Commentary

Mature, confident McCoy playing better than ever

Originally Published: October 9, 2008
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

AUSTIN, Texas -- It's a small request, really.

The Texas quarterback is not concerned about whether his teammates respect him. They saw how hard he worked in the offseason. They cheered when he bench-pressed more than 300 pounds. They saw him work out, go to class, watch video and go work out again before day's end.

The Texas quarterback is not concerned about whether his teammates believe in him. They have seen him become not only one of the leading passers in the nation, but also the leading rusher on their team. They have seen the way he took on two Rice defenders at the goal line and knocked them both out of the way to score a touchdown.

So the Texas quarterback knows where he stands in the locker room. He just wonders why his teammates won't call him by his name.

"People [on the team] don't call me McCoy, they call me 'My Boy,'" Colt McCoy said. "I don't know why. They just change the 'C' to a 'B.'

"Whatever. I'll respond to that. I guess.

"I like Colt. Colt's perfectly fine. What's wrong with that?

"Walking around campus, everywhere I go. 'It ain't Colt McCoy! It's Colt MyBoy!'"

[+] EnlargeColt McCoy
Icon SMIColt McCoy has thrown 16 TD passes this season.

Your teammates say it with love, Colt. Everyone in burnt orange loves Texas redshirt junior quarterback Colt McCoy these days. The small-town (Tuscola, Texas) freshman who overachieved in 2006 has become one of the best quarterbacks in the nation two years later. McCoy has led No. 5 Texas to a 5-0 record as the Longhorns head to Dallas for their showdown Saturday against No. 1 Oklahoma (ABC, noon ET). McCoy has completed 103 of 130 passes (.792) for 1,280 yards, 16 touchdowns and only three interceptions. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound McCoy also leads the Longhorns in rushing with 317 yards and has scored four touchdowns on the ground.

It is difficult to separate the evolution of McCoy as a player from his evolution as a leader. Most quarterbacks get to learn how to play and how to lead outside the range of the television cameras. McCoy had to learn both lessons in public. How he got the nickname "Colt MyBoy" is a good place to start.

McCoy redshirted in the 2005 season and watched as Vince Young willed the Longhorns to the national championship. What Texas head coach Mack Brown hoped would happen is that McCoy would serve as Young's backup in 2006 before taking over the team. In January 2006, a few days after Young led the Longhorns to the national championship, he left for the NFL.

Texas had a lot coming back that year, including four fourth- or fifth-year offensive linemen. But the quarterback would be McCoy.

"He had to walk into the huddle with the [current] starting center of the Arizona Cardinals [Lyle Sendlein], the starting guard of the Houston Texans [Kasey Studdard], the starting guard of the Atlanta Falcons [Justin Blalock]," Brown said. "There were a lot of good football players he had to walk into the huddle with and say, 'Hey, get your head up. Listen to me.' And here he is -- looks like he's 12 -- and those guys won a national championship."

"I feared it," McCoy said. "They've heard the play from maybe the greatest quarterback that's ever played in Vince, for three years. For me to step in and call the first play -- yeah, I was nervous as heck. I could barely spit it out."

Offensive coordinator Greg Davis concocted a no-huddle offense in part to keep McCoy away from the seniors. They couldn't mock him if they had no huddle.

"At the first of the season, I didn't know whether they were serious, whether they were joking," McCoy said. "We're out in the huddle during practice, and I call the play, and they're like, 'Why are we running this? Why'd you pick this play?'

"'I didn't pick it. Coach picked it. He sent it to me.'

"'I don't care. Run a different play.'

"'I don't have the authority to do that yet. I'm just a freshman.'"

They all had nicknames for McCoy. One of the printable ones -- My Boy -- stuck.

[+] EnlargeColt McCoy
Brian Bahr/Getty ImagesColt McCoy has evolved into a leader for the Horns.

"I got picked on by those guys the whole year," McCoy said, smiling at the memory. "About halfway through the season, you get picked on, but you can tell, [they're] just messing with you. 'We're going to play for you no matter what.' They would pick on me all the time. You can just imagine in the locker room."

McCoy threw for 2,570 yards and a school-record 29 touchdowns. Texas started 9-1 and climbed to No. 4 in the polls before finishing 10-3. Everyone, from Brown and Davis to McCoy to his teammates and the Longhorn fans, believed Texas and McCoy would pick up where they left off.

But the offensive linemen and plenty of other players with national championship experience left. The coaches believed, based on what they had seen from McCoy in 2006, that he could take on more responsibility on the field in 2007. With a young line in front of him, McCoy would have to get rid of the ball quickly, which meant he would have to assess his options and pick the correct one.

"Last year," McCoy said, "just was a learning experience in all kinds of ways."

Davis has been Brown's offensive coordinator for 13 seasons, dating to Brown's last two seasons at North Carolina. He is from Groves, Texas, and has survived in the coaching business for 36 years. His office is so orderly it practically begs you to move a piece a paper on his desk just to watch him twitch.

"Anal-retentive," Davis said. "You can almost walk down this hallway and say, 'OK, this is an offensive coach's offense. This is a defensive coach's office.' It's been that way for years."

Davis understands wanting to be perfect. McCoy spent the 2007 season personifying what the French author and philosopher Voltaire wrote more than two centuries ago: "The perfect is the enemy of the good."

"Because he studies and studies and studies -- he's a coach's son -- he wanted to try to put us in the perfect play," Davis said. "I told him, 'Hey, I can't get us in the perfect play. Get us in a good play.' … I think I put too much on him, and I think because of it, he put too much pressure on himself. It wasn't as fun. It was like the whole world was on his shoulders. I just saw it in his mannerisms and his countenance."

The Longhorns finished 10-3 again. McCoy's passing yards increased last season to 3,303, but his ratio of touchdowns to interceptions plummeted from 29/7 in 2006 to 22/18. After the season, Davis sat him down.

"Sometimes, the defense wins," Davis said. "As I evaluated his interceptions last year, a large majority of them came when he had to leave the pocket. Now everything is off schedule. You no longer have a good idea of where everybody's at, and boom, he's throwing the ball trying to make something happen. … We just put a big emphasis on 'Hey, when the defense wins the play, let's make sure we have the ball at the end of it.'"

[+] EnlargeColt McCoy
Brian Bahr/Getty ImagesColt McCoy leads the Horns with 317 rushing yards.

McCoy wanted to get bigger and stronger. He suffered a pinched nerve in his right shoulder near the end of the 2006 season which nagged him throughout 2007. He also redoubled his work in the video room. His teammates noticed. But some parts of leadership can't be hurried. They depend on the calendar. McCoy had to mature.

Brown heard it in McCoy's voice over the summer. McCoy had to organize and run the Longhorns' summer workouts.

In 2007, Brown said of McCoy, "He'd say, 'I can't get everybody to come.' Just kind of whiny, not sure.

"This summer, it was, 'Coach, they're all here. If they're not, I'm going to get 'em. I've made them work.' It was just a totally different attitude."

McCoy no longer had to prove himself to older teammates. He is an older teammate. Fifth-year defensive end Brian Orakpo, the leader of the Texas defense, called it self-confidence. McCoy feels comfortable being in charge.

"Off the field, he is stepping in and doing what older guys normally do: check guys," Orakpo said. "If a guy is messing up, off the field, he really goes to them and talks to them and tells [him], 'You need to get your act right.' I've really seen that in him this year."

McCoy is playing better than he has ever played, which is saying something. A Texas offense that is still searching for a tailback and a tight end is averaging 47.2 points per game. The output reflects McCoy's accuracy and his willingness to pull the ball down and run. However, his leadership on the field extends to times when he doesn't have the ball in his hands, too.

"He leaves the field after a touchdown," Brown described, "runs back out and congratulates the extra-point team, runs down to the kickoff team and pats them on the head and says, 'Let's keep the momentum,' and runs down to the defense, and says, 'Hey, three and out now, let's get the ball back.' It's just a different comfort zone, a different confidence that has exuded [from him] through our team."

With the rivalry game against the Sooners looming, McCoy is returning to the national stage playing better than he has ever played.

Now, if only his teammates would remember his name.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at ivan.maisel@espn3.com. His new book, "The Maisel Report: College Football's Most Overrated & Underrated Players, Coaches, Teams, and Traditions," is on sale now. For more information, go to TheMaiselReport.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com