Mike McCoy, Chargers coming off emotional week

Much was on Mike McCoy’s mind last Thursday evening.

It was visible.

The Chargers coach seemed especially animated on the sideline, players noticed, during a 21-13 win over the Broncos. In the seconds before Denver heaved a final Hail Mary pass, the CBS broadcast captured McCoy squatting toward the ground, his hands pressed against his eyes. Tight end Antonio Gates approached him with a few positive words.

After the game, McCoy walked past a family member in the hallway to his press conference.

“Sorry,” McCoy told reporters before his opening statement, his voice about to crack. “I just saw my daughter outside, so give me a minute.”

It had been an emotional week.

The Chargers snapped a 10-game losing streak in the AFC West. About 24 hours earlier, McCoy learned that a close friend and former college teammate had died. McCoy on Monday declined to fully detail his exact thoughts before that Hail Mary pass was batted safely to the ground — there was speculation that a loss might have led to his dismissal — but it is clear the win was meaningful not just for him but his team.

They badly needed it.

McCoy, 43, does not want to make last week about him. If his own job status was on his mind during the sideline-squat moment, it seems to pale in comparison to the attention he placed on other facets of the week.

It began Monday morning.

His wife Kellie informed him via text message that Brandon Jones, a fellow quarterback while McCoy was at Utah in the 1990s, had been critically injured in a bicycle crash hours earlier in St. George, Utah. The news shook McCoy. Here he was, preparing for a game in a short week, a game that very well could determine his future in San Diego, and a longtime friend was in a coma.

“It puts things into perspective in a hurry,” McCoy said.

On Wednesday evening, McCoy received an update from Kellie, this time while in a meeting: Jones had passed away. McCoy quickly thought about his friend’s wife, Mitzi, and the couple’s three daughters.

He remembers Jones, 42, as an optimist. In 1994, McCoy was the quarterback for Utah in the Freedom Bowl. It was a back-and-forth game against Arizona, the Wildcats leading for much of the day.

“You’d come to the sideline, and there he was, Mr. Positive,” McCoy said. “We and Arizona are going back and forth, and he kept on just saying, ‘All we need is that one play.’ And that’s what we did at the end of that game; we hit that touchdown (to Kevin Dyson with 3:34 remaining). He always had a positive outlook on life, always had a smile on his face. Yeah, there was a lot of emotion last week. …

“He is one of the few people on a yearly basis where there are a number of times — during the offseason, during the season, after games all the time — there’s always a text: ‘Congratulations’ or ‘good luck.’ After a loss, there was always that positive spin on everything. That’s the way Brandon was. He had such a big heart.”

McCoy was not the only coach mourning a loss.

Offensive assistant Fred Graves learned of the Tuesday death of former Utah offensive lineman Steve McKane. Graves was a coach during McKane’s college career from 1997 to 2000. He was 38.

Then came Thursday.

In the pregame locker room, McCoy saw what any coach would want.

The Chargers were 1-4, hadn’t won a divisional meeting as an organization since 2014, and were set to host the defending Super Bowl and division champion. Yet, from an emotional standpoint, the locker room seemed as loose as could be, safety Dwight Lowery hyping up teammates before a song came on.

It took care of the rest.

The rap tune, “We Ready” by Archie Eversole, sparked dancing and singing as kickoff neared. Those who’ve been with the organization for years describe the scene as a unique one. 

That atmosphere only helped fuel McCoy’s emotions, how much he wanted that game, how much he hopes it can spark a run now as the Chargers prepare to face the Falcons this Sunday in Atlanta.  

This Monday was the start of a new week.

Players practiced for the first time since Thursday’s win. Afterward, they returned to a locker room in which the atmosphere felt distinctly different. The air was lighter, more breathable, like a weeks-long inhale finally had come to exhale.

“It’s not about me,” McCoy said Monday. “It’s about the players. I love our team, and we have a good football team. Our (2-4) record is what it is. Have we played as well as we want to at critical times? No. But our players deserve better than our record. You want them to be rewarded for all the hard work, what they do and as well as they’ve played, whether it’s X number of minutes to a certain game up until the end when there’s some play that happens.

“And that’s the game. Unfortunately, we’ve had too many of those plays. You see how hard they work. You see the way they were before the game, the energy, the excitement. You see some players who have stepped up in a certain role. … It’s an emotional game. It’s a humbling game. It’s not about me. It’s about our players. It’s about our organization. And I want them to be rewarded for all their hard work.”


Twitter: @SDUTgehlken

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