Carmel Catholic junior running back Syone Usma-Harper worked with Jason McKie on a few occasions as a youth football player training at All Pro Sports Performance. A North Chicago resident, Usma-Harper mostly worked with other trainers at the Lake Bluff training center, of which McKie is a co-founder.
Even so, he took notice of McKie. It’s hard to miss the barrel-chested former Bears fullback.
So there was some familiarity when Carmel brought in McKie as the running backs coach last season.
“It was kind of uplifting,” Usma-Harper said. “He brought an intense motive to the whole team, it would boost us up, our adrenaline. He really worked on our skills. He helped us individually and as a team.”
McKie made an impression on Usma-Harper and the running backs. He also, apparently, made an impression on the Carmel administration. Carmel named McKie head varsity football coach last month, replacing former Bears tight end Blake Annen, who stepped down for personal reasons.
The Bears connection at the Mundelein school, however, will continue.
McKie played in one game for the Dallas Cowboys as a rookie in 2002, then spent 2003-2009 with the Bears, including the run to Super Bowl XLI. He signed with the Baltimore Ravens in 2010 but never appeared in a game.
“I’m honored and I’m thankful,” McKie told Friday Night Drive this week. “My whole goal when I retired from playing was to be a resource, to be a blessing to young athletes, to help them achieve their goals.”
This is McKie’s first head coaching position. He served as a coaching intern at Florida International in the summer of 2013 after retiring from the NFL. At FIU, he learned under Ron Turner, the former Bears offensive coordinator and Illinois head coach.
McKie left the college ranks so he could spend more time at home with his four children. Prior to joining Annen’s staff last season, he coached his kids in youth football, and worked with numerous athletes in the Lake County area at All Pro Sports Performance.
“I got my coaching fix through there,” McKie said. “I told my wife [Stacey], once the kids got older, now it’s my time to get back into coaching.”
His eldest son Jalen McKie is a cornerback on the football team at Northern Illinois. He has two younger sons in middle school and a daughter in elementary school. The McKie family lives in Gurnee.
McKie went to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis in March with the goal of possibly finding a job as an NFL scout. While there, he ran into Annen, who played for the Bears in 2014. Annen had an opening on the Carmel staff because Nathan Vasher, another former Bear, left Carmel to take a volunteer coaching position with the Texas Longhorns. It was a natural fit for McKie.
As head coach, McKie is retaining assistant coach Johnny Knox, who played three seasons for the Bears and was the leading receiver in 2010 when the team reached the NFC Championship. McKie said he is bringing in eight-year pro and former Bears receiver Rashied Davis as an assistant coach, too.
“I don’t think any of us would have ever thought we’d be coached by former NFL players,” Usma-Harper said.
Carmel is coming off a 2-7 season. The Corsairs won the regular season finale, 34-33, over St. Viator to cap the season on a high note.
McKie is looking to put his stamp on a program that made 12 straight playoff appearances under former coach Andy Bitto from 2000-2011, including a Class 6A state championship in 2003. Bitto resigned after the 2017 season and Annen later took his place.
“It’s all about a foundation, you set a standard of what’s successful and what’s not,” McKie said. “The kids know I’m a high-energy guy, I’m an ultra-competitive guy, but I do believe doing things the right way. I believe in the details.”
Carmel lost two games by a one-point margin and another by five points. The opportunities were there in 2019. McKie believes it came down to practice habits.
“We’re not far off, but we look like we are because those are things that we lost during the week to details,” McKie said. “That’s stuff that will get corrected.”
Usma-Harper was a top running back for the Corsairs until he missed five games with an injury. He returned for the Week 9 win over St. Viator. When Carmel announced McKie’s hiring, Usma-Harper said it brought him “a lot of joy.”
As the running backs coach last season, McKie helped the running backs with the fundamentals like ball security, Usma-Harper said, but he had an influence on more than just the running backs.
“He’ll bring back a tradition where we’ll be back on track,” Usma-Harper said. “He’s going to be the type of head coach where he’s going to really influence and help our team.”