The Super Bowl is almost here again, so it’s time to get to know the people you’ll be watching during the game (or ignoring during the bits between the commercials, depending on how much you care about football).
One of the most fascinating figures in this year’s big game — and in the NFL in general — is not a player, but L.A. Rams head coach Sean McVay. The 36-year-old football wizard is literally half the age of some other coaches in the league and has a few uncanny traits that truly set him apart in a league full of self-serious sticks in the mud.
McVay has been hailed as an offensive genius whose mind is so sharp he can allegedly remember every play he has ever called, down to the tiniest details. But he does have a major weakness: a tendency to get so caught up in calling the shots that he wanders aimlessly onto the field. This, of course, could lead him to injure a sprinting player or referee if he steps out mid-play and collides with them, or to incur a penalty.
Enter the get-back coach. This unique, unofficial job title goes to the person on the Rams staff who has a very specific task during game days: keep McVay from getting blindsided on the field.
Originally, this job went to Ted Rath. Rath was the strength-training coach for the Rams for three seasons, including during the team’s last trip to the Super Bowl in 2019. Since the heavy lifting of Rath’s official job was mostly done during the week leading up to games, he was put in charge of keeping an eye on the excitable McVay and forcefully pulling him backward if he got too close to the action.
NFL Films once released a highlight reel of Rath in action, and it’s pretty funny watching someone follow around a full-grown man as if he were a toddler at the mall. The clip, which you can watch below from Bleacher Report on Twitter, went viral.
Sean McVay has an assistant coach just to keep him off the field
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 21, 2019
Rath’s role as McVay’s get-back coach earned him plenty of headlines as he spent entire games pulling, poking, prodding and pleading with McVay to stay behind the giant white stripe at his feet.
“There is an art to it,” Rath told NFL Films. “It is kind of like a dance. Maybe Tango?”
Of course, the internet found this all very amusing and chimed in. Twitter user @KyleRauch joked that his friends have to do the same thing for him when they’re out drinking.
This is what my friends have to do for me at the bars
— Kyle Rauch (@KyleRauch) January 21, 2019
As McVay and his Rams get ready to face the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2022 Super Bowl, the coach will have a different man watching his back (and his feet). In 2020, Rath took a job with the Philadelphia Eagles, leaving the team looking for a new head of its strength-training program and a new get-back coach.
The team hired Justin Lovett, shown standing below during his time with the Denver Broncos, for the post. Fans were excited to immediately crown him the franchise’s new get-back coach.
A couple years into the role, it’s not clear if Lovett is taking that part of his gig as seriously as Rath did before him. After all, McVay wandered all the way into the end zone after a touchdown during the team’s regular-season finale!
Higbee with his 2nd TD today!
This time, Sean McVay wanted to join the celebration as he ran to the end zone after the TD pic.twitter.com/44FtU27n17
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) January 9, 2022
Despite McVay helping make this practice known in the mainstream, get-back coaches are nothing new to football. Many teams employ someone to keep the sideline boundary in check to avoid penalties, but some of the more intense coaches get their own personal wranglers, like Rutgers’s Greg Schiano and Georgia’s Kirby Smart. One college coach even used his 12-year-old son.
Meanwhile, the appropriately named Adam Smotherman rose to fame as the get-back guy for Oklahoma Sooners coach Brent Venables while he was at Clemson, partly because handling Venables was less like corralling a wayward toddler and more like trying to hold back an attack dog, one that sometimes turned on his handler.
And before you write this whole practice off as ridiculous, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin definitely could have used a get-back guy of his own in 2013, when he nearly crashed into a player who was returning a kickoff.
Keep an eye peeled for Lovett on the Rams sideline behind McVay during the Super Bowl, as he may be getting his chance to shine on the biggest stage by keeping his boss from wandering onto it.
Additional reporting by Clint Davis.