The San Diego Chargers announced that Mike McCoy will be their next head coach Tuesday afternoon. McCoy has been the offensive coordinator in Denver for the past four seasons and cut his teeth as a play-caller with three different quarterbacks: Kyle Orton, Tim Tebow and Peyton Manning.
McCoy has been praised for his penchant to adjust his offense around his players. The Oakland Raiders requested to interview him last year, but he declined. McCoy is a young coach (he turns 41 in April) who goes about his business the right way, and was one of the hottest candidates this year who interviewed for just about every opening for head coach.
Compared to many other coaches out there, McCoy is relatively unknown. His claim to fame is taking Tim Tebow to the playoffs, but he also adapted quickly to Manning’s preferred offense. The Chargers may be taking a bit of a gamble on a guy that hasn’t coached the same quarterback or offense for longer than one season, so who is the real McCoy?
Trying to determine how much credit Mike McCoy deserves for the play of Peyton Manning is difficult. Manning is himself like an offensive coordinator on the field, which makes every offensive coordinator look good. The offense McCoy installed in Denver was nearly identical in the passing game to the one Manning used in Indianapolis.
McCoy got a lot of credit for Tebow’s play, as the polarizing signal-caller performed well enough to get the Broncos to the playoffs and to a playoff win last season. The defense got a lot of credit as well, which Dennis Allen parlayed into his first job as a head coach in Oakland. But, at worst, McCoy changed the offense for his personnel and gave the Broncos a chance to win.
To get an idea about who McCoy really is as an offensive mind, I dove into his play-calling to get a general overview. ProFootballFocus.com (subscription required) keeps snap counts, and with a little work you can come up with at least a rough estimate of how McCoy called plays for each quarterback he coached.
It will be McCoy’s primary job to fix Philip Rivers, so it was important to look at how he handles his QBs. As much as people will talk about Rivers' leadership, the Chargers will only go as far as he can take them.
What’s clear from the start is that McCoy definitely changed his play-calling with each quarterback. The Broncos passed 61.6 percent of the time with Orton, 55.3 percent of the time with Manning and 46.2 percent of the time with Tebow. What’s interesting here is that the Broncos actually passed more with Orton, presumably because they were trailing more often.
In losses, the Broncos totally abandoned the run and Orton threw 65.3 percent of the time. McCoy did not abandon the run as much in losses with Manning or Tebow, which also means he didn’t pass as much when the Broncos were behind.
Here’s the interesting thing about the play-calling: Even though Manning and Tebow were on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to the run-pass split, they were nearly identical when it came to how McCoy adjusted the play-calling in wins and losses.
It appears that McCoy adjusted the offense to each quarterback, but did a much better job calling plays for Tebow and Manning than Orton. Another way to look at the numbers is to simply look at how passing plays were called in wins.
In wins, Manning threw the ball 52.6 percent of the time, Orton passed 43.3 percent of the time and Tebow threw 42.6 percent of the time. You’d expect Orton’s percentage to be much higher than Tebow’s. Yet, while Orton’s sample is relatively small, it highlights how reliant on the running game the Broncos really were under both quarterbacks.
McCoy will build an offense around Rivers to fit his strengths. McCoy will take a lot of input from Rivers as to what he likes, so expect the offense to be much of the same as it was under Turner, except for a renewed emphasis on the running game (McCoy ran the ball nearly 45 percent of the time with Manning as the quarterback).
The indications are that McCoy either trusts the quarterback to throw the ball (Manning and Orton), or he doesn’t (Tebow). The offense might be built around Rivers, but that doesn’t guarantee the QB's success.
Keep in mind that McCoy was 1-5 with Orton as the starter, 9-7 with Tebow, and 13-4 with Manning. But records don’t tell the story. Under McCoy, the Broncos scored 20.1 points per game with Tebow, 18.8 points with Orton, and 30.6 points with Manning. For comparison, the Broncos scored 21.3 points per game with Josh McDaniels calling the plays for Orton for the first 12 games of the 2010 season.
Expecting a quick turnaround would be unwise at this point. McCoy was brought in to be an effective communicator and good leader who will install schemes that fit his players. He squeezed all the production he could out of Tebow and let Manning run his favorite pass plays while installing his running game.
All indications are that the Chargers did what many were skeptical they could and hired two great people to lead their franchise. The Chargers hired a general manager and head coach who are young, smart, experienced leaders and good communicators. There’s no guarantee things are going to work out, but Mike McCoy and Tom Telesco seem to have that little something extra that makes an organization successful.