The new name at the top of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' quarterback depth chart was a high school football coach less than three years ago.
The thing is, Luke McCown might not be preparing for the possibility of his first opening-day NFL start in seven years if he hadn't spent some time on the sidelines of a North Carolina high school in the fall of 2011. McCown signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as an unrestricted free agent on Wednesday after shining in relief of Jay Cutler last fall with the Chicago Bears. His time in Chicago had begun with a November signing in 2011, prompted by a Cutler injury, but before that call from the Bears he had spent the fall as an assistant at Marvin Ridge High School in Waxhaw, North Carolina.
Despite eight previous NFL seasons in Arizona, Detroit, Oakland and Carolina – including opening-game starts with the Cardinals in 2004 and the Raiders in 2007 – McCown considers his season coaching prep players as one of the most formative experiences of his career.
"I think there are a lot of things that I can point to," he said on Thursday during an introductory press conference at One Buccaneer Place. "I go back to probably the number-one thing: coaching high school football. The years I was doing that, I started learning the game differently. As a coach, you stop at the stripe and the players have to go out there and do it. So the way that you teach them, the way that you learn it, it's different."
QB Josh McCown (left) and T Anthony Collins were introduced as the newest Buccaneers on Thursday
McCown believes he has increased his accuracy as a passer during his dozen years in the NFL, and that he has developed a greater feel for the pocket. Those improvements obviously happened in the heat of battle, as well as on the practice field. In terms of his mental development as a player, however, he might have made his greatest strides while away from the NFL.
"It gave me a great perspective, so the opportunity to then get back into ball and play, I took that perspective to the game," said McCown of his opportunity to coach. "I was fortunate to have [Chicago Bears Head] Coach [Marc] Trestman and those guys up there and the players around me that, when that plan was laid out, I was able to study and put to work those things that I had learned from coaching and it allowed me go out and play good ball. So there are a lot of things [to credit], but that time coaching, I really look at that and think, man, that had a huge impact on me."
The entire transcript of Thursday's press conference to introduce McCown and Collins follows.
General Manager Jason Licht
"Welcome again, it's another exciting day here at One Buc. I'm proud to introduced two new members of our team, both probably need no introduction. First and foremost here sitting closest to me, (quarterback) Josh McCown. We're excited about Josh on several levels - one his experience with Lovie, that goes a long way; but number two is leadership on-and-off the field. We're not signing Josh for just those things, we're signing him to be a performer on the field and we're excited about that opportunity. From day one we've been transparent about our goal to get a veteran seasoned quarterback on this roster that's playing at his best and that's Josh McCown.
"Sitting to his left, which we're getting him used to that right now, protecting his blindside, is (tackle) Anthony Collins. Anthony is a veteran tackle that's played and started on the left side, on the right side, he's had some experience at guard, but he is a natural left tackle and we're very excited today to have Anthony and introduce Anthony as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' new starting left tackle. I'm going to let (Head) Coach (Lovie Smith) has a few words here."
Head Coach Lovie Smith
"Can't say a whole lot more besides what Jason said, but I do have a relationship with Josh. I have a relationship with a lot of people, but I don't ask them to come down here and play football. We need good football players; Josh is exactly what you're looking for in a leader to get that 4-12 taste out of our mouth. As Jason said, there's nothing like a good left tackle and I really enjoyed getting a chance to know Anthony. He's going to bring a lot of energy and of course good play and I can't wait to get started. We talked a lot about defense yesterday, but it's about scoring points and the game is more about the offense nowadays and we feel like we made strides with it. Without anything else I'm going to pass it over to Josh."
QB Josh McCown
"First and foremost thanks to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers organization and to Jason and Lovie for having me here. I'm very thankful to be here, it's a great opportunity for me and our family to come be a part of this community, to come be a part of this organization and we look forward to what's to come as both Jason and Lovie said. There are things that you want to accomplish as a leader on and off the field, but the number one thing is to come play good football and I feel like for myself with what we were able to accomplish last year on the field, I'm going to keep building on that. We're excited about this opportunity and I'll let my left tackle say something."
T Anthony Collins
"I'm not going to talk too much. I'm happy to be here, I love it, I love the coaches and met everybody, the GM, Coach Smith, I loved everything about it. I have to protect this man right here with all my might. With all my might I have to protect this man right here. Nothing else said."
Q & A
(McCown on what made Tampa the right fit for him)
"All things, it's kind of all encompassing, but no doubt the relationship with Lovie had a lot to do with it because there is familiarity there and because I understand the direction and the way he wants to build this team, the guys he's looking for, not only myself but the pieces that he wants to put around and allow you to be in with the locker room. It's my kind of environment and that was a big draw for me."
(McCown on having an opportunity to start this late his career)
"Well I've learned throughout my life that, as a person of faith there's a scripture that says tomorrow is not promised and all those things, that's kind of how I've tried to view the world is that things change very quickly. My whole career has kind of been that way. I had the privilege a few years ago to coach high school football and then at the end of that season, play on Christmas night in Lambeau Field with Lovie. I kind of started thinking then that you never know and for me to be sitting here I understand why people would say this is kind of surprising but in our world and my family's world this is kind of par for the course to have something relatively unusual happen. We're excited about this opportunity and really feel like for me I am at a time where I'm – like I said I played my best ball last year and look forward to building on that."
(McCown on if he feels like this is the best offense for him)
"Absolutely, that was a big - when I came on my visit there was kind of a fact finding mission. I needed to sit with (offensive coordinator) Jeff (Tedford) and (quarterbacks coach) Marcus (Arroyo) and spend time with them and see what they were putting in place offensively and see the direction they were headed. That couldn't have gone better. When you really sit with those guys, I'm so impressed and after two days and spending time with (offensive line coach) George Warhop all of those things are important because for me you find a level and a standard performance you want to play at and there are things that need to line up to do so. I feel like coming in here and during the visit I was really able to check those boxes off and go, you know what, this is going to give me a chance to be successful because I know that's what they're bringing me in here for, it's to play good football. I believe Coach Smith has put the things in place for me to do that."
(McCown on if his lack of playing makes his body feel younger)
"Those four kids over there will keep you young. I'm thankful for them and thankful for my wife Natalie being here. My course, my journey has been different and so other starting quarterbacks in their 30s, they've played a lot more games and taken a lot more hits. My body feels great. I feel like when I look at the tape and just by the way I feel, I think I can continue to do the things I've always done and what excites me is to be able to – I can do the things athletically that I did early in my career, but have the mental capacity and the experience that I have now to put those things together, I feel like I can put my best foot forward."
(Collins on if he's ready to be full-time starter)
"I'm very ready; I've been waiting for six years. I got my chance this year and coming over here to a whole other family and it feels like a family; it's going to make my stride that much easier."
(Licht on what made Collins attractive as a left tackle)
"The fact that, watching all the tackles this year, he's the one that jumped out the most to me, because it was such a surprise to see a guy thrown into the starting lineup and to actually see their team perform better. And that's not a knock on any player. (Collins) has great feet, he's got great athleticism, and he plays very hard. I don't want to say he came out of nowhere, because everyone has been aware of Anthony for a long time, but, when he got his opportunity, he performed exceptionally, so we feel very lucky to get him. And I don't think he's hit his prime yet."
(McCown on replicating success from 2013 and becoming a starter)
"Well, the good thing is that I've gone through an offseason as a starter when I was in Arizona, so I understand what comes with all those things. So it's being able to couple those experiences with what I'm going to do now. Time will tell, but what I've learned over the last 12 months, the things I brought to the table in Chicago and the systems and processes that I learned, the ways to study and the things that we did to help that offense go from where it was to where it is now, those are the things that I have in my mind that I want to bring with me that I want to do and replicate. I believe that will give us a chance to be successful."
(McCown on what Smith expects of his quarterback)
"I think, first and foremost, to protect the football. If I've learned anything about playing for Coach, it's to protect the football. Obviously 13 touchdowns and one interception is a good way to get that done, and that will be a premium that we put on us offensively, that we're going to protect the football. And that's not just from my position, but (for) ball carriers and those alike; we're going to protect the football and be smart. Because we know – I've been around (Smith), I've played for him and I've watched it – that (the defense) is going to get the football back. They're going to get it out; it's going to happen. So we understand the ratios and the percentages of winning games and how important that is. So I think that's the number one thing (Smith) is expecting."
(McCown on traits he has developed over the years that help him protect the football)
"Physically, I'm a little more accurate passer. I think that is key. The way I handle the pocket, the protection of the ball in the pocket. And, past physical, it's decision making. That's the main thing. As a young player, you come into the league and you rely on athleticism to get you out of things. You try to rely on your arm to get you out of things. That leads you into bad decisions sometimes. For me, as I've grown, and fortunate to still be playing, and have grown enough to go, you know what, I can be more accurate. I don't have to rely on my feet all the time; I can move in the pocket subtly. Those are the biggest things I would point to that will help me get that done."
(Collins on handling the pressure of being named a starter)
"I'm comfortable. A lot of people get uncomfortable when they are put into positions with pressure. I'm very comfortable with pressure, very. So it's going to be easy for me."
(Collins on if he feels he has been underestimated up to this point in his career)
"God always has his own timing. You got to wait. Patience is a virtue. Now is my time."
(Collins on if former teammates and recent Tampa Bay acquisitions Michael Johnson and Clinton McDonald lobbied for him to sign)
"They tried, and they did. (Laughing) They accomplished it. And now I'm here."
(Collins on his on-field demeanor)
"Man up. I have to protect (McCown). That man has four kids over there. So, that left tackle, across the board, across the whole line, you got to man up. We're offensive tackles, offensive guards; we got to eat, sleep football at all times. I have to protect (McCown); that's my job."
(McCown on what makes Smith a special coach)
"I think because he cares. You spend five minutes with him and you feel like he cares about you as an individual and as a person. That matters to players. As long as I've played, if I've learned one thing it's that relationships matter and the relationships that you can build in the building matter. As much as we talk about this being a business, the guys that I've played with through the course of my career – it's resounding how much, when an issue comes up, how much you can look at why an issue happened and go, man, it's because the relationship is fractured between the player and the coach and because the player doesn't feel cared for. I believe that more than anything, and appreciate that so much from Lovie is that I believe he cares and the guys believe that as well."