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Los Angeles Rams linebackers coach Chris Shula on the sideline while playing the Jacksonville Jaguars during an NFL Professional Football Game Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/John McCoy)
Los Angeles Rams linebackers coach Chris Shula on the sideline while playing the Jacksonville Jaguars during an NFL Professional Football Game Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/John McCoy)
Sports reporter Adam Grosbard in Torrance on Monday, Sep. 23, 2019. (Photo by Scott Varley, Daily Breeze/SCNG)

As he began his first press conference as Rams defensive coordinator, Chris Shula ran through a list of people to thank: His family, from his children and wife to his parents, the decision-makers within the Rams who gave him the opportunity, including head coach Sean McVay, and Shula’s old college teammate at Miami (Ohio).

Intertwined with those groups, Shula noted the Rams’ outside linebackers from 2019, his first year as a position coach: Dante Fowler, Clay Matthews, Samson Ebukam and Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, as well as his linebacker charges from 2023: Ernest Jones IV, Troy Reeder, Christian Rozeboom and Jake Hummel.

“The reason I’m in coaching is the relationships with the players,” Shula said, “and that’s what it’ll continue to be going forward.”

As he outlined his vision on Tuesday for the Rams’ defense under his guidance, the first-time coordinator made clear that the players will be his north star.

Shula has not yet determined whether he will call the defense from the sidelines or up in the coaches’ box. He expects he will be down on the field, but it will depend on what is easier for Jones to hear as he relays play calls to his teammates.

Nor has he fully committed to maintaining last year’s base schemes that worked well for that personnel group, but that group will change by the time the Rams’ offseason is complete and he expects to adapt based on the new players available to him.

“I think we’ll use a lot of the same structures, the same 3-4 structure and some of the same core beliefs, but it’s all about the players,” Shula said. “So we’re going to do whatever the players can execute at a high level where they can go out and play fast and play confident and whatever the offense gives us, we’ll be able to have answers to and they can go be the best versions of themselves.”

That was, in part, a lesson that Shula learned from Wade Phillips, the defensive coordinator when Shula first joined the Rams in 2017.

“He always said that listening is a skill,” Shula said. “He let his coaches coach and the players knew exactly what they were supposed to do and that allowed them to go play at the best of their ability.”

Shula picked up things from all three Rams defensive coordinators in his seven years with the franchise, which was part of the appeal for the team to promote him from linebackers coach, according to a source who was part of the interview process.

He learned to study the rest of the NFL from Brandon Staley’s one year with the Rams. He learned to build relationships and find joy in the daily process from Raheem Morris, now head coach of the Atlanta Falcons.

But in some ways, Shula, 37, has been learning what it means to lead a unit since before he was a coach. His father, Dave, is the Cincinnati Bengals’ former head coach. His grandfather, Don, was the Hall of Fame coach of the Miami Dolphins.

That was a legacy Shula used to shy away from, not disclosing his last name when he introduced himself in case someone made an assumption that he got his job because of his family.

But he can embrace it now, happy to receive the memories and stories of his grandfather that football lifers are so eager to share with him when they meet. And while Don Shula died three years ago, Chris Shula believes he knows what he would think about his ascension to defensive coordinator.

“I’d like to think he would think I did it the right way,” Shula said. “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 can play their best. I’d like to think he’d be proud of a lot of the lessons I learned from him, the discipline, the accountability that you have that you show to your players by being prepared, by leaving no stone unturned in your preparation so that they go out and they can feel confident when they take the field.”

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