clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Cowboys news: Mike McCarthy signed to be ninth Dallas Cowboys head coach

Mike Nolan likely next defensive coordinator.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

NFL: FEB 28 Scouting Combine Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Pretty slow Cowboys’ news day yesterday, but I managed to fire up the Google machine and scour the interwebs and found a couple nuggets.

Mike McCarthy says he’s signed to be Cowboys HC - Nick Shook,
Mike McCarthy, the next head coach of your Dallas Cowboys.

McCarthy’s hiring comes less than a day after the Cowboys officially parted ways with Jason Garrett after nine seasons as the team’s head coach.

McCarthy spent last season out of football after 13 seasons served as the head coach of the Packers. He came into this year’s hiring cycle prepared, completing interviews with the Carolina Panthers, Cleveland Browns and New York Giants in the last few weeks before heading to Frisco, Texas, over the weekend.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was apparently sold on what McCarthy was offering, securing the franchise’s eighth full-time head coach in one of the quickest head-coaching searches one will ever see in the NFL. Marvin Lewis was the only other candidate to be interviewed by the Cowboys before they decided on McCarthy, a candidate who boasts 26 years of NFL coaching experience.

McCarthy’s departure from Green Bay was fairly acrimonious, but his success there cannot be denied. McCarthy’s Packers made nine playoff appearances in his 13 years there, including an appearance and victory in Super Bowl XLV. His teams held a vice grip on the NFC North for much of the century’s second decade, winning five division titles in six years from 2011-2016. McCarthy posted a 125-77-2 record with the Packers.

Cowboys Give Coach McCarthy a 5-Year Deal and A ‘Secret Weapon’ Named ‘Jerry Jones.’ (Yes, Really) - Mike Fisher, Sports Illustrated
The Fish weighs in and thinks McCarthy will be happy to let someone else be the face of the organization.

2) McCarthy, Huber tells me, “tired of having to be the spokesman for everything because Ted Thompson preferred to stay out of the public limelight, especially at the end. A perfect case in point is when they whacked guard Josh Sitton just before the start of the 2016 season. McCarthy had to field all those questions from us. He was pissed - and for good reason.’’

Mike McCarthy’s pros and cons: Playoff success, ability to develop Dak Prescott among top selling points to Cowboys - John Owning,
The film breakdown guru provides some insights on what might excite - or frustrate - Cowboys’ fans with McCarthy’s schemes.

Moreover, while Green Bay’s offense and scheme were cutting edge during the early portions of McCarthy’s tenure, his offense slowly devolved into one of the most conservative and unimaginative units in the league, as it was inundated with slant-flat route combinations ad nauseum. Even by his own admission, the Packers got away from frequently utilizing pre-snap motion, shifts and multiple personnel groups.

McCarthy has stated on numerous occasions that he’s going to be more creative with his schemes on offense with his new team to the point where he has a “LESS VOLUME, MORE CREATIVITY” sign on his desk. He spent his time off studying, in detail, every top-10 NFL offense from last year, which has caused him to make prudent changes to his offense, with promises of RPOs, pre-snap motion, up-tempo and stressed out opposing defense wherever he is hired.

Nevertheless, it’s OK to be skeptical of that, too. It’s easy to market one’s self to NFL teams as an analytic-minded head coach who will create an innovative offense built on creativity, but it’s entirely different to actually follow through and stay committed through all the trials and tribulations that happen during an NFL season. Cowboys fans have already had to deal with the promise of offensive innovation before it was quickly torn up after the slightest deviation from the original plan (like when Tyron Smith is injured).

Mike McCarthy and the Packers: And Insider’s View - Andrew Brandt, Sports Illustrated
Brandt worked with McCarthy for a number of years in Green Bay and provides insights into his time there in this article written shortly after the Packers fired McCarthy.

Although part of the team’s inner circle for nine years and still a devoted fan, I have no inside knowledge of what is going on inside team offices now. However, I can speak to my view of Mike and his relationship with players, including Aaron Rodgers.

Mike carefully and tactfully navigated that delicate three-year period during which Aaron served as apprentice to Brett Favre. As I know firsthand, those were tricky waters to sail through. Brett and his camp were not thrilled to show up at work every day with his future replacement, while Aaron and his camp had a hard time seeing a path to playing time. Mike, as always, handled both situations in a direct and honest fashion. And when the rubber met the road in the summer of 2008, when Brett wanted to return after retiring, it was Mike who uttered the six words that changed the course of Packers history: “Brett, we’ve moved on to Aaron.”

I never heard of any friction between Mike and Aaron. I can only surmise what many have: the inevitability of staleness in a 13-year relationship. Speaking from personal experience, I had a strong inner sense that it was time for me to leave after nine years in Green Bay. Perhaps Mike had that inner sense too, and the decision from the other side was expected and perhaps even welcome. For whatever reason, the partnership between Mike and Aaron, and perhaps Mike and the front office, seemed frayed. Not broken, not severed, but frayed. And change was needed.

Can Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys thrive in a Mike McCarthy offense? - Kevin Cole, PFF
The analytics guys think NFL coaches should pass more. Mike McCarthy agrees.

The Packers were the most pass-heavy team in the NFL during McCarthy tenure from 2014-2018, dropping back to pass on 66.2% of plays. The Cowboys were on the opposite end of the spectrum, only passing on 57.3% of plays. Some of that could be the difference in quarterbacks, though the divergence is so drastic as to indicate a philosophical difference.

One of the lessons of analytics is that teams probably still aren’t passing enough, so McCarthy’s propensity to call passes isn’t necessarily an issue. A bigger potential flaw in McCarthy’s pasts offenses is a lower play-action passing rate. Teams have consistently performed better with play-action than regular dropback passing, and it’s likely Prescott’s offensive breakout this season was at least partially related to the Cowboys’ having the seventh-highest play-action rate (44.5%) in game-neutral situations. From 2015-2018, McCarthy’s Packers never ranked higher than 21st in play-action usage.

Dallas Cowboys: Mike McCarthy says he’s changed but has much to prove - Steven Ruiz, ForTheWin
Much has been made about McCarthy’s year=long “sabbatical” which he apparently spent watching film and telling people about how much film he watched. Time will tell if he’s learned from previous mistakes.

The big knock against McCarthy’s offense was the lack of creativity he’s hinting at there. Green Bay’s offense mostly stayed in static, three-receiver formations that did little to help create open throws. Making matters worse, McCarthy didn’t use play-action nearly enough, which further stifled the Packers’ passing game. Over the last four seasons of the McCarthy era, Green Bay ranked higher than 26th in play-action usage only once … when it finished 16th. Cowboys fans have spent the last few seasons complaining about those same issues. At least they’ll be able to recycle their old tweets.

McCarthy’s apparent dive into analytics has also convinced people he was a good pick for the Cowboys, but there are reasons to be skeptical. Until we see him employ the lessons that the analytics community has taught us over the last decade, it’s just talk. Yes, McCarthy has typically gone for it on fourth down at a higher rate than his peers, which nerds will love, but there are also examples of him going against that tendency in more high-profile games while using “the numbers” to justify his decision.

Why New Cowboys Coach Mike McCarthy Makes Sense in Dallas - Riley McAtee, The Ringer
The Cowboys had an explosive, big-play, high-scoring offense for much of 2019. Some want to see first-year offensive coordinator have an opportunity to continue in the role but that will be up to McCarthy (as it should).

McCarthy’s first big decision, though, will be what to do with the coaches already on the Cowboys staff. Before McCarthy was hired, Yahoo reporter Charles Robinson said that he thought McCarthy would be open to keeping some of the existing staff. The biggest name in that bunch is offensive coordinator and play-caller Kellen Moore. Moore, the youngest play-caller in the league, helped scheme Dallas to the second-best offense in the league by DVOA and made quarterback Dak Prescott a midseason MVP candidate. When McCarthy picked out a play to show King an example of what he wanted to do in his next coaching stint, he chose a Cowboys play. “The beauty of it,” he said. McCarthy called the plays for the majority of his tenure in Green Bay, but there’s a good chance Moore sticks around in Dallas.

And McCarthy’s offensive track record isn’t nearly as bad as you may remember. While he took heat for his team’s underperformance the past few seasons, the Packers actually ranked seventh in offensive DVOA in 2018. This year, with Sean McVay disciple LaFleur pulling the strings, the team has dropped to eighth. With Prescott, Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Ezekiel Elliott, and the most expensive offensive line in football, the Cowboys have the personnel to be an offensive juggernaut again in 2020.

Mike McCarthy is a good coach and a good company man, which is exactly what Dallas wants – Michael Lombardi, The Athletic
McCarthy wasn’t the boldest choice the Joneses could have made, but it probably the most logical choice.

If McCarthy can handle these two areas and deal with the Jones’ involvement with the day-to-day operation of the football team, then this can be the perfect fit. In Green Bay, Thompson would not tell McCarthy how to run the team, just who he had to coach. Therefore, McCarthy won’t have a hard time dealing with the Jones’ participation in personnel; in fact, he will probably have a louder voice than before — though he might have a harder time dealing with players thinking they work for Jerry, not him. McCarthy will have to be strong, demanding, and, most of all, in command of the room to make players feel that he controls their financial future more than Jerry, something Garrett was never able to accomplish.

I like the fit, but I’m skeptical of the future, in part because of the past. If four coaches could not make the Cowboy Way work over the last 19 seasons, what makes McCarthy different? As someone who worked for almost 10 years with former Raiders owner Al Davis controlling everything, I know how challenging this structure is to overcome, even for someone as good as McCarthy.

Mike McCarthy hire makes sense for Cowboys. But it’s not quite a home run. - Mike Maske, The Washington Post
Maske weighs in with thoughts from behind enemy lines.

He will inherit a talent-laden roster capable of reaching a Super Bowl. Jones presumably will sign quarterback Dak Prescott to a handsome new contract. He could re-sign wide receiver Amari Cooper.

McCarthy, after coaching the NFL’s only publicly owned franchise in Green Bay, now works for a famously involved owner in Jones. He spent the weekend with Jones. He probably believes he has an idea what he’s getting into; but there will be a learning curve for him in that respect.

The NFC East, so pitiable this season, should be improved next season. The Redskins have hired Ron Rivera as their coach, and he should be a steadying influence in Washington. The New York Giants might be focused on trying to land Baylor’s well-regarded Matt Rhule to replace their fired coach, Pat Shurmur. The Philadelphia Eagles just lost a close playoff game Sunday to the Seattle Seahawks despite losing starting quarterback Carson Wentz to a head injury in the first half, after winning the division. They’re a couple of seasons removed from a Super Bowl title under Coach Doug Pederson.

Cowboys: Mike McCarthy reportedly hired, NFL fans have jokes - Charles Curtis, ForTheWin
And the internet being the internet there were though who found humor in McCarthy’s hiring.

Of course, that led NFL fans to make so many jokes about the Cowboys hiring him, along with the fact that we learned from ESPN’s Adam Schefter, that McCarthy stayed at Jerry Jones’ house on Saturday.

Here’s a collection of some of the tweets we saw after the news broke on Monday morning:

What went right — and what went wrong — during the Jason Garrett Cowboys era? – Jon Machota, The Athletic
Oh, and speaking of Jason Garrett, we haven’t had time to react to his departure. Machota outlines both the good and the bad.

The good:

1.) He helped build a solid foundation. The argument can be made that the current Cowboys are in better shape than they were when Garrett became interim head coach midway through the 2010 season. There’s a solid nucleus of players on both sides of the ball that should allow the next head coach to immediately compete for a playoff spot. The team Garrett inherited badly needed a rebuild along an aging offensive line, which is why Tyron Smith was the first draft pick of the Garrett era. Oftentimes when teams part ways with head coaches, a rebuild is needed. That shouldn’t be the case for Dallas’ next head coach.

The bad:

3.) Game management. This was probably Garrett’s biggest issue. We rarely questioned how his teams prepared during the offseason or during the week leading up to a game. But in-game adjustments were never a strength. Whether it was decisions to go for it on fourth down, clock management or just trying something unexpected to provide a spark, it just seemed too predictable. Too often, it appeared whatever the plan was during the week, the team stuck with it regardless of what the opponent was doing. The 2019 Cowboys won every game that they were leading at halftime and lost every game when they were trailing. That certainly doesn’t weaken this argument.

Spagnola: Jason Stood Tall During Crazy Ride - Mickey Spagnola,
The Mothership’s longtime scribe also remembers the long-tenured but now former head coach.

But very few head coaches leave on their own terms. Tom Landry didn’t. Jimmy Johnson sort of didn’t. Barry Switzer and Chan Gailey and Dave Campo definitely didn’t. Bill Parcells did, walking away. Wade Phillips didn’t even finish the 2010 season.

Now Jason. No matter finishing with the second-most wins in franchise history, an 85-67 record, including taking a 1-7 team after eight games in 2010 to a 5-3 finish as the interim head coach. But just 2-3 in the playoffs, having won three NFC East titles in the previous five seasons heading into 2019.

Another strange thing: In eight of his nine full seasons as head coach, the Cowboys either went to the playoffs those three times or into at least Game 15 in five other seasons needing just one more victory to win the East. They lost four of those in head-to-head matchups with the eventual division champ.

That close.

And finally Scooter Magruder, as he does, accurately captures the range of Cowboys’ fans emotions over this crazy week:

BTB Podcast

What do we need to know about Mike McCarthy? Acme Packing Company’s Zach Rapport joined the latest episode of The Ocho to tell us.

Make sure that you never miss an episode from Blogging The Boys by subscribing to the Blogging The Boys podcast feed!

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Blogging The Boys Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your Dallas Cowboys news from Blogging The Boys