Randleman reflects on McCown's historic year at Sam Houston State

Richard Nira/The ItemFormer Sam Houston State quarterback Josh McCown runs the ball during a game at Southwest Texas (now Texas State) in 2001.

A Sam Houston State football great called it a career this week, retiring from the NFL nearly two decades after a historic one-year run with the Bearkats.

Josh McCown announced his retirement in an article on The Players Tribune on Monday, marking the end of a 17-year run in the NFL that included stops with 10 teams.

“I guess it just goes to show that you don’t always get to choose your own path,” wrote McCown. “But looking back, I’m proud of how my career has gone. I don’t shy away from the journeyman label. I embrace it, full force.

“Because it’s been one heck of a journey.”

Before this NFL journey began, the Jacksonville native enjoyed an electric senior season at Sam Houston State.

McCown arrived in Huntsville after three years at SMU, and proceeded to rewrite the Bearkat record book. He led the Kats to the 2001 Southland Conference title, the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division I playoffs and a No. 7 final ranking. McCown was named the league’s Player of the Year after setting single-season school records for passing yards (3,481), passing touchdowns (32) and total yardage (3,832).

Following the breakout season, McCown was selected by the Arizona Cardinals 81st overall in the third round of the 2002 NFL Draft — making him Sam Houston State’s highest draft pick ever at the time.

“It was always exciting to watch him,” said Ron Randleman, McCown’s coach at Sam Houston State. “It's kind of a special thrill to see a guy do so well that you know deserved it.”

The Bearkats nearly redshirted McCown during his first year on campus. However, as the 2001 season inched closer, it became clear to Randleman that he needed to start the newcomer.

“He is extremely athletic … great size and very good speed,” Randleman said. “The initial plan was to redshirt him, because we had a good quarterback in line in Brian Null. Coach (Bob) Marlin said, 'I hope you redshirt this guy, because he could start for me in basketball.' He was that athletic, and Bob wasn't joking. He could have.

“Through the course of the summer you'd hear from the players, and it was obvious that we needed to go ahead and play Josh. He has great leadership, as well as all the other attributes.”

With the Bearkats delivering a double-digit road victory over a Division 1-A Louisiana-Monroe team in the season opener, Randleman received early confirmation that he made the right move.

“We went down early in the season to Louisiana-Monroe, and we were able to win that ball game,” he said. “It was just apparent that Josh could make plays with his feet and his arm.”

There were an abundance of memories made throughout McCown’s season with the Bearkats, but perhaps none stand out more than the team’s playoff victory over Northern Arizona at Bowers Stadium to reach the quarterfinals.

“One particular moment that stands out is the playoff game here against Northern Arizona,” Randleman recalled. “It was late, and it looked like it was going to go into overtime. We had the ball at about our 30-yard line. He threw the ball and connected on a long pass to Matt Buss, and we were able to go ahead and win that ball game in regulation. ... Josh could make those kind of plays.”

After witnessing McCown’s talents up close for a year, Randleman watched him continue to grow at the NFL level. The former coach points to his quarterback’s character and ability to positively impact a team — something he recognized early on — as the key to his longevity as a professional football player.

“He was a great athlete, but probably more important, he's a great person,” Randleman said. “That's why he played so long in the NFL. The more coaches that were around him, the more teammates he had, it was just very apparent he's a guy that's very positive for your entire team.”