As the Broncos’ offensive coordinator and play-caller, Mike McCoy directed the 2012 Tim Tebow-led team to the playoffs and the top of the NFL in rushing. One year later McCoy had a different quarterback (Peyton Manning) and a completely different offense—one that improved 26 spots to fifth in the league in passing and returned to the postseason.
And now McCoy will get to do it all over again, this time in San Diego as the Chargers’ new head coach.
McCoy was a hot commodity this offseason, one year removed from being passed over for the Miami job that ultimately went to Joe Philbin. McCoy had interviews lined up with the Bears, Eagles, Bills, and Cardinals in addition to the Chargers. Armed with a ringing endorsement from Manning and a reputation for successfully adapting his scheme to fit the available personnel, McCoy opted for the most stable quarterback situation on the board.
But McCoy will have plenty of help squeezing productivity out of Philip Rivers and the rest of the Chargers. McCoy has already said he’ll leave the play-calling to his offensive coordinator, even before the Bolts hired former Cardinals head coach (and Steelers OC) Ken Whisenhunt for that job.
While there is potential for friction between the emotional Rivers and the hard-nosed Whisenhunt, a similar pairing between Whisenhunt and Ben Roethlisberger worked out just fine in Pittsburgh. And after slogging through a bevy of talent-challenged quarterbacks in Arizona, Whiz will be grateful to have Rivers executing his plays.
So what will a McCoy/Whisenhunt offense look like? The bulk of McCoy’s career was spent alongside ultra-conservative John Fox, and even with Manning in Denver McCoy placed plenty of emphasis on running the football. Whisenhunt is known for his creativity and trick plays, but the Steelers’ blueprint was still a power ground game; on his watch Pittsburgh ranked second, fifth, and tenth in the league in rushing.
The Chargers will try to follow that lead, to an extent, but history suggests Ryan Mathews isn’t capable of holding up to such a workload without help. San Diego also needs to upgrade the offensive line, something that will impact the passing game as well. McCoy was willing to give 20-plus carries to his feature back on a consistent basis in Denver, be it Willis McGahee or Knowshon Moreno. If you trust Mathews to handle those touches he’s an intriguing fantasy option this year… again. If, like most of the rest of the fantasy football-playing world, you’re less than sold on Mathews you’ll want to keep an eye on who winds up as Mathews’ backfield caddy.
Both McCoy and Whisenhunt have also demonstrated an ability to adapt their passing game to the talent at hand as well. In Pittsburgh, that talent was Hines Ward; in Arizona, Larry Fitzgerald. Those two players led their respective teams in receiving each year Whisenhunt was at the helm. McCoy oversaw three different leading receivers in Denver: Brandon Lloyd, Eric Decker, and Demaryius Thomas. There is no clear-cut front-runner among the Chargers’ receiving corps; you could make a tepid case for injury-prone Danario Alexander, but Vincent Brown might be the better fit for that role. And neither McCoy nor Whisenhunt has a track record of especially productive tight ends, so Antonio Gates can ride off into the sunset in relative peace.
As for Rivers, he’s a step down for McCoy and two giant leaps forward for Whisenhunt. Give him some time to throw and a reasonable threat in the ground game and we’re more apt to see the Rivers of a few years ago than the turnover machine he’s become of late. He’s not top-five material, but the pedigree of his new offensive coaches suggest he’ll at least be a viable fantasy contributor.
McCoy’s adaptability to the talent around him is a big reason he’s now the head man in San Diego. As their 2013 roster takes shape following free agency and the NFL Draft, he—and we—will have a better idea of what the Chargers’ offensive game plan will look like this season.