DENVER — As the offensive coordinator charged with cranking the gears on Tebow Time, Mike McCoy called the play that stunned the Steelers — Tebow to Thomas, touchdown.
“Offensively, we were going to go down and score and win the game,” McCoy told me, five years after Denver 29, Pittsburgh 23 (OT). “I don’t think anyone thought it would be on the first play. I’m not going to lie to you there. We didn’t know it was going to be one-and-done.”
As a 20-something aspiring coach — but one with not much of a resume — McCoy got solid backing from Bill Musgrave in 2000. Now they are the offensive braintrust of the Broncos.
“I owe Bill a lot because of the opportunity he gave me,” McCoy said. “That was the first coaching job I ever had, besides back when I was a teenager coaching Biddy Basketball.”
Next up: Fixing the worst offense in Broncos history. Ho-hum. If winning the most memorable playoff game at Mile High with a quarterback who was not a quarterback the next season was tough, if rising from coaching job-less to head coach of the Chargers was unusual, curing the offense that ails the Broncos should be a walk in Wash Park, right? Stay tuned.
McCoy is back to call plays again. His first should be a crossing route to Demaryius Thomas, for old time's sake, to see if anyone notices. Prior to snapping the Steelers in January 2012, McCoy had called a run on 21 of 22 first-down snaps. He switched it up. Now Denver must.
Yes, 2016 was that bad: the Broncos offense never had ranked below 25th until it ranked 27th last season. It stunk like year-old sushi. It needed a change worse than a diaper.
So the Broncos turned to McCoy as offensive coordinator and Musgrave as quarterbacks coach. They go way back. With the Panthers in 2010 the pecking order was reversed — Musgrave was the coordinator, McCoy the quarterbacks coach. When Musgrave suddenly resigned mid-season, McCoy was promoted on the offensive staff. Now, six months out of Broncos training camp, the tandem looks reassuring — McCoy previously was the Chargers head coach, Musgrave the Raiders offensive coordinator, and neither team had a problem scoring points. San Diego (with a veteran quarterback, Philip Rivers) and Oakland (with a young one, Derek Carr) both had top-10 scoring offenses. Oh, what the Broncos would give.
“Mike’s built an offense from Tim Tebow to Peyton Manning. He has the ability to adapt his skillset to our players,” coach Vance Joseph said. “We want to be aggressive. We want to score points. That’s not going to stop. How he does that, that’s going to be his expertise. But we want to be aggressive.”
Signing Tony Romo would be most aggressive. The Broncos should do that, if the 37-year-old is healthy (ESPN’s Ed Werder reported he is) and comes at a reasonable price (as quarterbacks with injury histories and without Super Bowl rings should). If it's Paxton Lynch or Trevor Siemian, McCoy said his next QB should chat with his old QB.
“I would recommend they sit down with Philip Rivers one day and talk about what it means to play in the NFL, just for some tips,” McCoy said. “He does it the way it’s supposed to be done.”
But a Romo vs. Lynch or a Lynch vs. Siemian decision wouldn’t be the toughest task McCoy has encountered. Nor would the 2017 Broncos schedule, rated the most difficult in the NFL.
The toughest time forever will be Tebow Time.
And with McCoy as offensive coordinator, the 2011 Broncos somehow made it work.
“I think everyone bought into what we were doing,” McCoy said when I asked how. “I think if you look at the receivers who were playing in the games — look at the Kansas City game, the number of times we ran the football. It was 50-plus times. We threw it less than 10 times in the game. But they bought into it.
“I think that’s the key. I think all the players who stay in this business, it’s about winning. You look at those games and you look at the Pittsburgh game and you look at the first play of overtime — everyone on the defense was up on the sideline, because they knew we were going to win that game.”