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Josh McCown Goes from Ending a Vikings Season to Shaping Quarterbacks


EAGAN, Minn. — Josh McCown's third career start and second pro season was coming to a close.

His Arizona Cardinals trailed the Minnesota Vikings by five points on Dec. 28, 2003.

McCown's final pass attempt of the day found Nate Poole for a 28-yard touchdown and an 18-17 win as time expired.

The Hail Mary cost the Vikings a trip to the postseason.

Now about to turn 45 on the Fourth of July, McCown is in his first season as the Vikings quarterbacks coach. He's gone from ending one campaign to trying to set up Minnesota's short- and long-term future for success with quarterbacks who were 6 (Sam Darnold), 8 (Nick Mullens), 5 (Jaren Hall) and 11 months old (J.J. McCarthy) at the time of that splashy pass to Poole.

McCown spoke to Twin Cities media members Wednesday after a voluntary Organized Team Activity practice and was asked what the reaction has been nearly 21 years later.

"It's funny, like, somebody will grab me in the airport, and they'll say, 'Welcome to Minnesota,' and they'll say, 'Hey, wait a minute.' The longer we talk, the more they think about it, and then it's not so pleasant," McCown said. "They're like, 'Wait a minute. Hold on, man.' I'm like, 'All right, yeah, you know, it happened, but for the course of my career, there's only like five good plays, and that's one of them. So, you know, let me have it.'

"It was a crazy moment back then," McCown said. "But it's cool to be here now and be part of this organization."

A third-round pick by Arizona in 2002, McCown started 76 of 102 NFL games, playing with nine different franchises from 2002-09 and 2011-19.

In 2018, he was preparing for his second season with the Jets when New York drafted Darnold with the No. 3 overall pick.

"He was eager to learn and, and, you know, was just in my hip pocket everywhere, you know, trying to grow as a player," McCown said. "And, and it's cool to see the difference now, just as, you know, seven years removed, and just how much more mature he is and, and how much he's learned from a football standpoint. That's encouraging. That's going to benefit us.

"We laugh about those days. It was fun back then," McCown added. "And it was it was good for he and I, for all intents and purposes, I thought that was my last year in the league. And then I played another one, but for me, it was a time in my life to be able to kind of get ready to leave and to kind of give everything that you learned throughout your career to a young guy and let him carry it on."

Darnold explained his appreciation for reconnecting with McCown during a media session last week.

McCown said he and Darnold share a "relational equity for me to be able to challenge him" in hopes of expediting the curve as each learns Head Coach Kevin O'Connell's system.

McCown and Darnold each have successes they can point to, as well as some scars that have lingered.

Those experiences — the good and bad ones — can potentially benefit the entire quarterbacks room.

"A lot of it is just what not to do with my playing career," McCown said. "I've changed offenses every year of my football life, so the learning of those things, how to adapt to learning an offense, the tricks and traits of just downloading that information mentally. You can share those with how you how you go about a learning style and then just building routines."

" 'Hey, I got this from when I played with this guy. I played with Kurt Warner this time, and Jake Delhomme showed me this and, and Jeff Blake showed me that.' Different guys that I was around, older guys, that I pulled from and grew from, so all those things that kind of come up organically in our meetings that something happened, and I was, 'Oh yeah, I remember playing with this guy. And I learned that from him.' You just learn to really watch the veterans, and that's why we're so fortunate to have Sam and Nick — guys that have played. You watch those guys and how they operate."

McCarthy wasn't shy about expressing a pre-draft and post-draft hope that he'd land in Minnesota, where numerous external outlets have lauded what O'Connell has been building and the staff and roster in place to help a young QB grow.

McCown said McCarthy impressed the Vikings, as well.

View photos from the Vikings fourth OTA practice, which took place on May 28 at the TCO Performance Center.

"I thought his pro day was excellent. And then when we went back for the private workout, just the meeting room time, you could tell he's been very well-coached," McCown said. "His retention on the plays and the materials that we gave him and asked him to talk through was spot on. He was he was A-plus in that in that regard.

"And then we got him on the field. And it was kind of a another version of the pro day where you really felt like he was spinning the ball and then putting him through some of our footwork and things that we were going to ask him and we saw, a pretty coachable player so that was encouraging," McCown added. "I would say the classroom more than anything and just his personal ability with, you're sitting there in a classroom with a group of coaches, it can be an intimidating as a young player, and he held his own with both, intellectually on the board, and then relationally and emotionally."