Mike McCarthy is the next head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, replacing Jason Garrett just one day after his departure was officially announced. The former Packers head coach has a Super Bowl ring to his name already, and it’s clear that he’s being brought into Dallas to get another. But that won’t be easy to accomplish. Here are three things McCarthy needs to do in order to reach the lofty goals he’ll be given.
Retain these four offensive coaches
Yahoo Sports writer Charles Robinson already indicated on Sunday night that the Cowboys were keen on retaining four of their offensive coaches: coordinator Kellen Moore, quarterbacks coach Jon Kitna, running backs coach Gary Brown, and offensive line coach Marc Colombo.
2. Pliability on the coaching staff is going to be a plus for some candidates. If you're a guy like Mike McCarthy or Marvin Lewis, you may very well need to retain four offensive coaches: OC Kellen Moore, OL coach Marc Colombo, QBs coach Jon Kitna and RBs coach Gary Brown.— Charles Robinson (@CharlesRobinson) January 6, 2020
It turns out McCarthy didn't have to keep any of them to get the job, but keeping them would make a whole lot of sense. Moore just led an offense that ranked at or near the top of the league in a whole host of categories and Kitna was largely responsible for refining Dak Prescott’s mechanics and turning him into one of the league’s best passers this year. Meanwhile Brown has overseen the most consistently productive position group in Dallas under the Garrett era, and Colombo helped return the offensive line to its dominant ways.
While most head coaches usually want to bring in their own staff, and rightfully so, if you’ve already got great coaches then it makes the most football sense to hold onto them. According to Ian Rapoport, McCarthy is “more than open” to keeping at least Moore.
Moore, who’s known for his high football IQ and penchant to draw up plays even as a high school player, had some expected growing pains calling plays in 2019. But a dynamic where he functions as the chief play designer and installing weekly game plans with McCarthy, an experienced and successful play-caller in charge of calling the plays during the game, might benefit both coaches in the long run.
Actually bring in his analytics team - and then use them
Back in Week 15 of the regular season, NBC Sports ran an in depth profile on McCarthy where he talked about his time off from football, which wasn’t really time off at all. Instead, he watched a lot of football and looked for ways to reinvent himself, including his hopes to install a vast analytics team:
There’s a flow chart for his proposed 14-person Football Technology Department, including a six-person video unit and an eight-person analytics team. The Chief of Football Technology tops the department, which will run both video and analytics. The top analytics lieutenants will be a Coordinator of Database Management, Coordinator of Football Analytics and Coordinator of Mathematical Innovation.
Below them: Football Technology Engineer and two Football Technology Analysts. And finally, a Football Technology Intern. McCarthy spent a day last summer at Pro Football Focus offices in Cincinnati, discovering how much more data is available than he realized. PFF data will be a key component of his analytics tree, as will GPS tracking of players and Next Gen Stats.
This full embrace of analytics would be diametrically opposite to Garrett’s take on analytics. But will it actually manifest? It’s possible that Jerry Jones may not give McCarthy the freedom necessary to install such an apparatus, and it’s also possible that this was more so bluster to entice teams into hiring him.
With the Ravens becoming the official team of football nerds everywhere last offseason and then turning into an unstoppable juggernaut this year, the role of analytics in football is clear. If McCarthy can follow through on this part, it could give the team the edge they needed that Garrett refused to use.
Get someone to manage the clock
One of the more common critiques of McCarthy during his days in Green Bay, even when the team was winning, was his clock management skills. Head-scratching timeouts were frequent occurrences, among other issues. It was such a problem that McCarthy relinquished play-calling duties to focus more on overall head coach responsibilities, although he took back those duties after offensive struggles.
In the age where everyone wants their own Sean McVay - meaning a young, offensive-minded head coach who calls plays - it’s become common to designate one coach to manage the clock and advise the head coach on those strategies. McVay himself even did it with former offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch, and others around the league have followed suit.
Clock management was one of Garrett’s enduring weaknesses as well, and one that he never really seemed to improve upon. So if the Cowboys are going from one head coach with clock management issues to another with the same issues, then they need to upgrade this area. If McCarthy can appoint someone to specialize in that and help him get better at knowing when to use timeouts and such, it’ll be a big step towards improving one of the Cowboys’ issues under Garrett.