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Generation game: young coaches set for Super Bowl showdown

One year after Bruce Arians became the oldest head coach to win the Super Bowl at the ripe old age of 68, Sean McVay could become the youngest.

At 36 years and 20 days old, the fresh-faced Los Angeles Rams head coach would beat Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin’s record as the youngest ever coach to raise the Vince Lombardi Trophy if his team emerges victorious on Sunday.

Win or lose, McVay is already part of the youngest head coaching duel ever seen in a Super Bowl.

With Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor still only 38, this weekend’s showpiece marks the first time in history that two coaches under the age of 40 have faced each other.

Remarkably, McVay is already something on an NFL veteran. 

When appointed by the Rams in 2017, he became the youngest head coach in the modern era of the NFL, aged 30.

A transformative appointment, McVay was given the task of turning the Rams into box office championship contenders after the franchise relocated back to California from St. Louis in 2016.

In his five seasons in charge, McVay has already taken the team to the Super Bowl in 2019, when they were beaten 13-3 by New England. 

McVay’s reign has also encompassed four trips to the post-season. Prior to his arrival, the team had not made the playoffs since 2004.

The Rams coach has also demonstrated the ruthlessness that is the hallmark of championship-winning coaches, abruptly trading for Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford last year and jettisoning Jared Goff in the process.

That judgement has proven to be vindicated, with Stafford helping the team to a second Super Bowl appearance under McVay.

“I wouldn’t want anyone else to lead this team,” the Rams star receiver Cooper Kupp said of McVay.

“You never have to question his preparation and the work he’s able to put in.”

‘Gotta love ball’

The rebuilding job performed by Bengals coach Taylor is no less remarkable.

Taylor served as one of McVay’s assistant coaches in Los Angeles from 2017 until leaving for the Bengals in 2019.

Arriving in Cincinnati, Taylor inherited a franchise steeped in failure after three consecutive losing seasons. 

Despite reaching the playoffs in five consecutive seasons between 2011 and 2015, the team had been eliminated at the first hurdle on each occasion.

Taylor’s first season in charge was a painful experience. 

The Bengals finished with a miserable 2-14 record, the worst in the NFL, underscoring the size of the task in front of the rookie head coach.

“That was obviously our hardest year,” Taylor said. “We were all getting to know each other. 

“But I think we all did a really good job of getting to know each other in a short amount of time and it helped serve us well.”

The transformation began to take shape when Cincinnati secured quarterback Joe Burrow with the No. 1 draft pick in 2020. The promise of Burrow’s early performances, however, were shattered when the quarterback suffered a serious knee injury in November 2020.

The Bengals would finish Taylor’s second season with a 4-11 record.

Taylor says the Bengals rebuild is the result of placing emphasis on the character of the locker room.

“You gotta love ball,” Taylor said. “That’s the most important thing. You want guys who love football because it’s a grind. 

“The season is a long six or seven months, whatever it is, and if you’ve got guys who don’t love the game and don’t love the process then it’s hard to get to where you want to go.”

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