THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — Thomas Brown learned most of what he needed to know about how football coaches get hired and promoted two decades ago in the cafeteria of Tucker High School in suburban Atlanta.
“I had a pretty diverse high school, pretty mixed,” the Los Angeles Rams running backs coach said. “I had a lot of friends on the football team who had different backgrounds. But in the cafeteria, we all sat with who made us feel the most comfortable. That’s just the way it is.”
Brown was a five-star running back destined for the University of Georgia back then in the early 2000s, his mind focused on the Bulldogs and the NFL. He hadn’t even imagined trading in his cleats for a whistle — “I was adamant about not being a coach,” he says with a grin.
And he never would have imagined his future career would get a major boost from Sean McVay, who was then a dual-threat quarterback at a rival high school about nine miles away.
To break up the cafeteria-seating mentality that has held back Black coaches for decades, Brown believes up-and-coming football minds need more than talent and leadership. They must find decision makers willing to challenge the status quo by giving chances to previously underheard voices — and McVay, Brown’s former high school football opponent, has been exactly that.
“A lot of times in the hiring process, it boils down to people who do not want to go outside their comfort zone,” Brown said. “It’s challenging to explore a different culture, to take a different approach to it. I understand it, and that’s what we all have to fight against.”
When McVay decided two years ago to shake up his traditional methods of hiring assistants on a Rams staff previously packed with veteran coaches and McVay’s former colleagues, the two biggest beneficiaries of his willingness to think outside the box were Brandon Staley and Brown.
Staley was a longtime collegiate assistant with only three years of NFL experience, but a wealth of good ideas about defenses. Brown had a decade of experience as a respected running backs coach at six universities, and was eager for a chance to grow.
Less than two years after McVay chose them, Staley has already parlayed one dominant season as a defensive coordinator to a head coaching job with the Chargers. The 35-year-old Brown — four months younger than McVay — also has been an immediate hit with the Rams, and he added the title of assistant head coach this season to a career on an exciting new trajectory.
“I lean on him in a lot of ways,” McVay said. “He’s just got a great feel for people. He’s got a great pulse of the team, and he’s one of those guys that I can always trust is going to be able to give me valuable information. … When you meet certain people, they’re refreshingly secure, just comfortable in their own skin. That’s exactly how he’s always been from the time that we’ve been working together.”