During the Super Bowl, you might notice Rams head coach Sean McVay has his team’s strength coach, Ted Rath, hovering near him on the sidelines. It’s for a very important reason: to hold McVay back from running into the officials or getting too far onto the playing field, which is a penalty.
So essentially, he’s got his own personal get-back coach.
“Coaches, whether it’s, you know, a position coach, or even Sean McVay now, I literally have to spend my time on the offensive side of the field standing right behind Sean and ripping him out of the way when the official’s about to run into him, just so we don’t get a penalty,” Rath told NFL Films. “There is an art to it. Is is kind of like a dance, maybe like tango? Like a sidestep into the path of the official and then we move back.”
“I was probably the most difficult one to deal with when I was on the field, because you’re always trying to get closer to the action,” McVay told NFL Films. “As a coach, I always try to be aware of our get-back coach.”
The Rams draw a lot from college football teams. The most obvious thing is some of their offensive principles, but the get-back coach might be another example. Clemson popularized the get-back coach years ago.
Not with head coach Dabo Swinney, however, but with the Tigers’ defensive coordinator Brent Venables who, like McVay, has a strength coach keep him back. Assistant strength coach Adam Smotherman serves as his personal get-back coach, starting back in 2014 during Clemson’s first game of the season against Georgia.
SB Nation spoke with Smotherman about his get-back coaching role.
“Towards the end of the 2013 season, Coach Venables, he’s a very passionate coach, and he’s excited,” Smotherman explained. “I think he would get out there and play if he had the opportunity to. He’s in the moment as he should be, and does a fantastic job. And [he] just kind of wanders off the sideline sometimes, and towards the end of the 2013 season, me and some of the other guys kind of tag-teamed it a bit.”
“But then the very first game of the 2014 season,” Smotherman continued. “We were opening at Georgia, and I guess the officials kinda converged on Coach Swinney and told him, ‘You’re gonna have to keep your defensive coordinator off the field.’ I guess I was right place, right time, or wrong place, wrong time, however you wanna look at it.
“I was standing right there and Coach Swinney looked at me, and they call me ‘Smo,’ and he pointed and said ‘Smo! You’re in charge of him! We get a penalty, it’s on you.’ From then on, I just kind of glued myself to Coach Venables whenever we’re on defense, and have been doing that since then.”
Get-back coach can be a perilous job.
Venables has always been animated on the sidelines, so like Rath, Smotherman duties are essential. One time during a 2017 game against Virginia Tech, Venables defied him:
“I don’t remember what exactly was said,” Smotherman said, recalling the moment. “Honestly it was no big deal. I’m pulling on him, and sometimes he doesn’t like it, and he’ll swat at me or swing an elbow. I don’t take it personally because the way I look at it is we’re all passionate about our jobs, we’re passionate about this program.
“I would rather that be the case than somebody who’s not energetic and not excited. But yeah, we have some battles sometimes. It’s a lot of fun. I enjoy it. It’s kind of a battle for me, just looking for the right time to pounce and pull him back, while also let him do his thing and not try and interfere with his job duties or the task at hand.”
There’s a whole process to being good at get-back coaching.
“What I’ll do is he’s got his process for what he’s looking at and things like that. I don’t wanna interfere with anything that he’s trying to do. So usually I give it to the point where the other team’s center’s hand is over the ball, and they look like they’re getting ready to go, and I’ll try and pull him back out of the white. If he creeps up a little bit — sometimes really the main thing is if you got an official running down the sidelines — get him out of the way before any kind of contact happens.”
Smotherman and Rath are both assistant strength coaches, so it’s interesting that they both are also tasked with get-back duties. But Smotherman thinks this is for good reason.
“It probably falls in the hands of strength coaches because we’re not, in terms of Xs and Os, right there in the thick of the play-by-play,” Smotherman explains. “We can kind of be there to help in a support role, wherever is needed of us. Usually we tend to be strong and athletic for the most part, so we can handle the role. And I think strength coaches, we’ve always been a profession where there’s no job too big and no job too small, whatever is needed of us.”
Sure, there are probably other football teams that have coaches assigned for doing this same thing, but these are these guys have earned a reputation for doing their jobs well.
Hopefully Rath will be on his game for Sunday’s Super Bowl.