Early in his coaching career, new Rams defensive coordinator Chris Shula shied at times on introduction from revealing his last name.
Shula, the grandson of legendary NFL coach Don Shula and son of former NFL coach David Shula, did not want others to jump to conclusions.
“I was almost a little embarrassed about it because I didn’t want people to think I got into certain positions because of the last name,” Shula said Tuesday during a video conference with reporters. “So I think that was some of the motivation.
“I always had a little chip on my shoulder to kind of work extra hard to show that I earned whatever role I got.”
Shula, a college teammate of Rams coach Sean McVay and a member of his staff since 2017, is the fourth defensive coordinator to work under McVay and first to be promoted from within.
Shula, 38, succeeds Raheem Morris, who left to become coach of the Atlanta Falcons. Shula said he learned from Morris and former coordinators Wade Phillips and Brandon Staley during stints coaching Rams linebackers, edge rushers and defensive backs.
Phillips kept it simple, let his coaches coach and allowed players to play to the best of their ability, Shula said. Staley innovated and studied the league. Morris built relationships.
“Put them in the best position to succeed,” Shula said of developing players. “I just want to continue that going forward.”
Shula takes over a defense anchored by star lineman Aaron Donald and linebacker Ernest Jones III. The unit will feature several young players who emerged last season, including nose tackle Kobie Turner and edge rusher Byron Young.
Shula said since his promotion he had yet to speak to Donald, a 10-year veteran and three-time NFL defensive player of the year.
“I have a great relationship with Aaron Donald,” he said, adding. “Look forward to reaching out to him and figuring out the best way for him to go forward and get the most out of him as we continue to build this.”
Will Shula run the same scheme as Morris?
“That’s a work in progress,” said Shula, who called the defense during preseason games. “There will definitely be elements to it.”
Shula’s relationship with McVay dates to the mid-2000s, when McVay played receiver and Shula played linebacker at Miami-Ohio.
But Shula indicated the interview with McVay and, presumably, general manager Les Snead and others for the defensive coordinator job had elements of formality.
“He kind of laid out some of the things that he wanted to discuss in the interview,” Shula said of McVay. “And that really started the discussion of just talking football and what the defensive philosophy was, the different structures we wanted to utilize.
“What are the core coverage concepts we want to do going forward? How do we want coach tackling? How do we want takeaways? A lot of different things like that that you would have in a standard [interview] for a defensive coordinator position. I wouldn’t say it was any different just because me and Sean are so close. I think we could separate that when it came to the interview.”
Staley, former Washington Commanders coach Ron Rivera, Baltimore Ravens defensive backs coach Dennard Wilson and Rams defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant also interviewed with McVay, a person with knowledge of the situation said. The Tennessee Titans hired Wilson to become defensive coordinator.
The Miami Dolphins also interviewed Shula to become defensive coordinator but soon after, McVay tabbed Shula to replace Morris.
Shula said he thought his grandfather would be proud of the latest step he has taken in his coaching career.
“I’d like to think he would think I did it the right way,” he said. “I’ve always been someone that’s just so focused on the task at hand and your specific job at that time. I’m never really looking at the next job or what’s going to come next or what’s going to happen next year.
“I just focus on building relationships with the coaches and the players, working as hard as I can to provide clarity for the players so that they could play their best, and working in continuity with the coaches, and I’d like to think he’d be proud.”