HARRISBURG, Pa. – Every time he says the name – “Shady” – Jeff Weachter’s eyes dart to the corner of his office, to a photo blown up in a frame. This was a parting gift from his old running back at Bishop McDevitt High School, LeSean McCoy. ¶ Their arms are around each other. Both are smiling. The signed photo reads, “To my favorite coach ever.” Tears poured from McCoy’s eyes before this game, knowing his McDevitt days were numbered. ¶ No, McCoy did not drive to Chip Kelly’s home with such a gift before shuffling north to Buffalo. ¶ “You’re always going to know where you stand,” Weachter said. “He is very loyal but on the other hand – as Chip Kelly’s seeing it – if you screw him, he’s like an elephant. He doesn’t forget, either.” ¶ The day McCoy held his introductory news conference at One Bills Drive, he told Weachter he couldn’t wait for this matchup, this reunion, this chance to show Kelly and the Eagles what they lost. Yes, Weachter heard the daggers this week. ¶ “Chip can’t say (expletive) to me. There’s nothing for us to talk about.” ¶ “Listen man, Chip can’t shake (expletive). At all. Nothing. He knows this.” ¶ This is the one time Weachter doesn’t
look at the photo. He closes his eyes, ducks his head and mumbles “Shady, Shady, Shady…”
Those who know him best weren’t surprised. Phony, he’s not. McCoy would rather keep it real, even if keeping it real is bound to go very, very wrong.
But those who know McCoy best – from Buffalo to Philadelphia to Harrisburg – realize such scathing bluntness is only one of the many shades to Shady. He’s moody, yet has a huge heart. He’s fiercely loyal, yet a goofball. He’s just as likely to break into a 50 Cent-impersonating freestyle rap, as he is to engage a teammate into a debate about women.
He insinuated that Kelly is a racist and, months later, didn’t take anything back. But he also sent Weachter and Weachter’s wife on an all-expenses-paid, six-day vacation to Hawaii when he made his first Pro Bowl.
Indeed, McCoy knows one speed. He’s always debating, arguing, celebrating, emotional.
So Weachter has one concern for Sunday.
“He’s got a lot bottled up,” Weachter said. “I know how he is. He just has to keep his emotions under control.”
Because this is a man with many shades.
This was supposed to be a refreshing getaway. A chance to relax, reminisce. LeRon McCoy took his little brother, 17-year-old LeSean, to Puerto Rico along with his NFL teammate Anquan Boldin and Boldin’s brothers.
Then, at the beach, the McCoy boys decided to race.
The two raced once … LeRon won. They raced twice … LeRon won again. And when LeSean demanded a third attempt, LeRon refused.
On the spot, Shady threw a tantrum. He screamed. He begged. And he, literally, stopped talking to his older brother for two months. The entire crew flew back north with LeSean refusing to interact with his brother – at all. When he needed some cash for a meal, Shady asked Boldin.
“Over a race on a beach with a person who’s six years older than him,” LeRon said. “I don’t know what he was thinking.”
Into his high school football season, LeSean finally picked up the phone, called LeRon and acted like nothing happened.
“He gets in these moods and we just let him go,” LeRon said. “When LeSean gets in his moods, a lot of people like to talk him out of it. But my family, we don’t even talk to him. We just let him go through it.
“Listen, he’s moody in everything that he does. He’s just a moody person. It’s gotten better over time. But he’s a moody guy.”
Like when he pretends to be on a cellphone in the locker room to avoid talking to reporters. Like when he walks by, sees safety Duke Williams laughing during a Q&A about the time he fell asleep after asking the future President of United States a question and snipes to never trust the media.
Watch the postgame pleasantries after a loss, his brother adds. Whenever his team loses, McCoy usually bolts to the locker room without shaking hands.
“He’s an emotional guy,” LeRon said. “He plays with a lot of emotion. He’s not a player who accepts defeat or rejection. … He takes things personal.”
Moody? Competitive? LeSean McCoy blurs the line. When harnessed, such an attitude is a powerful, unstoppable force.
Weachter points to the summer before McCoy’s freshman year of high school. In the weight room, Shady talked smack to seniors daily.
You guys can’t tackle me! You haven’t seen anything like me!
“The seniors,” Weachter said, “wanted to kill him.”
Two-a-day’s began, the pads came and the Bishop McDevitt coach granted those seniors a chance to ding McCoy in a goal-line drill. Shady took the hand-off, made one, two, three, at least four defenders miss and scored.
At his desk, Weachter clicks away at his computer. He opens and closes drawers. He’s searching for something he must see to believe again. Eventually the coach finds a pamphlet and squints at the statistics popping off the page. McCoy rushed for 2,561 yards as a sophomore and 2,828 as a junior. And that junior season, his ankle was busted up. McCoy twisted it in a preseason scrimmage, inexplicably hung out in a hot tub that night and the ankle swelled.
“He thinks he’s the best at everything,” Weachter said. “And that’s a good thing.”
In a charity basketball game, with Eagles teammates, he scored 30-plus points and hit the game-winning three against the semi-pro Harrisburg Horizon. He bowls in the 200’s with a snarl. Whenever he walks down a sidewalk or through an airport, McCoy is known for juking strangers.
Weachter pops out of his seat to demonstrate – “Pop! Pop! Pop!” buzzing from his lips with each juke.
Shady was already driven last off-season. After what he viewed as a so-so season, he was hellbent on proving he’s still an elite talent. Then, Kelly shipped him off without warning. In Miami, at the time, McCoy was “crushed,” LeRon said, “devastated.”
So the Bills couldn’t get ahold of him – McCoy was off the grid. He’d never played for a football team outside of the state of Pennsylvania.
McCoy had a heart-to-heart with his agent, Drew Rosenhaus. Weachter explained to him that Rex Ryan will want to run the ball. And once Weachter said that the Bills’ director of player personnel, Jim Monos, was a Bishop McDevitt graduate himself, McCoy started warming up to the change.
“He was very, very upset,” LeRon said. “Upset’s not even the right word. He was heartbroken.”
Such an emotional guy doesn’t forget such an emotion, too.
The moment Philadelphia’s locker room opens up, 26 reporters mob DeMarco Murray’s locker. They stake out a spot and wait 40 minutes for the Eagles’ new, embattled running back to arrive.
It’s quiet in here this Thursday. No loud conversations, no banter.
Of course, this was never the case with McCoy. He was opinionated, brash and never, ever wrong. His old neighbor remembers. Linebacker Bryan Braman can still hear the craziness spewing from the locker to his right.
Braman couldn’t get through one day without howling at something McCoy said. He rarely poked the beast himself, but had a front-row ticket to the cable news-worthy spectacles.
“You couldn’t win an argument with him,” Braman said. “You try to show him something and if he didn’t believe it, it didn’t matter what you showed him – he wasn’t going to believe it.”
Nothing was off limits. This is the same guy who posted a flyer on Instagram to his “ladies-only” party, later assuring it was “no weird orgy thing.” Former teammates won’t even repeat McCoy’s far-too-sizzling hot takes in the locker room.
“Some of the viewpoints he had on things were just outlandish,” Braman said. “His opinion is his opinion – and that’s the right opinion. Women. Politics. Coaches. It didn’t matter.”
Running back Kenjon Barner sort of retells one debate. Four, maybe five players in here debated Michael Jackson one day.
What about Michael Jackson? “Just about Michael Jackson.”
Was he good, bad? “Good or bad, yeah,” Barner said, smiling, “you could go that way.
“Shady’s not losing an argument. You’re not going to win an argument with Shady. I don’t care if you’re right – you’re not winning.”
These two would argue over their basketball talent, all set for a heavyweight bout to settle the score this off-season. Then, of course, McCoy was traded. On a more serious note, McCoy was once sued for assault on a “party bus” he rented in 2012, allegations that his camp later called completely false. And of course, there’s the time McCoy left a 20-cent tip on a $61.76 tab, later saying he had awful service and needed to make a statement.
A locker room needs such an opinionated player sometimes, Braman adds, a player who isn’t afraid to let everyone know where he stands.
“Sometimes, it’s not good for everyone to be real recessive,” Braman said, “and not have their own opinion and really stand for their opinion because they’re worried about one thing or another.”
But when asked if McCoy’s opinionated ways helped the team, Braman pauses for six painful seconds.
“He’s definitely going to come in with fire lit under his ass. That’s for sure. There’s a lot of talk going into it. So we’ll see.”
No, players in Philly were not surprised to see McCoy put Kelly on blast.
“It’s not a good look,” Braman said. “Sometimes, you have to be a professional about it. Sometimes, there’s a time for you to be opinionated and have your own opinion. And when you’re in the public’s eye like that, sometimes it’s better for you to be refined.
“I know he’s wanting to lay an ass-whupping on us. So we have to do what we need to do to shut him down.”
Poker. The weight room. The huddle. Tight end Brent Celek remembers this bullheaded McCoy.
And he agrees 100 percent with Braman. Sunday will be peak Shady.
Said Celek, “He’s going to want to whup us, just like we’re going to want to whup him.”
OK, so none of this shocks you. There is one shade to LeSean McCoy his old coach is positive outsiders cannot see.
Take that electric junior year. Bishop McDevitt needed two wins to make the playoffs and rumors swirled that Weachter could be fired.
After Friday’s walkthrough, McCoy told him, “I’m not going to let you get fired.” He showed up for Saturday’s 10:30 a.m. kickoff – the field rendered a mud pit from an overnight downpour – and repeated those words again.
And through a 41-21 win, McCoy ran for 336 yards with five touchdowns. After each score, Weachter said, McCoy instantly redirected to the sideline, wrapped him in a bear hug and said, “I love you. I’m not going to let them fire you.”
Weachter remembers when a sick-as-a-dog McCoy stopped to visit the coach’s father after a heart attack.
He remembers when he himself had a heart attack in 2009, was wheeled out of the hospital room and his wife handed him the phone. It was McCoy. The back was calling from the Eagles locker room – and had been calling the whole time stents were being put in Weachter’s clogged arteries.
He remembers when McCoy’s grandmother died from ALS and the running back sent him a heartfelt text message immediately after the funeral.
“Coach,” it read, “will you please take care of yourself. I can’t go through another funeral again.”
At his desk, Weachter is impassioned.
“People don’t know that side!” he said. “They don’t see it. It bothers me when people say he’s a punk, he’s this, he’s that, it hurts me because he’s like a son.
“I know the real kid.”
Most of Harrisburg knows the real kid. This city still has its sketchy neighborhoods, trappings. According to Neighborhood Scout, it’s safer than only 3 percent of all U.S. cities.
Up until three years ago, Bishop McDevitt was positioned in the heart of the city. They couldn’t even play games at night. So as McCoy’s star ascended – from local celebrity to $40 million dollar man – teens here were given a blueprint, hope.
“Growing up,” former Bishop McDevitt running back Jameel Poteat said, “you see drug dealers or you see dudes like Shady. So it’s like, ‘Choose one.’ And I chose to take his path.”
Poteat, like Shady, was a little league dynamo. At 11 years old, he twisted tacklers in pretzels with the same mesmerizing cuts.
And after one of McCoy’s Bishop McDevitt varsity games, Poteat raced over to his idol.
On the spot, McCoy took Poteat under his wing. He had heard about this new prodigy in town and wanted this prodigy to make it. To thrive. So through the years, McCoy stayed in touch and Poteat would go on to break McCoy’s touchdown record.
Next week, Poteat will become the first member of his family to graduate from college. He’s a strong safety at Pitt, McCoy’s alma mater. To this day, he says their relationship is “bigger than football.”
Meanwhile, many of Poteat’s childhood friends have been shot, killed, thrown in jail. When Poteat watches the news, he recognizes the mug shots, even saying many of them are “good people.” Simply, they tripped into a street lifestyle and couldn’t get out. He says he knows for a fact there would be more mug shots if not for McCoy.
McCoy’s presence inspired a different path. He saved lives.
“Yeah, definitely,” Poteat said. “Why not want to be like this dude? Everybody has a different reason and has a motive behind everything. But Shady, you could say he saved my life. I don’t know what school I would’ve been at or what I would’ve been doing if he didn’t tell me that night to go to this school and took me under his wing.
“He’s a big brother. There’s a lot of bad things going on but he’d put his arm around me and say, ‘Go this way.’ ”
Many NFL coaches today would rather their players resemble machines moving in one, Belichickian direction.
Rex Ryan is not one of those coaches. Media prep for McCoy this week? Please.
“Why would I, you know, ‘Hey just say this. Here is a sentence for you, memorize this. This will be great,’ ” Ryan said. “Why don’t you just tell the truth?”
Which McCoy did. Which he could not always do in Philadelphia.
Kelly covets the “machine.” He outfits players in heart monitors, GPS devices and tracks their hydration by having them pee in a cup. He’s had players wear sleep-monitoring bracelets, saying athletes need 10-12 hours of rest a night for optimal performance. He wants players to wear white socks … McCoy initially wore black socks and taped them white. As an ESPN The Magazine story detailed before the 2014 season, McCoy bought into many methods behind Kelly’s madness.
Yet multiple sources say their personalities were not compatible for the long haul – that the two bickered throughout last season.
According to one source, Kelly was unhappy with McCoy when he threw away his personalized post-practice shake and at DeSean Jackson another time when he wouldn’t wear his sleep monitor. And when Kelly had a problem with McCoy – be it a comment in the media or a touchdown celebration – another source indicated he’d often have somebody else close to McCoy tell him to knock it off rather than address the back directly.
Even though they’d pass each other in the hall daily.
Said a source, “It’s a dictatorship there.”
In Buffalo, McCoy can be himself. All shades are welcomed. He’s speaking freely and, after touchdowns, pretends to unlock a vault and make it rain.
McCoy has told teammates what life was like under Kelly’s reign. At his locker, Bills running back Boobie Dixon scrunches his face as if just bit into a lemon.
“If that’s how Chip Kelly is, I wouldn’t want to play for him, either, because that’s not real football,” Dixon said. “I don’t know what he’s trying to get done. But that’s not real football. This game is played to have fun. We’re putting our bodies on the line, not to act like a robot for no one man just because that’s how he feels.
“He always talks about it. And I always say, ‘I don’t want to be there then!’ They wouldn’t like me. I’d be out the door fast over there!”
The one trait that stood out to Dixon, from Day One, was McCoy’s bluntness. The vet embraced face-to-face dialogue.
If there’s an issue, he wants to address it head on. Upfront. Man to man.
So maybe the McCoy/Kelly relationship was doomed from the start. Kelly, a bit more distant. McCoy, a bit more confrontational.
This week, the bubble burst.
On Sunday, McCoy gets his chance at sweet revenge. Players say McCoy visited different meeting rooms all week. He shuttled from the O-Line to the D-Line to the wide receivers, back to the running backs as a constant bolt of energy.
“He’s everywhere right now,” Dixon said. “You can tell he really wants it.”
Now, results replace rhetoric. This melodrama is finally settled on the field. McCoy runs the ball like he carries himself. Liberated. Unpredictable. Unconventional. Barner used to tell McCoy that, at this rate, he won’t be able to walk when he’s 60 years old. Six different times, Barner references McCoy’s “God given” ability.
This isn’t anything that can be taught. He’s the closest our generation has to Barry Sanders.
Said Barner, “He cuts so hard, he doesn’t break stride, doesn’t slow down. He’s cutting – boom! – he’s off with one leg and it’s so explosive. I haven’t seen anybody in the league make the cuts that he makes.”
So of course Barner was surprised by the news of the trade. Everybody in the NFL was. None more than McCoy.
There are many shades to Shady – many of which nobody sees – but everyone agrees the man is a rare talent and hungry beyond belief.
“He felt really betrayed by the whole Eagles organization the way it went down – rightfully so,” Weachter said. “And Chip blaming the Bills? Bull. That’s bull. I don’t care if you agree until the next day. You call your player right away. And here’s the thing: Shady doesn’t just trust anybody. He was hurt.”
Shady does not forget, either. At 1 p.m., any stewing emotions can finally burst at Lincoln Financial Field.
Weachter looks up at the photo.
“The Eagles,” he says, “will definitely get the best they’ve seen out of Shady McCoy.”