Phil McGeoghan, the Chargers’ new high-energy wide receivers coach, is usually the guy who is raring to get to work, but before Monday’s practice he decided to spend a little time on his back.
Cris Cyborg, the UFC’s women’s featherweight champion, visited the team’s practice in Costa Mesa at McGeoghan’s insistence, and before the team took the field he wanted to slip in a quick lesson.
Wearing modified mixed martial arts gloves he developed for teaching players, he stood toe-to-toe with one of the baddest women in the world, and a grin crept across his face.
He was about to get his butt kicked — and it’d be awesome.
Cyborg grabbed him by the arm, knelt to the ground and flipped the coach over her body, McGeoghan’s grin now an uncontainable smile.
“He told me he really likes MMA, trains MMA and uses some technique in football training,” Cyborg said. “I showed some techniques to him today. Guys are trying to throw people, hold people. You attack people.”
To McGeoghan, it all made perfect sense.
The man tasked with running one of the most talented wide receiver rooms in the NFL is a massive fight fan — he says since he was a baby — and is always looking for ways to incorporate the techniques into his work, even if his players have no clue.
“I just put a tape on of the guys I’ve coached getting off the line of scrimmage,” McGeoghan said. “You see a guy kill a guy at the line of scrimmage, run an angle-cut slant three steps, pierce the defense, go 50 yards on a slant — that means more than me telling them it’s from Filipino knife fighting.”
That was the reaction from players who heard the origin of some of the drills they do with McGeoghan, their hands punching at a red bulls-eye on the outside of their coach’s wrist.
He developed the technique before his first NFL job, basing it on the Filipino martial art Kali — a type of fighting that involves sticks, swords and knives.
“You’re protecting yourself from being stabbed,” he said. “There are a lot more consequences there than when you’re releasing from the line of scrimmage. Fundamentally, the principles are simple — you want to control the wrist and protect your vitals.”
He transformed the fighting technique into football technique with a couple of friends, actor/trainer Marreese Crump and actor/pro wrestler Dave Batista.
But when he got to the Miami Dolphins in 2015 as their receivers coach, McGeoghan realized he had a problem. The players were too strong and his wrists were starting to ache.
“They were so good, they were wearing my wrists out, really hammering my wrists good,” he remembered with a bit of a wince. “The most important part was to protect myself from these unbelievable athletes, very strong players that will break your wrist. If you give them the detail, a very small target on your wrist, they’ll do it.”
So, over the next few years, McGeoghan tried to find a safer way to incorporate his Kali-inspired football training, developing multiple prototypes before inventing the glove he now uses.
Wide receiver Tyrell Williams said the gloves allow him to go 100 percent in reps, working on new ways to shake loose of smothering defensive backs.
“You can hit him as hard as you want,” Williams said. “You can go in there full force.”
There’s not much McGeoghan does without maximum force. Chargers coach Anthony Lynn — who hired McGeoghan to replace Nick Sirianni, who left to become the Colts’ new offensive coordinator — played and coached with McGeoghan in Denver.
He remembers a special teams maniac, someone with endless energy, and wanted that personality on his staff. During training camp, it’s easy to see it on display.
McGeoghan is rarely silent, always instructing, correcting or cracking jokes. He’ll put an arm around Mike Williams one second and a minute later he’ll have Geremy Davis in a Muay Thai clinch, throwing half-hearted high knees.
“He’s energetic for sure,” Keenan Allen said. “He brings it every day — same guy.”
Lynn likes the MMA influence McGeoghan adds, mainly because McGeoghan is interested in it.
“I love it. It just makes you that much more passionate about what you’re coaching and how you’re coaching it,” Lynn said. “And it works.”
He remembered coaches using MMA-based training during the mid-1990s in San Francisco, and he saw how it helped special teams players shed blocks. He recalled wide receiver Jerry Rice especially being interested.
And league-wide there seems to be a trend toward incorporating MMA training into offseason and in-season work.
Williams said he has friends who do it. Same goes for cornerback Casey Hayward. And, just last summer, Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald caused a stir on social media when he filmed himself fighting off rubber knives as part of a Krav Maga workout.
There are tons of options out there — maybe too many. That’s why McGeoghan just has players whacking him on the wrist on a daily basis with little to no idea that the techniques could come in handy in the back streets of Manila.
“My job as a coach is to take the extraneous information and not give it to the players. Only take the pertinent stuff and give it to the players. I’m a buffer,” he said. “There are hundreds of thousands of techniques out there that are nonsense for our guys. I’ve got to take one or two and bring them to our room that I know will get us better. That’s my job — make it simple.