ASHBURN, Va. -- The conversation took place outside Redskins Park, shortly after Kirk Cousins was benched three years ago. Sean McVay, talking to a reporter, remained firm in his belief: Cousins would be a good quarterback. At the time, Cousins was throwing too many picks, losing his job and supporters. McVay didn't abandon him.
Three years later, Cousins gave McVay a signed jersey with the inscription, "I owe you my career" when he became head coach of the Los Angeles Rams. The jersey now hangs in a theater room at McVay's house.
"That's probably as special a gift as I've ever received from a player," McVay said, "because of how much Kirk meant to me."
Cousins and McVay rose up together. The Washington Redskins drafted Cousins in the fourth round in 2012, two years after McVay arrived as an assistant tight ends coach. In 2014, after Jay Gruden took over as coach, McVay was promoted to offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach. He's two years older than Cousins.
Meanwhile, Cousins went from Robert Griffin III's backup for two seasons to part-time starter in 2014 and full-time in '15. Now he's playing under the franchise tag for a second consecutive year.
"A lot of the good things that have happened with us kind of coincided together and there was a bond that was shared between us," McVay said. "For him to write that, certainly I know that's not true because he's done a lot of that on his own. But to be a part of it and to try to help him is what coaching's all about. And guys like Kirk are why you get into coaching."
Cousins developed a healthy respect for McVay -- he was among the reasons the quarterback hoped for an extension in the 2016 offseason, thinking that setup would remain in place for a few years. Instead, it lasted one more. But they had a rhythm.
"He was our playcaller for my two best seasons in the league," Cousins said. "It's pretty self-evident why he's had a big impact on my career."
But in 2014, after Cousins was benched following five starts, McVay remained firmly in his corner. That's what stood out to Cousins.
"He ... didn't give up on me and encouraged me through that process and believed in me," Cousins said.
While reading Bill Walsh's book, "The Score Takes Care of Itself", a line about belief hit home with Cousins.
"Bill says in the book that four of the most powerful words you can say as a coach to a player is, 'I believe in you,'" Cousins said. "And Sean said that to me over and over and over again even when there weren't many other people who did, so that certainly means a lot, especially when you look back and see where we came from there."
McVay said he stood by Cousins after some rough starts -- he had games with four and three interceptions -- because he couldn't let go of the good moments. Like the three-touchdown outing that season against Philadelphia. The past two seasons, Cousins set franchise passing marks both times and threw for a combined 54 touchdowns to 23 interceptions.
"You see the traits and the characteristics show up on a daily basis," McVay said. "One of the things that I've always heard said is that if you see a guy play at a high level, then it's your job as a coach to try to bring it out in him consistently."
But it went deeper than just the stats.
"Mentally tough guy, clearly he's extremely talented throwing the football where he can speed his release up at the top, he's got a naturally quick release, he's special in terms of that," McVay said.
And McVay said Cousins' first start this season in which he completed 23-of-40 for 240 yards, with one touchdown and one interception, won't be the new normal.
"He's not a guy you want to bet against," McVay said. "He's a guy that you believe is going to figure it out eventually, and once he got his chance, he clearly showed why he's very capable, and he's only going to continue to get better. That's why he's really easy to believe in. That's pretty consistent with any coach that's ever worked with him. You talk to any of these guys that are football guys, the thing that you'll hear consistently is that nobody is surprised that Kirk has played this well."
Beyond the numbers
Cousins called McVay a high-energy guy.
"A great communicator. He's a warm, friendly guy. Positive," Cousins said. "He was a guy that was high energy from early in the morning until late at night and it served him well.
"Sean has presence and it's hard to teach presence. He has charisma. That's hard to teach, and it's hard to teach being a good communicator. You kind of either have it or you don't."
Even though they clicked, McVay had to grow as a playcaller and Cousins as a quarterback. That meant, during the 2015 season, McVay had to learn to fully trust what he could do with Cousins. The latter was mic'd up during a late-season game against Buffalo, showing their evolving relationship.
At one point, Cousins told him, "Basically, man, it's just like the first seven or eight games we don't want to put it all on me because I'm new, but now that we're doing that, it's been our best shot."
Cousins and McVay take a similar, detail-oriented and overly-prepared approach to the game.
"He is one of the few players that you're around [that] makes you accountable as the coach," McVay said, "because you want to make sure you have answers for all the questions he has. He is going to do such a thorough job with his preparation and his approach. It was a great relationship."