Mike McCarthy was technically a retread hire, but he was unlike any other retread hire the NFL had ever seen. McCarthy won a Super Bowl in Green Bay and got a street named after him outside of Lambeau Field. Only 29 other head coaches in NFL history have more regular season wins than him, with only four of those ahead of him still active today.
On top of that, McCarthy chose to sit out the 2019 season despite interest from several teams that were hiring at the time. In his year away from the sidelines, McCarthy poured over hours and hours worth of game film, trying to figure out what went wrong and led to his in-season firing. He watched tape of his old Packers teams and watched current games, analyzing what other teams were doing that worked. He even explored analytics in a new and extensive manner, including paying a visit to the Pro Football Focus headquarters in Cincinnati.
All of this news started to come out in the final few weeks of the NFL’s regular season as McCarthy prepared to pitch himself to teams getting ready to hire a new head coach. But as everyone became suddenly infatuated with this re-imagined coach who suddenly embraced analytics after previously saying “statistics are for losers,” some began to question if this was all real or just big talk to get a good job.
Well, on Thursday we got our first real clue that McCarthy has indeed changed, at least somewhat. Along with a host of other tidbits of information that the new Cowboys head coach dropped, he declared that offensive coordinator Kellen Moore - one of two holdovers from the previous staff - would call the plays on offense still.
For those who really know McCarthy, this is a big deal. It’s not a hard argument to make that Moore should have kept calling plays. After all, in his very first year doing so, the Cowboys led the league in total yards, were second in passing, fifth in rushing, sixth in scoring, and second in DVOA. Very few teams had a higher functioning offense in 2019.
But the fact that it’s McCarthy making the decision to cede play-calling duties that is so significant. This is because McCarthy has called plays all but two years this entire century. He first became an offensive coordinator in 2000 and continued calling plays as a head coach in Green Bay. Obviously he wasn’t calling plays in 2019, but the other year was the 2015 season.
In an effort to place more of a focus on the team as a whole, McCarthy had longtime offensive coordinator Tom Clements call plays in 2015. But after a rough middle portion of the year in which Green Bay lost four games in five contests and the offense averaged under 20 points a game, McCarthy resumed play-calling duties. The result? The Packers went on a three-game winning streak that helped them secure a Wild Card berth.
They went on to win their Wild Card game but lost an overtime thriller to the Cardinals. Still, McCarthy was adamant that he’d continue to call plays. He even went so far as to say he would “never” give up those duties again. He remained true to his word... until now.
The fact that McCarthy is willingly giving up something he previously pledged to never do again speaks volumes about two things: 1) Moore must really be that good in order to convince McCarthy to do this, and 2) McCarthy really has changed from his days as the Packers head coach.
To what extent he’s changed still remains to be seen, but this decision is at least a positive sign that all the talk about self reflection wasn’t just talk. McCarthy has grown since he last roamed the sideline, and that can only be a good thing for the Cowboys.