PHILADELPHIA — It was around 1 p.m. on Friday afternoon when Josh McCown took his seat on the plane, his ribs still sore from the night before, the after-effects of a 300-pound Ravens defensive lineman walloping him to the turf.
McCown still completed the touchdown pass anyway, a perfectly-placed at the back of the end zone for Eagles tight end Alex Ellis. McCown is 40, though, so getting hit like that hurts a little more than it used to. Especially since he’d been retired for six months.
“It’s a subtle reminder,” McCown said after the game, “that this is a little different than coaching high school football.”
Less than a week earlier, McCown was coaching practice more than 500 miles away at Myers Park High School in Charlotte. He officially retired in June, fresh off two productive years with the Jets and 17 years overall as a professional quarterback.
McCown was a full-time coach for the Mustangs when the Eagles came calling, desperate for a proven backup quarterback after Nate Sudfeld suffered a wrist injury.
He really was retired, though. Calls came in throughout the offseason from various teams, but McCown didn’t want to listen. There were only a few teams he’d even consider, and they had to meet his criteria.
He wanted to play for a contender with good organizational structure, a strong and respected coaching staff with a talented roster of players.
Another important factor: proximity to Charlotte. He wanted to be close to home, where his family lives, where he coaches.
Oh, and he wanted to keep coaching, too, though that wasn’t necessarily a requirement to sign him.
Anyway, he and the Eagles came to an understanding — McCown would be allowed to fly to Charlotte on Friday afternoon after practice, time permitting, and make it back in time to continue contributing as a coach for Myers Park on Friday nights. He’ll return promptly and won’t miss any team-required meetings, practices or any events.
The Eagles “understand the family dynamic,” McCown told NJ Advance Media on Tuesday. “The proximity to Charlotte was a factor, and part of why it made sense to sign here.”
That’s where McCown went after the preseason game against the Ravens last week, and it’ll continue this week after Thursday night’s game against the Jets, his old team.
Myers Park is blessed with a unique circumstance — an active NFL quarterback will be coaching them this season.
Most of the team watched their coach’s impressive performance against the Ravens last week, too, where he threw two nifty touchdown passes just five days after coming out of retirement.
When McCown walked into the Myers Park locker room the following evening, the players gave him a standing ovation. He blushed.
“It was in the moment,” said Mustangs quarterback Drake Maye. “We just all started clapping.”
McCown is 40 years old, now entering his 18th NFL season, playing for his 11th NFL team. He was the talk of Philadelphia after an unexpected preseason performance.
All he wanted to talk about was Olympic High School, Myers Park’s opponent that night.
In that moment, McCown only cared about coaching.
“I just wanted them to be focused on the game,” McCown told NJ Advance Media on Tuesday. “That’s the main thing. But I understand, I guess, the situation. To have someone that’s an active player in the NFL, working with, coaching you, that’s unique.
“I try to appreciate that,” he continued, “but it was short-lived and I got the guys to focus on business as usual.”
‘He does all the dirty work’
Myers Park coach Scott Chadwick and his staff have to paint the field lines on every practice field before the team can workout. That can take a while.
More than two hours before a recent practice, before anyone else had arrived, McCown was out there, painting every line.
This is nothing new. McCown attends every meeting, game-planning session and practice. He works with the quarterbacks — two of them are his sons — on the field and off, and coaches up the receivers and rest of the offense, too.
Earlier in the summer, the team did a sleep-away, team-bonding trip outside of Charlotte. McCown was there, sleeping in the dorms like everybody else.
“He slept on this awful, awful dorm mattress we had to sleep on,” Chadwick said, laughing. “We were roommates and I don’t think either one of us slept more than two hours straight because the mattresses were so bad.”
McCown’s 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame hung off the bed. He never complained.
“He does everything that a regular high school coach does,” Chadwick said. “He doesn’t just show up, he does all the dirty work.”
One more: at the end of a practice as dark clouds loomed large in the distance, everyone on the team was running inside to beat the coming inclement weather.
“It’s about to start raining,” said Muhsin Muhammad III, Myers Parks’ star wide receiver, “and Coach McCown is just out there picking up all the bags, picking up all the footballs.
“It’s just like, man, you gotta a freakin’ NFL quarterback out here messing around with little high school cats … he’s just a great person.”
Chadwick says he’s had former NFL players on his staff before. The sons of NFL players line his roster.
None of the parents contribute quite like McCown, he said.