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McCarthy transitions from NFL to coaching

Published: Mon, February 10, 2014 @ 12:03 a.m.

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.”


1author50(1121 comments)posted 2 years, 4 months ago

Kyle McCarthy is a great kid who will some day be a head coach somewhere.

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2tsamargia(6 comments)posted 2 years, 4 months ago


He would also have made more money than he would in almost any other field that most people have the opportunity to be a part of. I don't disagree that the decision is their's and that nobody has the right to criticize Handel for his decision. I would also, though, not minimize what Kyle has "lost" in leaving the game early. He left because he could no longer do the job, not because he wanted to leave.

Both seem like great people who will be successful. Good luck to both!

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3youngstownpride(1 comment)posted 2 years, 4 months ago


There is no doubt that the physical demands of football may well continue to take their toll long after one’s playing days are over. As such, there is certainly sense in not playing the sport.

That said, it seems McCarthy’s experience offers a prime example of why one does pursue the game at its highest levels. You cite McCarthy as “the latest example of unrealistic expectations”. What expectations are those? In McCarthy’s case, it would have been very realistic to expect that playing football would yield a stellar prep career and state championship (which no doubt created a unique, lasting bond with high school friends); a $200,000 education at one of the most prestigious universities in the country; a degree in finance (that’s the student-athlete part); a stellar collegiate career and co-captaincy (which no doubt created a unique, lasting bond with college friends); and NFL paychecks for the first four years of his career. That buys a lot of coffee at Starbucks (even your $4.50 lattes).

So, McCarthy is now, say, 27-28 years old? He has a finance degree from Notre Dame; years’ worth of NFL paychecks, of which he is likely investing; and a new coaching job with a team that played in last year’s national championship game. As a coach, assuming McCarthy comes anywhere close to achieving the success he had as a player, he will make an extraordinary living and mentor thousands of young men.

There are pros and cons to playing football. I don’t think there is one answer for whether to play or not. To cite this article, however, as an example of “unrealistic expectations” is puzzling to me. McCarthy and the Broncos’ Steve Vallos (who was written about last week) are success stories from a local high school and we should all feel proud of Youngstown’s legacy of producing elite college and professional players and coaches. That legacy is, by any objective measure, quite realistic.

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4poiuyt(6 comments)posted 2 years, 4 months ago

Handel a good player not in the same class as McCarthy. Kyle was a great player hands down one of the best to come out of the area in a long time. That's why he ended up at ND. As far as Handel goes he is a very smart kid that realizes the future is not in the NFL. Get the degree and be successful in whatever you do .

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