novel ability to quickly read people and connect with them of their headspace as an alternative of forcing them into his.

“That’s an enormous a part of my foundation,” said Brown, “my dad used to call me observant, because I used to be a people-watcher. I’d sit and never talk for hours, but I’d watch everybody in that room, watch how they’d move.

“Through that, I learned , I’d say, read people’s spirits — how they move, if I’m going to have the option to interact with you in a productive manner. On the planet I live in, from a football standpoint, it’s presupposed to be all about communication, about connection.”

“He’s hard-headed, too,” Jessica says with a chuckle.

Indeed, Brown is notorious for sparking animated debates within the Rams’ facilities. He remains to be always analyzing situations and folks, similar to he did as a child. Now, though, the tip of that process doesn’t mean keeping his thoughts inside. Brown has learned to say what he thinks.

“Most individuals don’t need to be called on their bullshit,” said Brown. “I used to be very hesitant, at the start of my coaching profession, to open my mouth and provides my opinion when my opinion was different.”

He’s gotten over that.

“Whether you’re the janitor otherwise you’re Sean McVay, I’m going to treat you a similar,” Brown said. “I respect your authority … but some people place their value of others on their position in life, and I don’t understand that in any respect.

It’s a top quality especially valued by McVay, who praised Brown prior to promoting him to assistant head coach last 12 months for being unafraid to inform him the reality, even when it meant taking overtime to work through an issue.

“There’s no ego when he walks right into a room, but he walks right into a room with a purpose,” Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford said of his former Georgia teammate. “I believe that’s something all of us feel once we see him and listen to from him … You may’t idiot the locker room. Been around individuals who have tried, and it doesn’t work.”

“Thomas is a special guy,” added tight end Tyler Higbee, “He’s built to guide people.”

Third-year running back Cam Akers said that, greater than anything, Brown is consistent in his relationships with players. Brown recognized what Akers needed most amid the intense lights of his rookie 2020 season and while rehabbing through injury in 2021.

Akers desired to be coached hard, but where some coaches would interpret that as a rise in shouting, discipline or harshness, Brown understood that for Akers, it actually meant sticking to an in depth and technical regimen every day. A rookie starter who suffered a torn Achilles ahead of what many predicted to be a breakout season, Akers had quite a tumultuous begin to his NFL profession. Brown became a hard and fast point, at a time when Akers most needed one.

“He’s the identical person day by day,” said Akers. “He tries to not get too high or too low, tries to not get too mad or take an excessive amount of pride in things because he wouldn’t want us to are available a certain way (either) … He’s in it like we could be.”

That literally spills over onto the sphere, where Brown is an energetic and dynamic coach. Players imagine he connects more fully to them because they feel like he’s with them, not only talking at them.

Sony Michel has been coached by Brown twice: in college at Georgia and again with the Rams in 2021, where he was a key member of last 12 months’s Super Bowl-winning team, similar to he was as a rookie with the Patriots in 2018.

“I’ve been around great coaches; I’ve been coached hard throughout my profession and throughout my time playing football,” he said. “But Thomas is one who remains to be in it. He’s still running drills. He’s not only telling us, ‘Hey, go run this drill.’ He’s showing us run the drill full-speed … He’s one in every of us while also teaching. He’s not only standing there teaching, he’s a component of it, he’s within the motion. He’s giving us the perfect possible look he can as a coach.

“I believe that’s his way of showing us, ‘Hey, I’m here for you guys.’”



Brown’s nine years as a university coach included stops at traditional powers like Wisconsin, Georgia and Miami. (David Stluka / Associated Press)

Within the years after his appointment because the Rams’ then-30-year-old head coach in 2017, McVay’s highly productive and quarterback-friendly offense — in addition to the then-similar scheme cultivated by former colleague and current division rival Kyle Shanahan — have been coveted by those with hiring power across the league. 4 of McVay’s former coordinators or assistants (two OCs, one defensive coordinator and one quarterbacks coach) at the moment are head coaches, while many more pollinate the game together with his system via various assistant posts across college and pro football.

Because the NFL enjoys an explosion of productive offenses, all eyes are on the individuals who coach quarterbacks and coordinate the passing game. But opportunities in those spaces have been sparse for minority coaches.

In keeping with a study conducted by The Athletic in 2020, since 2013, of all coaching roles with “quarterbacks” or “offensive coordinator” within the title, just 8 percent were filled by minority coaches. And while team owners and league executives have trended toward promoting offensive-minded staff — especially into head-coaching roles — the study also found that minority coaches have been disproportionately focused on the defensive side of the ball.

The NFL is currently being sued by former Dolphins head coach Brian Flores, now a Steelers assistant, over allegations of discriminatory hiring practices. In 2022, nine teams needed to fill their head coaching position and only two hired minority head coaches (Houston’s Lovie Smith, who’s Black, and Miami’s Mike McDaniel, who identifies as bi-racial). After Bryon Leftwich was promoted into the role in Tampa Bay upon the advice of Bruce Arians, who retired in late March, there are only six minority head coaches within the NFL in 2022.

Brown is committed to finding solutions. He was among the many Rams’ representatives on the NFL’s inaugural diversity seminar on the league’s meetings in Atlanta earlier this summer and presented on the Ozzie Newsome GM/QB coaching summit on the NFL offices in late June. But he recognizes that impactful change must occur on a team level, too — not only via the NFL’s attempts at broader league-wide programming.

Because the Rams entered the playoffs in 2021, Brown had an initial interview with the Dolphins for his or her head coaching emptiness, while defensive coordinator Raheem Morris (one other viable head coaching candidate on McVay’s staff) had only one interview request through the complete hiring period. “It’s a mirrored image of how far we now have to go,” McVay said of Morris this spring, “because he’s among the finest coaches on the planet, and the indisputable fact that he isn’t a head coach is against the law.”

Brown, who some thought could be a top candidate for the Rams’ offensive coordinator emptiness (previous OC Kevin O’Connell was hired because the Vikings head coach within the spring), was as an alternative moved laterally into the Rams’ tight ends coach role after O’Connell hired former assistant Wes Phillips as his offensive coordinator in Minnesota (a position Brown also interviewed for). McVay hired Liam Coen, a former offensive assistant who was Kentucky’s offensive coordinator in 2021, as OC.

“The more exposure that you just get to different spots, the more versatile and the higher coach you’re going to turn into,” said McVay of moving Brown to tight ends coach. “For me, one in every of the Most worthy things that I ever did was coaching the tight ends.”

Like most of the twists and turns in Brown’s coaching journey thus far, the position change was not one he was expecting. Brown has been an offensive coordinator (on the University of Miami from 2016-18) and called plays at the faculty level — a well-liked item on executives’ hiring checklists, despite the indisputable fact that that NFL head coaches often retain nearly all of play-calling duties on their respective sides of the ball. Further, in every college or pro organization where he has been a running backs coach, Brown discovered that the game-planning meetings for the passing game were largely separated from the run game.

“Loads of times, people will get criticized for what they haven’t been taught and the lack of awareness being given,” Brown said. “Until you give someone else the chance to learn that very same knowledge and provides them the tools for problem-solving, then there’s at all times going to be an absence of growth and a cap on certain people’s ability.”

In order he and McVay mapped out his latest position, Brown began to see the brand new role as a possibility to challenge himself. What excuse could hiring powers have for not giving Brown, a McVay assistant on a Super Bowl-contending team together with his hands now directly on the passing game, a future opportunity? “I felt prefer it (was) essential for him to narrow down the list of ‘cons’ working against him,” said Jessica. “(Brown) being within the room with the pass game, and mastering it, was a no brainer.”

Brown’s willingness to tackle the brand new role also captured the eye of Rams players. “I believe that tells you lots about who he’s, and the way comfortable he’s with himself as a coach and as an individual,” Stafford said. “Within the locker room, that resonates with us as players.”

Brown took charge of filling his former position and located 27-year-old Ra’Shaad Samples, a vivid offensive assistant who was gaining momentum in the faculty ranks. Just quarter-hour into his own conversation with Samples, McVay was also sold — and the Rams hired him. Brown also pushed so as to add quarterbacks coach K.J. Black to the staff as a member of the Bill Walsh minority coaching fellowship.

“We would like to create a positive atmosphere that’s competitive, where guys are really pushing one another to learn and understand and know more in order that we can provide higher clarity to our players,” said McVay, “inclusivity, ownership, autonomy — all of those things help result in the culture and connection we’re huntin’ up on the coaching staff.”

By moving into his own latest space, Brown also sought to create additional opportunities for promising young minority coaches on the offensive side of the ball. Further, there can be no stopping the knowledge flowing between run-game planning and pass-game planning now, a structural change about which Brown is adamant. “That, to me, is one in every of the largest issues,” Brown said. “The lack of awareness that’s having the ability to be delivered to everyone who wants the knowledge.”

“‘If I’m within the room — which, I’d higher be within the room — then you definately’re going to have access to whatever I do know,’” he told Samples, “Because when you give me access to information, you possibly can get out of my way, you possibly can write a blank check. I’m gonna get whatever I would like because I understand what I’m gonna be about, how I’m gonna go about my business work-wise.”

Because the McVay/Shanahan offenses proceed their momentum because the league’s dominant systems, defenses are adjusting. The Rams remain unique of their understanding of this shift, because they were at the middle of it.

The Patriots held the Rams to three points in a frustrating Super Bowl LIII loss due largely to Recent England installing concepts from the Vic Fangio defensive system after Fangio’s Bears helped outline the earliest defensive blueprint that might beat McVay and his juggernaut offense.

In 2020, McVay hired Fangio disciple and current Chargers head coach Brandon Staley in hopes he could bottle this defense for himself. Concurrently, and with Brown and O’Connell assisting as two latest offensive hires, practicing against it day by day allowed the Rams to troubleshoot and eventually evolve their very own offense. After the Rams won the Super Bowl last season, the successful pairing has sparked a trend of matching the opposing systems together under one roof, not only to catch the fashionable schematic wave but in addition in order that coaches could have a “control group” to review each systems.

Along with the Rams, the teams that may open the 2022 season with McVay/Fangio system pairings include the Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings and even perhaps the Seattle Seahawks, whose head coach, Pete Carroll, led the league’s last major defensive scheme change.

Coaches who understand each side of the philosophical coin could possibly be of the best interest to hiring powers moving forward. Brown, who way back made a habit of watching all the Rams’ offensive and defensive cut-ups through each week of practice, is endlessly fascinated by how each side of the ball have modified and reacted to at least one one other and the way those micro-reactions can create league-wide change in scheme and philosophy.

He has opinions — and debates — in regards to the NFL’s current and future schemes, the way in which rosters will need to alter if the league keeps moving toward two-high defenses, how offenses can evolve to counter the second safety within the two-high zone shell so popularized inside those defenses and the way the financial structure of football itself will only get more creative to permit for this and other major shifts, many for which the Rams have been catalysts.

Brown believes in progressive football, but he also understands how this emerging defense could be beat. It requires egoless play calling; the coach or coordinator have to be willing to select and pick away on the defense in little pieces with a ball-control run game and choose probably the most efficient moments to pass. The coordinator who desires to beat this defense must operate counter to the convention and luxury of the fashionable explosive passing game and commit to incremental gains without fear or hesitation — and while giving nothing extra away in the method.

It sounds uncomfortable, but Brown believes “you don’t grow in places of comfort.”

 



The Brown family: Thomas, Jessica, Orlando, Tyson, Judah and Bentley the Goldendoodle. (Courtesy of Brown family / Good Luck Road Photography)

Brown’s profession is accelerating at the correct time. He understands where the league goes and has been a component of shaping its current arc at the same time as he maintains his own individuality and uses his own voice. Wherever he ascends, it won’t simply be because he comes from the McVay system, or because he’s now following a preordained path in a league that also hungrily seeks the subsequent McVay.

“I at all times attempt to work out add various things to who I’m without changing who I’m,” he said, “I see Sean do it. He’s the perfect I’ve been around, by far, in every category.

“I don’t need to be Sean. I’m not attempting to be like Sean, and Sean knows that. I couldn’t if I attempted.”

Brown’s name continues to return up in coaching and executive circles, and league sources say that multiple team decision-makers have expressed interest in keeping him on their radars ahead of future hiring cycles. Everybody who meets Brown believes he’ll be a head coach someday. Often, and unprompted, they add that when he does get a possibility, he’ll be there for a decade or longer.

Meanwhile, Brown is concentrated on preparing the Rams to defend their Super Bowl title, helping to refine their ever-evolving offense as they fight to remain ahead of a league that’s hunting them.

He and Jessica still sometimes laugh in disbelief. Only just a few years ago, the 2 of them thought they’d be living quietly within the country by now, away from the highlight and frenetic impermanence of football through which they’ve lived for therefore long.

But Brown can’t shut off that a part of himself that dreams up roster-builds and schematic wrinkles, that studies with and connects to others, that wishes to show and construct and grow — and that is probably calling him toward something greater in a novel time within the NFL’s schematic and social history.

It could actually be an advanced feeling when an individual realizes they might be meant for more. Some run from their destiny. As at all times, Brown runs directly at it.

(Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Rams)

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