By Joe Scalzo
It’s been a month since Kyle McCarthy’s right knee told him his NFL career was over, which is long enough for him to start the next phase of his life but not long enough to totally accept it.
“I’ve always been warned that not too many people got out on their own terms,” said McCarthy, a Cardinal Mooney graduate who was recently hired as a graduate assistant at Notre Dame. “As a player and a competitor, you don’t ever worry about what happens when you finish playing. You’re always in the moment, always competing to be the best you can be.”
For McCarthy, the end came suddenly. After missing all of 2012 and most of 2013 with a knee injury, he signed on as a safety with the Oakland Raiders’ practice squad in mid-December and (briefly) “felt like a little kid again.”
“It was amazing to be back out there,” he said. “I was flying around and really felt like I could give it another go.”
His knee, which had already undergone three surgeries, felt otherwise. It swelled up. He had it drained. It swelled up again. So he had an MRI, which revealed a tear in his repaired meniscus.
He was headed for arthroscopic surgery, which involved reopening scar tissue and more rehab. McCarthy decided it was time to retire.
“I really put everything I could into rehab the last few years but the knee just didn’t hold up like I hoped,” he said. “It was a tough pill to swallow.”
Roger Kahn once wrote that an athlete dies twice, with the first coming when his career ends. That’s how it felt to McCarthy, who led Mooney to a 2004 state title and who also played for the Broncos and Chiefs after a standout career at Notre Dame.
Not ready to give up football, he headed to Indianapolis for a January coaching convention, did a few interviews and walked away with a couple opportunities, including one at his alma mater.
“I was a finance major at Notre Dame and that’s all good and fun, but when it came time to stop playing, I feel like I’m still too passionate about the game and there’s a little bit too much competitive drive to get out of the sport completely,” he said. “I feel like I have a lot to offer as a coach as well as a mentor.”
Recruiting has kept McCarthy busy over the last month. He had a brief setback when a snowball messed up his iPhone — when he talked to The Vindicator on Monday, his phone was dialing out, but it wasn’t ringing for incoming calls — and still finds himself identifying more with the recruits than the recruiters.
“I’ve never had any experience with the coaching aspect of things, but I obviously went through it not too long ago,” he said. “Well, I guess it was pretty long ago, but it doesn’t seem too long ago. We had recruits up last weekend and I feel like I really connect with them. I think I can offer a point of view that might be different than some other coaches in the business because not too long ago I was going through some of the same decisions in my life.”
When asked if he hopes to stay at Notre Dame for several years, McCarthy laughed and said, “Right now, I’m just taking it one day at a time. Three weeks ago I was in the NFL and I thought I’d be playing for awhile.
“I’m humbled by the opportunity to come back to a place like Notre Dame. I feel like I have a little bit of unfinished business here and I’m excited about helping the program and the team be a national contender year in and year out.”