McCoy develops thick skin after rookie hazing

Michael Silver

As Colt McCoy(notes) prepares for Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Cleveland Browns' second-year quarterback is fighting through frustration on several fronts. His team has a disappointing 4-6 record. He and his receivers are adapting to a new, West Coast system implemented by rookie coach Pat Shurmur. And the team's most valuable offensive player of 2010, running back Peyton Hillis(notes), has been a non-factor, undone by injury and contract-related dissatisfaction.

Compared to the onslaught of negativity McCoy experienced as a rookie, however, these frustrations are subtle and quaint.

When McCoy arrived in Cleveland after a standout career as a four-year starter at the University of Texas, the third-round draft pick was welcomed with stiff arms by then-coach Eric Mangini and his assistants. Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, in particular, unleashed a torrent of tough love, except the love part was lost on McCoy and the teammates who observed the regular razzing.

In what became a running joke in the Browns' locker room, Daboll disparaged McCoy loudly and relentlessly – sometimes to his face, sometimes through the earpiece in the quarterback's helmet.

"There were times I had to pull my helmet off to call a play in the huddle," McCoy recalled in an interview earlier this month. "Guys could hear him yelling, and they'd say, 'Just take it off.' People said to me, 'Man, I ain't never seen anything like that. Just hang in there.'"

McCoy did, putting up solid numbers after taking over as the team's starter six weeks into the 2010 season. His anticipated growth curve has leveled off in his second year – he has 2,181 passing yards, a 59.6 completion percentage, 11 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a passer rating of 79.2 – but his locker-room cred is exceedingly high, largely because teammates remember how well he handled himself as Daboll's personal punching bag.

"I don't think they were BFFs," says one Browns veteran, using the common slang for "best friends forever."

"I am not sure why Brian didn't like Colt … I love the guy."

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Says tight end Evan Moore(notes): "There was a lot of pressure put on Colt, and some of it was over the top. He was coming off winning 45 of 53 games in college, and it was the first time he was dealing with adversity. It was a whirlwind for him. He stepped right into a buzz saw. It rocked his world. I knew it was tough for him, and there were a lot of times when he was frustrated. But he did a good job of not really showing it, and he handled it well."

Daboll, now the Miami Dolphins' offensive coordinator, declined a Y! Sports interview request. His heavy-handed coaching approach toward McCoy was hardly unique, especially given that it occurred during the quarterback's rookie season. Says Pro Bowl center Alex Mack(notes), the team's first-round draft pick in 2009: "When I got here as a rookie, I got hazed much worse by the coaching staff than I did by any player."

McCoy seemed to be a particularly convenient target, for a variety of reasons: He had been thrust upon Mangini's staff by newly hired Browns president Mike Holmgren and his handpicked general manager, Tom Heckert, who snatched him up after McCoy slipped in the draft; he came from Texas, where coach Mack Brown has a reputation for coddling players; and he began the season as a clear-cut third-stringer behind free-agent signees Jake Delhomme(notes) and Seneca Wallace(notes).

Rather than being embraced as a potential quarterback of the future, McCoy was treated very much like an afterthought with no hope of sniffing the field. He got no reps in practice, instead directing the scout team, as most third-stringers do, against the defensive starters.

Even those seemingly mundane assignments were fraught with peril.

"I remember [Daboll] yelling into Colt's headset when he was the scout team quarterback, in the two-minute drill, when they were servicing us," recalls veteran linebacker Scott Fujita(notes). "Daboll was talking into the microphone, very animated. I looked at Colt and he said, 'He does that all the time. He's constantly [expletive] me in the headset.'"

Says a Cleveland offensive player: "It happened all the time. Running scout team, you basically look at a play-card in the huddle and run that play – it's not like there's a lot of gray area. And still, Daboll would lose it. One time Daboll was yelling at him as he was running the scout team, into his helmet, and it was the part of the drill that finished practice. As Colt's walking to the team breakdown area, where Mangini is giving his speech, Daboll is still in his ear, screaming. People couldn't believe it."

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Another time, says the offensive player, "It was during a walkthrough, and they chose Colt to stand in at fullback, for whatever reason. I guess he kind of ran the wrong route; how the hell should he know what the fullback was supposed to run? Daboll flipped out. Colt was livid. He'd never had a coach talk to him like that."

Several Browns recalled a meeting early in the 2010 season in which Daboll told McCoy, "I just watched [tape of] your last college game, and you were terrible. What the hell were you throwing out there? That was one of the worst games I've ever seen. Why the [expletive] did we draft you?" (Daboll, through a Dolphins spokesman, said he did not recall ever having said those things to McCoy.)

Looking back, McCoy concedes that he was unnerved by the constant admonishment.

"My problem is maybe I took it too personal," he says. "I had my dad as a coach [in high school], and Mack Brown as my coach [at Texas] – the last two years it was my offense. Then I come here and I'm thinking, 'We're all professionals here.' It was [confusing].

"There came a point where I just really had to find … me … who I wanted to be. It really gave me an opportunity to search, to find that, to decide what I want to stand up for. Do I even want to do this? Do I want to put up with that? I decided, when my time comes to play, I'll be ready."

After both Delhomme and Wallace suffered high-ankle sprains, McCoy was pressed into duty, at which point he noticed a pronounced change in his coaches' demeanor. While still hard on him, Daboll now treated McCoy like a player capable of handling his responsibilities. There were high points, such as the quarterback's 14-for-19, 174-yard performance in a 34-14 upset over the Patriots in his third start. There were many more low moments, including the high-ankle sprain that McCoy suffered in late November that caused him to miss three games, and the five consecutive defeats as a starter after winning two of his first three games.

McCoy may have done a good job of masking his frustration to his teammates, but at home he wasn't as successful.

"If I get criticized for anything by my coaches it's really being too hard on myself," he says. "I would stay here at the facility till 10, go home, go to sleep, be back here at 6:30. I took a lot of stuff home. It was bad. My wife [Rachel] just thought I was this crazy, foreign, way-off guy in his own world, like, 'I can't believe this is my husband.' People [outside of football] thought something was wrong with me."

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After the season, Holmgren fired Mangini and his assistants, and McCoy insists he bore his departing coaches no ill will.

"When those guys left I walked up and shook their hands," he says. "I really did appreciate them. It made me stronger as a man. It taught me a lot about how to handle things."

Shurmur, who'd spent the previous two seasons as the Rams' offensive coordinator, was hired to replace Mangini in January, but the lockout kept McCoy and his teammates from assimilating and implementing the new coach's system. Instead, it was McCoy who gathered the Browns for offseason workouts, conducting four separate "Camp Colt" sessions in Austin, Texas, before the labor settlement hastened the start of training camp.

"In a weird way I think that it was good for me, because you almost have to assume that leadership role," he says. "I had to make sure the guys were working out, training, getting in the playbook, learning the offense. Those guys didn't know me last year, so having all of them down and working with them was a real positive. We got to grow as teammates, go out, have some fun."

The most football-related fun McCoy had over the offseason, however, occurred in Hattiesburg, Miss. at the home of a living legend. Eager to learn the principles of the West Coast offense, McCoy got a phone number for Brett Favre(notes) from Browns strength and conditioning coach Kent Johnston, the best man in the future Hall of Famer's wedding. McCoy left a message and Favre, who guided the Packers to consecutive Super Bowls in the '90s when Holmgren was Green Bay's coach, called back almost immediately.

"I was totally nervous," McCoy recalls. "I wore No. 4 in high school because of him. He set it up so I could come down there for a couple of days, and he picked me up from the airport in his Ford truck, wearing his Wranglers."

McCoy cherished the experience, which included throwing sessions at a nearby high school, fishing on the huge lake on Favre's property and waking up at the house to eat "the best pancakes in the world," courtesy of Brett's mother-in-law. Best of all was a late-night rap session with the three-time MVP, who has sent McCoy encouraging texts in the months that have followed.

Though McCoy entered 2011 as the Browns' unquestioned starter, he's still getting some tough love from his superiors. In October Holmgren, asked whether he's convinced that McCoy is his franchise quarterback, answered, "Let's let him play and see how performs and we'll evaluate it at end of year."

Asked earlier this month if he felt McCoy had taken a step back this season, Heckert said, "I don't know if he's regressed – it's a new offense, and there was a lockout, and there has been an adjustment period – but he should progress now."

Shurmur says of McCoy: "I like him a great deal. I evaluated him coming out of college, and I always thought he was wired right, thought he would work hard, thought he was talented. To me, he's almost a rookie. It's all new."

If McCoy is in fact getting better, it hasn't yet shown up on the stat sheet or standings. After winning more games than any quarterback in NCAA history, McCoy is grappling with life in last place in the AFC North.

"I cannot stand to lose," he says. "I'm a competitor. I'm just almost going insane."

Though he and Hillis are friends, McCoy seemed to have lost all patience with the ongoing saga when we spoke in early November, saying, "If you're healthy, just play. Help yourself. Help our team. We've got guys in here playing with all kinds of injuries. We do it for each other, for ourselves, for our city – all kinds of reasons. Nobody in [the organization] does disrespect him, whatever he believes.

"You just need to put your head down and play. Maybe I learned that a little bit last year."

What McCoy has learned in his second season is that progress isn't always as tangible as he'd like it to be, and that patience is an underrated quality.

"The West Coast, it takes time," he says. "Some of the coaches called me in the other day and showed me some numbers: Steve Young was 3-16 in his first 19 starts, with a low 60 percent completion rate. Joe Montana started 2-10. Their point to me was, 'It takes time. Can you be doing better? Yeah. We all can. But just keep fighting. It will happen.' And that's exciting, because I know how sweet it's gonna be.

"From the outside it's easy to point a finger and say, 'Look, same old Browns.' It's not gonna happen overnight. As frustrating as that is, that's reality."

In the meantime, McCoy will put his head down and keep working – and he's thankful that, unlike last season, he can keep his helmet on while doing so.


Matt Leinart(notes) is making his first start for the Texans on Sunday.

Matt Leinart will play efficient, prudent football – and Arian Foster(notes) and Andre Johnson(notes) will provide some offensive fireworks – in a Texans victory at Jacksonville. … Philip Rivers(notes) will somewhat surprisingly outshine Tim Tebow(notes) (I can't believe I'm typing that sentence) as the Chargers overwhelm the Broncos. … The Eagles will keep the Dream alive in a high-scoring victory over the Patriots (or I will officially, at long last, give up on them).

And remember, you can find all of my picks here – and receive the analysis behind them by registering for the Silver Insider at After two miserable weeks, the magic is back. Meanwhile, I'm looking for another clean sweep in Locks of the Week.


Oakland, for Sunday's only game featuring two teams with winning records. Plus, I can drive there. Alas, I won't see Kyle Orton(notes). But I will see Brian Urlacher(notes), and that's always a treat, especially this time of year.


) After losing a bet with Aaron Rodgers(notes), Matt Flynn(notes) decided to be Ryan Fitzpatrick(notes) for Halloween – then grew his beard out and continued the costume indefinitely.

2) Captivated by Ndamukong Suh's(notes) creative explanation of the act that got him ejected from Thursday's 27-15 defeat to the Packers, Power Balance signed the Lions defensive tackle to a lucrative endorsement deal.

3) Following the Ravens' 16-6 victory over the 49ers on Thursday night, coaches John and Jim Harbaugh took a midnight trip to Arundel Mills Mall, sprinted to the Timberland Factory Store and engaged in a Black Friday tug-of-war for a new pair of waterproof boots.


Torrey Smith(notes) was a huge lift vs. the Bengals.
(Getty Images)

Neither my buddy Malibu nor Cal women's hoops coach Lindsay Gottlieb is giving thanks for my advice this week, as both saw their fantasy teams fall to 5-6 and on the brink of playoff elimination. "I have two games left, and I have to win 'em both," says Malibu, whose Sabbath Bloody Sabbath suffered an eight-point defeat to LA My Vick In A Box, an outcome that could have been reversed had he not made the last-minute, renegade decision to bench Torrey Smith (26.5 points) for newly acquired Preston Parker(notes) (2.8). What possessed Malibu to do that? "A little voice in my head," he says. "It told me, 'He's a third-down guy' – and Torrey Smith had been killing me every week. Turned out it was my fatal flaw." The good news for Malibu is that he's playing 4-7 Big Orange (Cam Newton(notes), Michael Turner(notes), Roddy White(notes), Jason Witten(notes)), a team Sabbath defeated in Week 1 by a score of 168-84. The bad news: His lineup in that game featured Jamaal Charles(notes) and Kenny Britt(notes), who soon disappeared with season-ending injuries, and included a career game from Mike Tolbert(notes). For this week, I told Malibu to bench Tolbert for newly acquired C.J. Spiller(notes), a Bills starter now that Fred Jackson(notes) is out for the season. Spiller has breakaway speed and pass-catching ability, so he could come up huge. Sadly, Malibu – who had worked his way to the top of the waiver wire – used his chip to pick up Spiller, a player he had previously drafted, only to release him earlier in the season. "Just horrible," he concedes.

Gottlieb's Bringin' It Back has even bigger issues: Having been carried for most of the year by two players, Jimmy Graham(notes) and Adrian Peterson, the high ankle sprain suffered by the latter could be a season-killer. Peterson's backup, Toby Gerhart(notes), wasn't available for relief, nor were Kevin Smith(notes) or Spiller. Not good. After scoring a league-worst 50 points while getting drubbed by Hue's Clues last week, Bringin' It Back likely needs a victory over 3-8 I'm Back (Sam Bradford(notes), Maurice Jones-Drew(notes), Ryan Mathews(notes), Brandon Lloyd(notes), Dwayne Bowe(notes), Early Doucet(notes)) to remain in postseason contention. Gottlieb called Wednesday from Honolulu, where she and the Bears will compete in the Waikiki Beach Marriott Rainbow Wahine Showdown, to plead for some lineup-shakeup tips, and I threw everything I had at her in a mad flourish, like a winter set at Waimea Bay: Signing Jacoby Ford(notes), taking a flier on Matt Leinart (who'll sit behind Matt Ryan(notes) while we see if he's got any juice), swapping Rob Bironas(notes) for Lawrence Tynes(notes), bringing Willis McGahee(notes) and DeAngelo Williams(notes) off the bench and praying that at least one member of our trio of underperforming Jets (Plaxico Burress(notes), Santonio Holmes(notes), Shonn Greene(notes)) snaps out of it. Actually, we need Burress to be that guy – the other two are likely sitting, though Julio Jones'(notes) health will impact her decisions. Oh, and Graham's return from his bye week on Monday night needs to be emphatic. Other than that, it's just another day in paradise for Gottlieb.


Gus Frerotte(notes), one of the best dudes I've ever covered, and a hell of a rookie high school football coach: Frerotte's John Burroughs Bombers will play for the Class 3 Missouri state championship Saturday against Logan-Rogersville. Whatever the outcome, I believe some amaretto shots will be in order.


We came, we won the party, we got rained on, we battled, we lost the game and we walked out of Stanford Stadium on Saturday night excited about the future of the Golden Bears. The present could be fun, too – on Friday night the Bears (6-5) close out the regular season against Arizona State at Sun Devil Stadium. Then comes a bowl game, a move into a state-of-the-art football complex and the reopening of Memorial Stadium for the start of the 2012 season. Then, eventually, Roses. Get on board, Cal nation. It shall happen, and it shall be glorious.

In the meantime, the Bears' third-ranked water polo team – which took care of business on The Farm Saturday night, sinking No. 4 Stanford by an 11-4 score – enters this weekend's MPSF tournament as the No. 2 seed and a shot at the NCAA Final Four (which takes place at Cal's Spieker Pool Dec. 3rd and 4th). Cal coach Kirk Everist, with whom I attended college, is a good-looking dude; he looks even better when he's jumping into a pool to celebrate a championship.

Life on the hardwood is also good, despite the Cal men's abomination of a defeat to No. 21 Missouri, 92-53, in the finals of the Progressive CBE Classic in Kansas City Tuesday night. The 21st-ranked Golden Bears (3-1), who pummeled Georgia in the previous night's semifinals, return to Haas Pavilion to face Denver on Saturday.

As referenced above, Gottlieb and her Cal women have it pretty, pretty good in paradise this week. Coming off consecutive 24-point victories over Sac State and Illinois, the Golden Bears face Hawaii on Friday, No. 24 Texas on Saturday and No. 22 Virginia on Sunday. The Cavs, coached by Joanne Boyle – who turned around the Cal program before leaving after last season, paving the way for Gottlieb, her former assistant, to return after three years as UCSB's coach – are coming off a huge victory over No. 3 Tennessee last Sunday. I have loads of love for Boyle, and I know Gottlieb has even more of that for her mentor, but I have a feeling that many of Cal's players would love nothing more than to defeat her on Sunday.


Oliver hate Tebow


DeSean Jackson(notes) celebrates a first-down reception vs. the Giants.

During the height of lockout-induced madness last July, Vikings punter Chris Kluwe(notes) took to Twitter to call Peyton Manning(notes), Drew Brees(notes) and two other NFL players "douchebags." We all know Manning's history with idiot kickers, and most NFL players would tend to agree that "specialists" who trash position players are pretty far from special. Kluwe, however, didn't stand down – and, in fact, may have started a trend: On Sunday night, Jaguars kicker Josh Scobee(notes) reacted to DeSean Jackson's taunting penalty by calling him a "punk" on Twitter, adding the charming hashtag "#growuptinybastard." You hear harrumphs and/or indignation; I hear the gorgeous piano playing of Elton John – and dare to mess with Bernie Taupin's brilliant lyrics because, you know, that's what I do. Without further ado … Heeeeerrrreeeee's Scobeeeeeeee (to the tune of "Tiny Dancer" and with a Penny Lane visual for your enjoyment):

Whiney baby, L.A. lazy, speedster with good hands
Underpaid, overplayed, convinced that you are The Man
Oversleeping, missing a meeting, got a one-game ban
And now he's taunting, talent-flaunting, tiny bastard – I'm no fan

Super Freak's still on the street, Randy Moss(notes) thought he was God
T.O. shouts, lonely workouts, he's unemployed and feelin' bad
Hillis gets mad, he makes his stand, headed right out of Cleveland
Same story, goodbye Philly, contract demands written in crayon

But oh how it makes me sear
Sitting here, like I'm your peer
Cursin' you, but you can't hear me
I play fantasy, daily

Heed my words you tiny bastard
Hit my driver down the fairway
I do lots of online shopping
But I don't like the way you play

Heed my words you tiny bastard
Hit my driver down the fairway
I do lots of online shopping
But I don't like the way you play

Whiney baby, you're no Shady, hate your touchdown dance
Underpaid, overplayed, convinced that you are The Man
Oversleeping, missing a meeting, got a one-game ban
And now he's taunting, talent-flaunting, tiny bastard – I'm no fan

But oh how it makes me sear
Sitting here, like I'm your peer
Cursin' you, but you can't hear me
I play fantasy, daily

Heed my words you tiny bastard
Hit my driver down the fairway
I do lots of online shopping
But I don't like the way you play

Heed my words you tiny bastard
Hit my driver down the fairway
I do lots of online shopping
But I don't like the way you play

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