Josh McCown is a godsend to the Chicago Bears. When Cutler went down with a groin injury early on in the season, Bears fans collectively held their breath to find out what was going to happen next. After Josh McCown came in and lit up the entire league, he graciously stepped aside for Jay Cutler to come back and take over the starting role once again in Chicago. The question is, when he was playing at such a high level, why would he so graciously step aside? Is it because he knew that the fans would never accept him as the future of the team, or is there more at work in the mind of Josh McCown?
Josh McCown was having a season like none other. He was playing at a level higher than he ever had before, and was leading the charge to put the Chicago Bears back into first place in the NFC North. His 13 touchdowns this season are more than he has ever gotten in a season before, including when he started 14 games for the Arizona Cardinals back in 2004. In Week 14, on national television, he threw for four touchdown passes against the Dallas Cowboys and ran for one more, and was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week.
Then, in the blink of an eye, he was on the bench once again.
McCown's numbers speak for themselves. 13 touchdowns and just 1 interception means that while he was playing, one could make the argument that nobody in the entire National Football League was playing better than Josh McCown was. Yet, while he was breaking his own records (and Bears records too), McCown remained adamant that he was not the starting quarterback in Chicago, and that Jay Cutler would resume his duties as starting quarterback as soon as he was healthy enough to play. Week in and week out, McCown would put up huge numbers, and then afterwards say that he was not going to hear anything about a quarterback controversy in Chicago.
The only question that seemed left to be asked was, why? Everybody was busy interviewing Jay Cutler and Marc Trestman to find out when Cutler would be back, and some reporters were even busy inside the locker room asking players if there was a divide between players who wanted McCown and those who would rather see Cutler in. Yet all this time, the thought process of Josh McCown has remained unquestioned.
When the Bears signed Josh McCown in 2011, he was coaching high school football in Waxhaw, NC. A volunteer assistant coach for Marvin Ridge High School, he helped the team reach it's best record in the school's history. Then, when Jay Cutler broke his thumb, McCown answered the call to come play for the Chicago Bears and leave his coaching on hold for the time being. Remember, that was back when the Bears had Lovie Smith as their head coach. Going back and playing was not to improve his knowledge for coaching, but instead to try and finish an NFL career that McCown started in 2002, one that had seen sub-par numbers and had been through three different programs, four if you counted his new team.
Josh McCown did not play very well filling in for Jay Cutler in 2011. He threw just two touchdown passes and four interceptions in three games, and fans were happy to see Jason Campbell takeover the role as the back-up in Chicago for the 2012 season. With Cutler being as injury prone as he is, however, fans quickly saw what a nightmare it was having Jason Campbell start at quarterback in a Lovie Smith offense. The line was terrible, there was really only one receiver that was a legitimate threat, and Campbell ended up turning the ball over (4) twice as many times as he threw a touchdown pass (2) in six games for the Bears. Once Marc Trestman took over as head coach, McCown saw his chance to learn from one of the best offensive minds in the game.
Yes, Jay Cutler is injury prone. That being said, nobody saw him missing as many games this season as he did, especially not in a contract year. Adding even more fuel to the fire was GM Phil Emery, who had stated multiple times that he was not going to renegotiate contracts with players until after the season was over, meaning that Cutler would have to earn the big money he wanted by playing well this season. When Cutler went down the first time with his groin injury, McCown saw a chance to strike.
He came in against Washington, and despite the team's loss that day, McCown threw for over 200 yards and a touchdown, and didn't turn the ball over. Next week at Green Bay, he threw for 272 yards, two touchdowns, and once again had zero interceptions.
After Jay's return and ankle injury in the same game against Detroit, McCown knew that he was going to be the starter for some time in Chicago. His mentality, though, seemed to be different than any other time he had thrown the football. He seemed to be at peace.
McCown knew that at 34 years old, he was not long for this league. He knew that even if he played well, he was no longer fighting for a starting spot on a roster or in danger of losing his job. He simply went out and played football, under the watchful eye of his coach Marc Trestman. McCown had been studying Trestman's system all season long, and with Jay hurt all of Trestman's focus was now turned to McCown. No longer would he be playing for a Bears coach who just wanted him to be there while the defense did all the work. This time, it was McCown's turn to lead the team with all focus and attention turned towards him, and he delivered.
McCown currently has over 1,800 passing yards and 13 touchdowns on the season. He has thrown just one interception, and even has a rushing touchdown that he got last Monday against Dallas. His numbers are good enough to start for almost any team in the NFL, but once again, his age stood out above the rest.
McCown knows that nobody is going to sign him as a starter next season. Even if they do, he would be playing on a team that is in the middle of a quarterback controversy, and that nothing would be guaranteed. Once again, he would be playing for his job, not just playing to fill in for someone else. All the pressure of an NFL career spent trying to find the right offensive system that fit would suddenly come back to him, and at 35 years old, he would need to find a way to win games fast for that team, or else they would likely cut him and go with someone who has the same skill set but is about 12-15 years younger.
Being a starting quarterback in the NFL is something that no longer seems appealing to Josh McCown. That being said, there seems to be something else that continues to drive McCown to be the best he can be each and every game this season.
McCown wants to go back to coaching. It may seem a little strange seeing the work that he can still do as a player in professional football, but McCown has bigger things in mind here. Take a look at who he is playing under. Marc Trestman has worked with some of the best quarterbacks of their time, Steve Young and Rich Gannon are a few names the instantly come to everybody's mind. Trestman has won two championships in the CFL as a head coach, and is hailed as one of the best quarterback coaches the NFL has ever seen.
On the other side, Jay Cutler was brought to Chicago to help them win a championship. The team has done quite a bit to make him feel at home, including a new coach, general manager, new offensive weapons at his disposal, and a new offensive line that will fight each and every down for him. There is simple no way that Cutler would sit on the bench in Chicago while healthy and watch someone else play over him.
McCown knows both of these things. He knows just how smart Trestman is, but he knows who Trestman came to Chicago to coach. McCown, after playing so well with the Bears as a starter, had a decision to make. He could complain to the media that he should be the starter, tell everyone to compare his stats with Cutlers, and start a huge locker room fight over who players wanted to see on the field more. He could possibly win that battle, maybe lead the Bears to a playoff game or two, but he knew that while scoring five touchdowns against the Dallas Cowboys at home looked easy, doing the same against Seattle on the road in the playoffs would be nearly impossible. He could win the starting job, play for a year and then retire. Cutler would then walk away from the Bears and Marc Trestman would be left with a high powered offense and nobody to run it.
Or, he could step aside. He could play at the highest level he ever had while filling in for Cutler, then step aside to save the jobs of both Trestman and Cutler in Chicago. He could still cheer on his teammates, who he has now earned the respect of, and help Cutler and Trestman as much as possible. He would be the ultimate team player, the ultimate backup, and the ultimate role model for everyone else. Ending on good terms with coach Trestman is more important to McCown than starting a few more games in a league he was ready to give up playing in just a few years ago.
He knows that with the power of Marc Trestman's system, he can become the next great coach himself. He already got his feet wet by coaching high school football before going back to play with the Bears. Now, he has had Marc Trestman teach him all he knows, and McCown knows how to make the system work. Why get knocked down time and time again trying to make a career as a quarterback work, when he can stand on the sidelines and teach what he knows to other players?
Everybody has gotten so caught up in wondering why Trestman went with Cutler and how the decision will affect the Chicago Bears, that nobody has stopped to ask why McCown stepped aside so gracefully. McCown has gotten the attention of everybody in the football community now, and has two great allies in Marc Trestman and Jay Cutler. In 15 years or less, McCown will be a successful head coach in the NFL, and he will have Trestman as a friend to give him advice all the way.