I can still see it in my mind so clearly.
It was 2002. My first rookie minicamp with the Cardinals. I was 22 years old and I was lying on the practice-field grass, flat on my back, stretching and thinking, Man … you made it, bro. You’re in the NFL!
Me, a kid from a small town in East Texas called Jacksonville. A little town where we didn’t have a lot of the marquee stores or restaurant chains. We didn’t even have a Dunkin’ Donuts.
We had Donut Palace.
I remember in high school, on Saturday mornings in the fall, I would go over to my quarterback coach’s house and there’d be a giant Donut Palace box on the coffee table filled with these little hot dogs wrapped up in croissants with cheese inside. We called them cheese pigs. And we’d sit there all morning — me, coach, and maybe one of the other quarterbacks on the team — huddled around the TV, crushing cheese pigs and breaking down the game film from the night before.
Now, some five years later, I was in the NFL, thinking about how far I’d come, excited for what was next.
I wanted to be a franchise quarterback. I wanted to bring a Super Bowl to Arizona. I wanted to retire a Cardinal.I don’t shy away from the journeyman label. I embrace it, full force.
So if you would have told me back then that I would go on to play for 10 different NFL teams over the next 17 years, I would have said, “Shoot, 17 years? I’ll take it.”
“But 10 different teams? No way….”
I guess it just goes to show that you don’t always get to choose your own path. But looking back, I’m proud of how my career has gone. I don’t shy away from the journeyman label. I embrace it, full force.
Because it’s been one heck of a journey.
And now, strange as it feels to say, after 17 years … that journey is coming to an end.
Today I’m officially retiring.
Gene Lower/Getty Images
When you decide to retire, your whole football life kind of flashes before your eyes. And in it, you see all the people who played a role in making your career possible.
Like my wife, Natalie.
I mean, you have to think … I played for 10 NFL teams, plus a stop to play with the Hartford Colonials in the UFL. So there was a lot of moving around and a lot of time spent away from my family. And Natalie held it down at every turn. She was a rock. She made it so I could go and do my job with a clear head, knowing that the kids were good and that everything at home was taken care of.
Honestly, you can say that about a lot of players’ wives in this league — most, probably. The wives really do have the toughest job of all, and they don’t get nearly the credit they deserve — which is basically … all of it. We couldn’t go out and do what we do on the field if they weren’t at home doing everything that they do.
I can’t say enough about the role Natalie played in my career. Nothing would have been possible without her.
Then there are our four kids — Bridget, Aubrey, Aiden and Owen — who have always been supportive, understanding and basically just awesome. There are my parents, who instilled in me a good work ethic and a competitive spirit. My brothers and my sister, who have been the best support system I could have ever asked for. My friends, from grade school to college, and beyond. My agent, Mike McCartney, and Priority Sports. Seventeen years ago I was Mike’s first guy, and he’s been with me every step of the way since. I couldn’t have asked for a better partner on this journey.
Then there’s every coach and GM who ever took a chance on me and thought I could bring something to their football teams. Every trainer and every doctor I’ve worked with. Every team chaplain. Every guy I got to suit up with….
Honestly, I could go on for days. There are just so many people who played huge roles in my life. Way too many people to thank here.
But there is one person who I want to make sure I acknowledge, because all the success I’ve had in my professional life can basically be traced in one way or another back to one man.
His name is Matt Turner.
Courtesy of Josh McCown
Matt Turner was my high school quarterbacks coach, the one whose house I went to on Saturday mornings to study tape. But those sessions weren’t about just donuts and cheese pigs and game film. We weren’t just hanging out. It was work. He broke me down. Dissected me.
And he graded me — hard.
He had a very specific grading system. He had a little sheet with a checklist of different criteria for each play. And for each one, you either got a grade of a plus or a minus. Then he added it all up and you either got a plus or a minus for the play overall. It was basically pass-fail.
I’ll never forget this one play he graded me on. I had thrown a touchdown, so I was thinking I was going to get a plus. All day, right? I mean, it was a touchdown. What’s not to love?
But when he handed me the sheet, he had given me a minus.
I was like, “Wait, wait … hold on, coach. I don’t understand. I threw a touchdown!”
“Yeah,” he said. “Good job.”
Then he ran through the checklist.
He said my feet weren’t right, so I got a minus for my footwork. I was too loose with the football — minus for ballhandling. I didn’t take the proper drop, another minus.
The whole time he was running through these minuses, I was just thinking, But it was a TOUCHDOWN, coach!
The only thing he gave me a plus on was the throw itself.
It was a small lesson, really — that you can’t let the little things go. You can’t be like, Oh, well we scored a touchdown, so we’re good.
That’s Coach Turner. He always harped on executing even the smallest details. He drilled it into me. That was how he coached my older brother, Randy, before me, my younger brother, Luke, after me, and everyone else in between. And he’s still doing it today as a head coach in East Texas.
I brought his lessons with me to every quarterback room I’ve ever been in. His voice has been with me throughout my entire career. I see the game through his lens. He’s the best coach I’ve ever been around, and also one of the best humans. He’s one of those people who you are better just for having known.His voice has been with me throughout my entire career. I see the game through his lens.
He’s the main reason that I enjoy coaching so much. The attention to detail he instilled in me at such a young age is something that has helped me form a critical eye, which has benefited me in the work I have done coaching, but also in my work as a football analyst for ESPN — something I plan to do more of in the future.
There are just so many ways in which Coach Turner has touched my life. I’m thankful for him, and for every high school coach who makes sacrifices to invest in young people.
My two sons are both quarterbacks in high school, and I’m excited to be able to help coach them.
It’s funny, I can’t tell you how often I get on my boys about something, and I stop and think, Oh my gosh, I totally sound like Coach Turner right now….
And I love that, because I can’t think of a coach I’d want to emulate more.
Love you, coach!
For Christmas this past year, Natalie took all my jerseys from basically my entire life — from Jacksonville High all the way up to the New York Jets — and she had them individually framed and put up in a room in our house. The whole thing is pretty cool.
Courtesy of Josh McCown (2)When I step back and look at that room, I don’t just see the jerseys.
I see opportunities.
Opportunities that I had to learn, to grow, and to find new ways to contribute to different teams and help win football games. Opportunities that kept me in pro football for 17 years and molded me into the man that I am today. Opportunities that I thank God for, because they strengthened my faith.
At the end of the day, no matter what team I was on, I tried to serve it to the best of my ability, and I tried to influence my team in a positive manner. I hope I did that. And I made sure that when my number was called, I was prepared, and I gave it everything I had, every time. I may not have turned out to be the franchise quarterback I set out to be back at Cardinals rookie camp, but I’m extremely proud of the career I had.
So to everybody who’s been a part of it — Coach Turner, Natalie, my family, my teammates … everybody — thank you, from the bottom of my heart. It’s been one heck of a journey.
And I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.