2017-09-15 12:18:03
Now Starting for the Jets: The Marvin Ridge High School Quarterbacks Coach

12:18, September 15 185 0

During football season a few years back, Scott Chadwick, a high school coach in North Carolina, had a Sunday night ritual as practical as it was peculiar. Every week, he would scan the list of N.F.L. players injured that day, hoping that no quarterbacks were seriously hurt.

He knew that the repercussions of a broken wrist in Minneapolis or a torn ligament in Seattle could reverberate all the way to Waxhaw, N.C., outside Charlotte, where Chadwick’s staff at Marvin Ridge High School included the most overqualified quarterbacks coach in the Southern Carolina Conference.

That coach, Josh McCown, had turned an unplanned hiatus from the N.F.L. — he was still on standby for any team with a sudden, urgent opening — into two seasons volunteering with the Mavericks, in 2011 and 2012, that he considers a point of demarcation in his peripatetic career but also his life. All the time he spent there formulating game plans and holding tutorials in his backyard, running Bible study and asking players about their grades caused McCown, after spending eight years with four teams, to recalibrate his perspective.

“I got to hit the pause button,” he said in an interview at the Jets’ headquarters in Florham Park, N.J., the day after their 21-12, season-opening loss at Buffalo. “I didn’t really grasp how much the game meant to me. After coaching, I knew, and it needed to be reflected in how I prepared as a player and as a coach.”

McCown, 38, has not appeared in the playoffs in his previous 14 N.F.L. seasons, and he has lost 21 of his last 23 starts, for three teams, since 2014. But behind the numbers, teams have noticed an aptitude for teaching and a capacity to impart professionalism and wisdom on younger players. The Cleveland Browns asked him to consider a coaching position after last season, as other teams have over the years, but he wanted to continue playing.

He was less certain in 2010, after he had thrown all of six passes for the Carolina Panthers the previous two seasons. He struggled to get another N.F.L. job because teams had such little film of him, and he spent the next season with the Hartford Colonials of the United Football League.

Weary of waiting for a phone call, McCown reconnected with Chadwick, whom he had met in early 2010. McCown lived in Waxhaw, about two miles from the school.

Their philosophies aligned, and from the outset McCown was honest: If an N.F.L. team called, he was going. The Mavericks hoped he would never leave. They also hoped he would.

Approaching the unpaid position like a full-time gig, McCown immersed himself in the program. He hosted film review sessions, replete with homemade lasagna, at his house. After practices, he would text players to share ideas — or sometimes just to check in with them, to ask about their math test. He scouted opponents, attended junior varsity games, served as the scout-team quarterback.

“The last thing he needed to be doing was hang out on a high school field with a bunch of kids he’s never met before,” Mavericks running back Jacob Henderson, who now plays at Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, N.C., said in an interview last month in Charlotte. “We all wondered: Is he going to be here? Is he not? Josh went above and beyond. He put his heart and soul into it.”

McCown said he never considered otherwise.

“I thought the impact would be lessened if they felt like you were half-in, half-out,” McCown said of his involvement with the Mavericks. “I didn’t want them to respect me because I played. I wanted them to respect me because I cared about them.”

By investing in their lives outside football, McCown built trust. He knew that receiver Carter Hill’s parents were divorced, so he made sure to be an active presence. For the 7 a.m. Fellowship of Christian Athletes meetings, McCown would flip pancakes or bring doughnuts. From chatting with receiver Derek Smith, McCown learned that he rooted for South Carolina and loved the former Gamecocks receiver Alshon Jeffery. One day, he passed his cellphone to Smith, and on the other end was Jeffery, who played with McCown in Chicago, wishing him a happy birthday.

“If you needed to go to a private therapy session, you would go to Josh’s house,” Hill said in a telephone interview. “Not that that necessarily happened, but that was the type of relationship he had.”

McCown really started forging those relationships in summer 2011, his first full season as quarterbacks coach. He would stay for the junior high practice, too, roaming the fields from 6 a.m. to past lunchtime.

“I went home and I told my wife: ‘This is awesome. I feel so alive right now,’ ” McCown said.

About two weeks later, just as the Mavericks’ preparation was intensifying, the San Francisco 49ers signed him. Even while focusing on claiming a roster spot there, he monitored the Mavericks from afar on his tablet.

He would grade the performance of quarterback Tyler Chadwick, Scott’s son, and email him suggestions. Curious, McCown’s roommate at training camp, Joe Hastings, asked what he was doing.

“Just helping my quarterback,” McCown told him.

McCown lasted three weeks before San Francisco released him, and he went home to coach. Sharing his own tribulations — he didn’t even start until his senior year in high school — McCown helped empower a team fielding almost an entirely new lineup. He urged players to concentrate on what they could control: their study habits, their work ethic, their passion.

“I’ve coached with a lot of former N.F.L. guys, and a lot of times they have the attitude like, ‘It’s lucky for you that I’m here,’ ” Chadwick said last month in Charlotte. “Josh got just as much out of it as the kids did.”

McCown developed a special connection with Tyler Chadwick, who laughed as he recalled a favorite drill: It demanded he complete 20-yard passes over a net, roughly 6 feet tall, stationed about 10 yards away. It helped him improve his accuracy up the seam, tossing over linebackers and away from safeties. Another required him to fling balls from odd angles.

Yet despite setting a school record with 10 victories, the Mavericks lost in the second round of the playoffs, plunging McCown into reality. “Oh man, I don’t have a job job,” he said. His unemployment lasted only a week, until Jay Cutler of the Chicago Bears broke his thumb.

Five weeks later, McCown was starting on Christmas night, at Lambeau Field, against Green Bay. It was his first start in four years. The NBC broadcast showed a photo of McCown, flanked by Scott Chadwick, along the Marvin Ridge High School sideline.

“Surreal,” Tyler Chadwick said.

After the season, McCown re-signed with Chicago, but in training camp he still maintained regular contact with Scott Chadwick. When the Mavericks deliberated changing quarterbacks, elevating a freshman to starter, it was McCown who communicated with the incumbent and made sure he understood the reasons for the switch, encouraging him to be a good teammate.

When the Bears eventually released McCown, his wife, Natalie, took his coaching shirt to the airport. Fresh off his flight from Chicago, McCown walked into the Mavericks’ locker room at halftime of their game against Cuthbertson.

With Marvin Ridge leading by 4 in the fourth quarter, McCown suggested Chadwick call a play that had just missed earlier. This time, Smith caught a 25-yard touchdown in stride. Good to have you back, Chadwick told McCown.

Still, Marvin Ridge was 6-6 that season and lost its playoff opener. For more than an hour afterward, McCown consoled players.

“I’m getting emotional just thinking about it,” Smith said.

That was the last game McCown coached at Marvin Ridge. Less than two weeks later, Cutler sustained a concussion, and off McCown went to Chicago. He has not had a free autumn since: Bears, Buccaneers, Browns and, now, the Jets, his eighth team.

Whenever this all ends, McCown wants to coach again. He would regret it if he didn’t, he said. He loves receiving texts addressing him as Coach, and still gets a lot of them, even five years later.

“The fact that he still talks to me,” Hill said, “it’s like he never left.”