I just learned that Mike McCoy is set to become the next head coach of the San Diego Chargers football team. The last time I saw Mike, we were chatting it up while he was pouring me a VO and water at Lumpy’s on Highland Drive. Besides that, he was a Ute quarterback in the early 1990s, leading Utah to a win over Arizona in the 1994 Freedom Bowl. McCoy also had a short stint in the NFL. Very short. Between the realization he wasn’t going to be an NFL quarterback and his first coaching job in the NFL as an assistant with the Carolina Panthers—about five years—Mike returned to Utah and studied at every turn on his dream to one day be an NFL head coach.
Somewhere in that span, he began bartending. I’m not sure he lists that as a great achievement, but he might, as do many of us former bartenders. Not many other jobs prepare a person for the realities of life like bartending does. Drama, danger and drugs? Check. Wine, women and song? Check. Trust, honesty and faithfulness? Check. Deception, thievery and dishonesty? Check. Cool guys and gals, students, hustlers, the hustled, successful and fallen businessmen and women, normal blue- and white-collar folks, conversationalists, braggarts, pranksters, jokers and cajolers, all living life in spades? Check, in spades.
On any day or night, bartenders—who make most of their money via tips—weigh their opportunities based on who is sitting across from them at any given moment. For the first hours, it could be a cop or politician they serve; for the next hours, the cheating spouses who were paired correctly the night before, followed by the quiet thinkers, the loud ramblers, the joyous, the sports nuts, the searchers, the forsaken, the attractive, the dim, the rambunctious and the peacekeepers.
A bar is a good place for a guy like McCoy to learn how to turn a disparate chemistry into his own advantage. The cops and politicians will tell stories they wouldn’t tell their wives. That’s currency. The cheating couples will leave nice tips for a bartender’s discretion two nights running—so will indiscreet religious types, by the way, but they don’t tip as much. All the rest will each slowly fill his tip jar for their own reasons. And the bartender directs all of it, understanding that it really is possible to take what appears to be a disjointed group of people and create a sense of place and unity—their very own neighborhood bar. It becomes a great neighborhood bar when the clientele all believe that the success of that bar is particularly due to them.
Which is exactly like building a football team. Every player must understand his role in the team’s success. A football team can’t have the field-goal kicker picking fights, and it can’t have the right tackle calling the plays. It can’t be comprised of persons who don’t like each other, so everyone wears the same uniform to indicate they are indeed a single, cohesive unit. In a bar, the color of the uniform is always green.
Given where he’s been these past dozen years or so, behind the bar and behind a headset, I’m sure McCoy knows a bit about how to handle people. The only wrench in there is that most of the people he’ll manage are young, egotistical and hungry. The last thing he needs is a young knucklehead to screw things up. That means McCoy has to select the right bunch of supporting coaches to surround him who will carry out his mission. At just 40 years old, though, he’ll be one of the old men in San Diego, and some of those coaches will be older than he is, for sure. He’ll be fine in that regard. It’s his play-calling I’m worried about.
I can’t tell you how many times I saw Mike draw up a play on a Lumpy’s napkin only to see it fail on the barroom floor. I remember one in particular: It was called the Lucky Lipton, I believe. All that was required was for left bartender Jersey to lateral pass the Skyy Vodka bottle over to right bartender Rooster, who would pour the vodka into a chubby glass, then top it off with Lipton Iced Tea. As often as not, the pass was wide or the hands were hard, and the vodka bottle crashed to the floor. And often as not, McCoy patiently taught Jersey and Rooster the finer points of a vodka lateral.
Eventually, they got it. When the Lipton was properly poured, Rooster was to hand off the drink to Darla. Darla would follow her lead blocker—it was usually Email—past the far end of the bar and around the corner, where she would hand the drink to Joe Caputo, who was often found sitting in his U of U camo at the table below the anatomically correct penis putter. Never mind that Joe is not a golfer—he’s smart. Girls like the penis putter. Joe likes girls.
But as with the vodka lateral, McCoy’s team had to be constantly drilled in the finer points of juking and blocking and not-spilling. Occasionally, Joe got his drink in fine fashion, but only thanks to the team effort of bartenders and waitresses. I was always impressed that Mike never lost his cool when the play broke down due to spillage or breakage, knowing it was but another coaching opportunity. But I was enormously impressed by this: Sometimes the drink would arrive, but Joe Caputo wouldn’t be there. The Lumpy’s team was practicing.
And practice the Chargers will under their new and fine head coach. Time to plan next fall’s vacation. Good luck, Mike.