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Four lessons from the Cowboys hiring Mike McCarthy

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Always looking to be smarter about America’s Team.

Dallas Cowboys Introduce Head Coach Mike McCarthy
The owner is happy. How about you?
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

As fans of the Dallas Cowboys, we’ve gone through a rapid but rather predictable arc concerning new head coach Mike McCarthy. As with just about every notable event that involves the Star, there are some interesting things that can be learned.

Let’s start with the general reactions to it all. When it became blatantly obvious to even the most casual observer that Jason Garrett was on the way out, people started naming who they thought Jerry Jones should hire - and it was a long, long list. Then in just a few days’ time, as McCarthy came to interview and was hired the next day, some who had him high on their lists were gratified, others expressed disappointment, and a lot started convincing themselves it was not such a bad idea. Those divergent groups have continued, with the ones who have warmed to the idea growing closer to the original McCarthyites while many of the disappointed fans and media take the same data and often become grumpier about it all.

Now, not quite two weeks after the 2019 season came to its disappointing end and still less than seven days since McCarthy was chosen, here are some lessons to take to heart.

This was fast - but not rushed

One of the funniest things in retrospect was the hand-wringing about how the Cowboys were wasting time with the odd last waltz with Jason Garrett. There were actual concerns expressed that they were going to miss out on the guy they really wanted because Jerry Jones just would not come out and admit the obvious about not trying to re-sign Garrett. Some got even more antsy when Washington hired Ron Rivera right out of the gate.

However, Washington had fired Jay Gruden midseason, so they had plenty of time to research and narrow that search down. Rivera was able to open discussions early since he was terminated before the end of the season. They probably had the hiring all lined up some time before the actual end of the season.

Once the rest of the teams were able to get into the real hiring cycle, the next shoe to drop was - McCarthy to Dallas. Of all the teams besides Washington that had an opening to fill, the Cowboys were the first to get their man signed.

That indicates the Jones family was hard at work before the end of the final game. They probably were doing some preliminary but meaningful work on it much earlier as the dysfunction of the team became evident. Perhaps that really started simmering as early as the embarrassing loss to the New York Jets. In any case, they were far from starting from scratch once the team failed to make the postseason. Given that McCarthy was the second man interviewed, with the unfortunate implication that Marvin Lewis was just Rooney Rule cover, it is fairly clear that he was one of the top candidates, and possibly the real target to get all along.

The cachet is alive and well

McCarthy wasn’t just on the Cowboys’ list. He was also reported to have interviewed with the Carolina Panthers, Cleveland Browns, and New York Giants before coming to the Star and never leaving. In case you weren’t keeping track, that means he was given a hard look by every team that had a vacancy besides Washington. And then he accepted the offer from Dallas.

We have no way to know just how serious the other suitors were, but this is a pretty good argument that he was one of, if not the hottest name available. McCarthy may have had his sights set on the Cowboys all along, but talking with the other teams was wise, even if the invite to come to visit the Star was the last one he received. It gave him a much more clear idea of how serious the market was for him, and some nice leverage to use in the negotiations.

In any case, the lure of America’s Team won out. As McCarthy builds his staff, it certainly seems to continue as a factor.

You do wonder, however, if he wishes he had not agreed to his new contract until after the Panthers completed their generous deal with Matt Rhule.

Never forget, this is Jerry’s team

Many continue to clamor for Jerry Jones to give up his general manager role in the belief that he is the real problem. Those that are not pleased with McCarthy present sometimes passionate arguments why their candidate would have been a better choice.

That is part of the fun of being a fan. It is also a waste of time and energy. The Cowboys and the multiple facilities associated with them belong to him, have elevated him from wealthy to billionaire status, and made him one of the most influential people in all of sports. He gives every sign that this is something he does because he enjoys it so very much. He isn’t going to change, and only Father Time will eventually make things any different.

Not the least of the things that Jones seems to relish is being the undisputed voice of the team. That made it rather puzzling that so many didn’t see where this was heading, because he pretty much laid it out in advance. He expressed his preference for an experienced head coach this time around long before he offered his hand to McCarthy to shake on the deal. The hire was just the completion of a very discernible plan.

I commented before the hire that McCarthy was not just a possible choice, he was looking more and more likely. This was not based on any special analysis or understanding on my part. It was strictly from actually listening to what Jerry was saying, along with what the more credible reporters were sharing.

It has also emerged in recent days that McCarthy told other teams he wanted to coach and not be the lead in personnel acquisition and retention. That pretty much is a perfect stance from Jones’ perspective. He loves to do the grocery shopping, and it looks like McCarthy is perfectly happy with it being that way.

It all makes sense if you just fit all the right pieces together.

Now, the waiting begins

McCarthy is still filling out his staff, with so far only Kellen Moore as a holdover from the Garrett days. Every name is being discussed and dissected. Meanwhile, there is a very active debate about just how real the change is in McCarthy himself. His much publicized project to reeducate and improve himself was probably just as much marketing as remaking himself. That does not mean that it has not been a legitimate effort, with a possibility of paying some real dividends. But there is no guarantee it will all work out.

We are not only a long way from finding out how it will go in real games. We are months away from any kind of practice whatsoever. There are some major contracts to sort out, plus the rest of free agency to navigate. Then there will be the draft.

Last year at this time, we were very excited about things after what was seen as a badly needed change at offensive coordinator, only to have our hopes dashed. This is a very different situation - and in many ways, even more exciting, if you are pleased or optimistic about the hires made so far. But it is a long time until football comes back to Dallas. The best thing to do is to have some patience and enjoy the journey.