Rams' Sean McVay, Dodgers' Dave Roberts share leadership bond

"Sean and I just really connected," Dave Roberts said of himself and the Rams' head coach. "He's a lot like me." AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- A couple of weeks ago, Sean McVay, the Los Angeles Rams’ 31-year-old rookie head coach, received a text message. It came from Dave Roberts, the Los Angeles Dodgers' 45-year-old manager. The two had spent most of the year exchanging leadership quotes and philosophies, and this one in particular grabbed McVay.

It was simple, but it emphasized something critical: "One of the best things a leader can provide is clarity."

"If you can give the players no gray, but clarity," McVay said, "and they understand exactly what it is we want to get done, how we want to handle things, I think that's a very powerful thing."

Roberts read up a lot on McVay when the Rams hired him around the middle of last January. Roberts wanted to know more about the sports landscape in L.A. But he's also a fan of leaders in all walks of life, and he found himself captivated by the ascension of the youngest head coach in modern NFL history.

Over time, they grew close.

"Sean and I just really connected," Roberts said in a phone conversation. "He's a lot like me."

Roberts and McVay both have a thirst for mentorship and soak up all they can about the art of culture building. They believe the best leaders are the ones who empower others, not those who impose their will. One of Roberts' favorite thoughts is that to be a leader, one must also be a servant, a concept McVay called "a great one."

Like McVay, Roberts knows what it's like to be a young leader under pressure. He was only 43 when he received his first managerial job in 2016, to steer a Dodgers team that had the sports industry's highest payroll and resides in the nation's second-largest media market. The most important approach in those instances, Roberts said, is "to be yourself and to be honest with yourself." Roberts imparted that on McVay, but he quickly realized that he never really needed to.

"Sean's very comfortable in his own skin," Roberts said. "When a person has that, exudes that confidence, you gain respect. That's something that I really admire about Sean."

McVay's leadership tactics are rooted in the philosophies of John Wooden and Bill Walsh. Roberts, a UCLA product, has been deeply influenced by Wooden, but he also looks to the financial world for examples of consummate leadership.

McVay and Roberts met through Jon Gordon, a bestselling author on the subject of leadership, culture and teamwork. Gordon made sure to put them in touch when McVay threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Dodger Stadium on May 8. They exchanged phone numbers, and Roberts says they have since been "in constant contact."

"A lot of the things as far as the positive leadership, the connecting with your players, and really building and developing the relationships -- we're very similar in terms of those core beliefs," McVay said. "He's always really good about sending encouraging things. Maybe something that might resonate with him, he'll go, 'Hey, this is something that I think Sean might be interested in, too.' And I think that's awesome."

McVay often uses the phrase "process over results," and Roberts had a hand in that.

"It's something I really believe in because I think as a young coach or manager, it's natural to chase results and understand that you're being judged on results," Roberts said. "But to really trust in the process, and getting people to do things the right way, and betting on the results in the back end, I think, is a more attainable goal."

That process-over-results mentality helped McVay take the Rams from the bottom to the top in a matter of 12 months. They went 4-12 in 2016, suffering their 10th consecutive losing season, and now they're 11-5, getting ready to host the Atlanta Falcons in the first round of the playoffs on Saturday (kickoff is set for 8:15 p.m. ET on NBC).

Roberts sent McVay a congratulatory text message after the Rams clinched the NFC West on Christmas Eve, but the two haven't spoken much since. McVay is a little busy now.

Like most others, Roberts was initially stunned to find out the Rams had hired someone as young as McVay to be their next head coach.

"But when you talk to Sean, and when you hear things about Coach McVay, the question I ask is, 'Why wouldn't he be the head coach of the Los Angeles Rams?'" Roberts said. "Of course he should be. It's no longer about his age, and I think anybody who gets in contact with him, it doesn't take long for them to kind of dismiss that. He was born to be that leader."