If you’d have voted for the Green Bay Packers quarterback from the 1990s most likely to become an NFL head coach, chances are you’d have gone with Ty Detmer.
But low and behold, Detmer, like his father, is a high school coach in Texas. And the former Packers quarterback from that era who’s running an NFL team is none other than Mike McCoy, whose San Diego Chargers play the Packers at Lambeau Field on Sunday.
And if you’re wondering why you don’t remember a quarterback named Mike McCoy with the Packers, don’t feel bad. Some of his former teammates don’t remember him, either.
“Nah,” former Packers safety LeRoy Butler said in a text when asked if he recalled anything about McCoy.
That’s because McCoy was with the Packers for only the final 10 weeks of the 1995 season, playoffs included. He also was on the Packers’ practice squad, not the 53-man roster. So he was as low profile as it gets in the NFL.
“He picked things up pretty quick when he came in,” Detmer said Thursday. “He was on the practice squad, so he kinda came in, ‘Keep your head down and your mouth shut.’ Good guy, though.”
That 10 weeks with the Packers was the extent of McCoy’s NFL career. Denver had cut him as an undrafted rookie in training camp that season, and he never made a 53-man roster or practice squad thereafter. But after playing in the World League of American Football and the Canadian Football League, McCoy became an NFL assistant coach in 2000 with the Carolina Panthers and quickly became an up-and-comer because of his reputation for possessing a sharp offensive mind and a no-frills personality.
He eventually became Denver’s offensive coordinator from 2009-12, then in 2013 won over the Chargers’ ownership and general manager Tom Telesco in interviews to get the head-coaching job over, among others, Bruce Arians, who had worked with Telesco in Indianapolis.
The 43-year-old McCoy went 9-7 in his first two seasons – the Chargers went to the playoffs and advanced to the divisional round in 2013 – and brings a 2-3 team into Sunday’s game against the Packers.
“I think he’ll be one of those guys you hear of, kind of in the mold of Sean Payton,” a pro scout who works for an AFC team said. “I think he’ll be a really good, offensive-minded head coach.”
McCoy joined the Packers during a tumultuous time in their ’95 season. The Packers had lost two quarterbacks in a game at Minnesota in early November – Brett Favre to an injured ankle and Detmer to a broken thumb that ended his season.
That was the infamous T.J. Rubley game. Rubley, the Packers’ No. 3 quarterback at the time, had moved the Packers into fringe field-goal range in the final minute with the score tied, but on a third-and-less-than-a-yard audibled out of a running play and threw an interception that cost the game. The Packers would cut him about a month later.
Knowing Rubley wasn’t going to be on their roster after newly signed backups Jim McMahon and Doug Pederson were up to speed, the Packers added more insurance by signing McCoy to their practice squad.
As Packers coach for most of the ‘90s, Mike Holmgren developed Favre and future NFL starting quarterbacks Detmer, Mark Brunell and Matt Hasselbeck. He remembers McCoy as smart and studious.
“I thought he might have a chance to stay in the league as a backup quarterback,” Holmgren said Thursday.
McCoy also reminded Holmgren of a young Andy Reid, who was the Packers’ tight ends coach at the time. Holmgren was quarterbacks coach at BYU when Reid was a graduate assistant in 1982. He brought Reid to the Packers in '92, and Reid has been a head coach in the NFL since ’99.
“(Reid) had a great work ethic, he was good with the players, he had a good personality, he was smart and he loved football,” Holmgren said. “Mike (McCoy) has some of those same characteristics. Could I have guessed he’d be a football coach? Yeah, maybe. But that’s a little bit of a stretch.”
Said McCoy this week of his time with the Packers: “All of the notes from the team meetings, I still have them and sometimes look them up every so often.”
McCoy started making his reputation as Carolina’s quarterbacks coach when the Panthers went to the Super Bowl with Jake Delhomme as quarterback in the 2003 season. He also was offensive coordinator in 2007 when Carolina won 12 games with four different starting quarterbacks (Delhomme, David Carr, Matt Moore and Vinny Testaverde) winning at least one game.
McCoy went to Denver as offensive coordinator in 2009 and there burnished his reputation for an ability to tailor his offense to diverse quarterbacks. In 2011, he accommodated the in-season change to Tim Tebow, and the Broncos somehow went 7-4 and had a playoff win over Pittsburgh. Then in ’12, he adapted his offense for Peyton Manning to operate in a no-huddle system similar to what he’d played in at Indianapolis.
McCoy comes across in news conferences as bland as any coach in a league that is full of head coaches who are purposely bland in such settings. But an assistant coach who worked with him in Denver described McCoy as a highly likable coach who fosters an upbeat working atmosphere. He said McCoy’s greatest strength might be making in-game adjustments.
“You’re not going to fool him with the same stuff twice,” the coach said. “He’s very good about changing things up (on the go). The guy is very bright, players love playing for him, coaches love working for him, he’s very prepared, goes to the nth degree to get everything prepared. You might get him on something he maybe hasn’t seen on film yet, but once he’s seen it on game day it’s hard to get him on that twice.”
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @PeteDougherty.