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Utahns In The NFL: Former Ute QB Mike McCoy wins 1st playoff game as head coach

In his first year as a head coach in the NFL former Utah Utes quarterback Mike McCoy has achieved another career first: a playoff win Sunday, January 5 over the Cincinnati Bengals. The San Diego Chargers won going away, 27-10 in a Wild Card Game that McCoy's boys led from the third quarter to its conclusion.

San Diego Chargers head coach Mike McCoy is congratulated by Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis after McCoy's Chargers won 27-10 in the AFC Wild Card Game.
San Diego Chargers head coach Mike McCoy is congratulated by Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis after McCoy's Chargers won 27-10 in the AFC Wild Card Game. Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

"We knew it was going to be a slugfest from the first snap of the game all the way through," McCoy said in his postgame press conference.

And it was a dog-fight in the first half. The second of two AFC Wild Card games lived up to its billing as two teams battled to prove themselves in a league dominated by the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots.

San Diego struck first on a 12-play, 86-yard drive culminating in running back Danny Woodhead's 5-yard, first quarter scamper. Cincinnati responded with a 4-yard toss from Andy Dalton to his receiver midway through the second quarter --and capped off the first half with a field goal to give Cincinnati a 10-7 lead.

In the second half, however, after another punishing 10-play drive, the Chargers took the lead for good with 5:40 to go in the third when Philip Rivers hit tight end Ladarius Green with a 4-yard bullet.

San Diego would stymie Cincinnati's offense the rest of the way and the Chargers would tack on two more field goals and a back-breaking, spirit-crushing 58-yard touchdown run from nine-year NFL veteran Ronnie Brown to increase the Chargers lead to 27-10.

The decisive win, McCoy's first in postseason in his 13-year NFL coaching career, has certainly come full circle. From being undrafted out of Utah to playing in Europe, then going up north to Canada, McCoy finally tried his luck in the pros in 2000 not as a player -- but as an assistant.

With a family to feed and his playing days not going anywhere fast, McCoy joined the Carolina Panthers as an offensive assistant in 2000, a position he held in various capacities until 2002 --- when a guy by the name of John Fox became the Panthers' head coach.

And since that point he has mostly followed Fox, his California buddy, as McCoy served under him, gradually increasing his paychecks and job responsibilities starting in 2002 and continuing through to 2007-08, when he was named Carolina's quarterbacks coach.

When the Denver Broncos came calling for McCoy's services to be their offensive coordinator in 2009, Fox again wasn't far behind his cohort, taking the Broncos head coaching job in 2011 -- ironically the year McCoy took Tim Tebow under his wing, devising a running-based scheme that earned Tebow a Pro Bowl selection and critical acclaim.

Now McCoy the pupil and Fox the teacher will face each other for the third time this season as head coaches on Sunday, January 12 (4:40 pm EST, CBS) when McCoy's 10-7 Chargers travel to Denver's wintry mile high altitude to take on Fox's division champions and rival Broncos -- and Peyton Manning.

Denver split the first two meetings with San Diego but the Chargers -- including safety Eric Weddle, also a former Utes star and SUU product Brad Sorensen, the team's third-string QB -- proved today in a dominant, balanced performance in rainy Cincinnati that neither weather nor a game played thousands of miles from sunny San Diego will deter them.

As for McCoy, he'll look to continue this season's unbeaten string next week at Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium for his Chargers. Last time these two met in Denver the Broncos were 10-point favorites -- and lost for the only time this season at home; this time you can expect better odds for a Chargers team that ran roughshod over a great Bengals defense on the road.

Also, San Diego fans can rest easy because of this small, but important fact: the last four teams, according to Sports Illustrated, who played at Philadelphia in its season opener, won the Super Bowl.

Well, the Chargers and McCoy, Weddle and Sorensen are three games from doing just that -- but after today's game in a driving, cold rain in Cincy against a physical Bengals defense you have to like their chances.