Moments before halftime in San Francisco’s divisional round playoff game against Dallas in January, Mike McGlinchey went viral.
Rarely does an offensive lineman rocket around the internet for positive reasons, and this was no exception.
Sliding up the field to try to slow Cowboys All-Pro Micah Parsons, McGlinchey forfeited just enough balance in search of speed that Parsons got his right arm under McGlinchey’s left armpit and sent him airborne. For many on social media, the sum total of the moment amounted to reacting to the video clip or still image freezing 80 inches and 310 pounds of right tackle essentially horizontal with the ground.
Back at his alma mater, though, the moment resonated in a different way. Notre Dame offensive line coach Harry Heistand made sure of it.
Just weeks from announcing his retirement after four decades of coaching, Hiestand showed his pupils the play. Then he showed the 49ers punching home a fourth-quarter touchdown run behind McGlinchey’s double-team block in their 19-12 victory.
“That’s the mental toughness it takes in the NFL,” Heistand told The Post. “You’re going to have bad plays because you’re blocking the best athletes in the world. People can take those little clips and run them back and forth and critique a guy all day, which is total (garbage). But the measure of a player – the measure of any of us – is when you get down and something doesn’t go your way, how do you handle it?
“I showed (Notre Dame’s linemen) those two plays and I said, ‘This is reality. This happens in life. It happens in football. You get knocked down. What are you going to do about it?’ Mike, later in the game, they rip a gap play right behind him for a touchdown in a playoff game. Everybody wants to talk about that play, but to me the measure of him is the next play because those plays happen to everyone.”
McGlinchey’s 49ers, of course, saw their season end the next week in the NFC title game against Philadelphia when rookie Brock Purdy suffered an elbow injury and they finally ran out of quarterback options. Before that, San Francisco had won 12 straight.
Now, after five years in San Francisco, he’s on to the next chapter of his career, agreeing last week to a five-year contract with the Broncos, worth up to $87.5 million, that makes him one of the highest-paid right tackles in the NFL.
He provides what new head coach Sean Payton wants on the field in Denver – mental toughness, run game production and playoff experience – and will likely be one of the pillars in building what Payton promised would be, “a completely different type of culture.”
In 2019, San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan said that McGlinchey, a Philadelphia native, “acted like the CEO of a company the first time he walked in” the 49ers facility as a rookie the year before.
That sounded familiar to Hunter Bivin.
Bivin and McGlinchey arrived at Notre Dame together as offensive linemen in June 2013 and lived together for the next five years. Apprised of Shanahan’s words, Bivin, now the school’s assistant athletic director for alumni relations, let loose a knowing laugh.
“I call him ‘Senator McGlinchey,’ ” Bivin said. “He’s got a career in public service whenever his football career is over with. It’s just a devout love for people, the people that he’s around, specifically. He cares about the people in his circle – he’s my best friend in the world – and wherever he’s at, regardless of where it is, he’s full go. There’s no ‘I’m 50% into being in Denver.’ He’s ‘I’m a Bronco for life.’ …
“That’s kind of his mantra, ‘full tilt, full time.’”
Hiestand posited that part of his disposition comes from the fact that McGlinchey grew up in a huge family. He’s got five siblings and the Irish Catholic family tree goes to triple digits quickly when you include the likes of aunts, uncles and cousins, including first-cousin and longtime NFL quarterback Matt Ryan.
“He’s really a catalyst for your team,” Hiestand said. “… It’s not about me. My success will come when we have success. Mike knew that growing up. He had a big family and nobody’s any more important than anybody else. He grew up in that environment and it was a natural progression as an offensive lineman, to be a guy that cares more about the unit and the team than himself.”
“Mauler in the run game”
McGlinchey is less diplomatic when a ball carrier is looking for room to work behind him.
“Him being a mauler in the run game, that’s staple Mike McGlinchey,” Bivin said.
It’s been his on-field calling card for years. He turned into one of the NFL’s best right tackles under Shanahan and offensive line coach Chris Foerster.
“’Rock solid’ is the way I’d describe him,” former Notre Dame offensive lineman and now college football broadcaster Mike Golic Jr. said. “Obviously we’ve seen over the last couple of years that there are plays, like everyone else, you get beat every once in a while. And when you’re on the same offensive line as Trent Williams on the other side, the standard is a little bit different as far as how people judge that. …
“He’s scheme-versatile, he’s operated in one of the most diverse run games in the NFL for the first five years of his career here. So I think you get a really smart, physically capable player who has had some great coaching along the way at multiple spots, too, between college and San Francisco.”
The numbers agree. According to ESPN’s analytics, McGlinchey ranked fifth among NFL tackles in 2022 in run block win rate.
His usage won’t be identical in Denver as it was in San Francisco, of course, but Payton’s football history is rooted in the West Coast offense and his first offseason with the Broncos signals an intent to build from the line of scrimmage out.
“They want to go back to the things Russell Wilson did well and that’s an offense that’s very play-action based, gets Russ on the move,” Golic said. “Those are all the things that Mike was a part of in San Francisco. What you get from that, too, is a guy who understands how to block for the launch points that are going to be there in play-action protections. How to block for protections that are going to require a little more time than that clock in your head because you want to throw deep developing routes, take advantage of Russell Wilson’s great deep ball.
“Where Denver’s offense is going is a big reason why you’d like a guy like Mike around because he understands how to go about this, how to be part of an offense that wants to be run-first and how to establish that tone.”
“Get your knuckles up”
Golic and his father spoke at the Notre Dame football banquet this winter and the elder told a story about running into McGlinchey on the sideline before a Sunday Night Football game.
“And (McGlinchey) goes, ‘I still hear Coach Hiestand’s voice in my head every day,’” Golic Jr. recounted.
“Of course the offensive linemen were rolling on that one,” Hiestand said.
What does McGlinchey hear when his old college coach pops in his head? Several suggestions from Golic, Bivin and Hiestand himself:
“Get your knuckles up.”
“Gain ground on your first step.”
“Lift your head.”
“The fundamentals and the things you fall back on when (stuff)’s hitting the fan, it goes back to basics,” Bivin added. “Third and long, third and short, game on the line, back to basics. One foot in front of the other. Those are the things that come back and that’s how Coach Hiestand coaches.”
Payton’s perfect fit
Payton and general manager George Paton recognized Denver needed an overhaul up front and did something about it.
Not only did they add McGlinchey, but also guard Ben Powers, tight end Chris Manhertz, fullback Michael Burton and running back Samaje Perine. That quintet makes up all but three of the outside free agents the Broncos have signed so far this month.
“Look at Sean’s history in New Orleans,” Golic said. “Everyone gets clouded by Drew Brees, but for years there, those offensive lines – the group that had Jahri Evans and Zach Strief for years, Max Unger, the second generation with Ryan Ramczyk and Terron Armstead manning the ends there. They’ve always been defined and built by a great group in the trenches and Sean understands the rest of what he wants to do is impossible without that group.
“I think it’s smart to see the resources going there first and foremost.”
Hiestand got to know Payton in the 1990s through mutual coaching friends and then spent time in New Orleans ahead of the 2021 draft when he was between a stint as Chicago’s offensive line coach and a return to Notre Dame for the 2022 season.
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“He’s a traditionalist,” he said of Payton. “A football guy that learned from Bill Parcells and spent a lot of time in that system and understands the value of running the ball, defense, being physical, being tough, having big, strong guys. The basis of where he comes from is proven to be successful in this league.”
So far, Payton has talked more extensively about flipping the culture for a franchise that has six consecutive losing seasons and a playoff drought that stretches back to Peyton Manning than about his plans for the playbook. But this is an offseason for building on all fronts.
The people who know McGlinchey best aren’t surprised Payton and company decided to pay him to serve at the vanguard.
“Mike helps bring out the best in people that are around him, whether it’s football or anything,” Hiestand said. “The guy that’s in charge of security and getting him into the building, the people who fix the food, the grounds guys, he’ll end up being one of their favorite players. That’s just the person he is. He’s infectious and he sets an incredible example every day. Everywhere he goes, people feel great about who Mike is and that he genuinely cares about the success of others. It’s so refreshing. I think people will figure that out in time and they’ll be awfully happy that he’s in Denver.
“And he can block the hell out of people.”
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