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Four reasons to dislike the Cowboys hiring of Mike McCarthy

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The cons of the latest Cowboys hire.

Green Bay Packers v Detroit Lions

Mike McCarthy is the Cowboys new head coach and there is plenty of debate about what that will mean. There are supporters of the decision, detractors of the decision, and some people that are decidedly on the fence.

In the spirit of pros and cons, we’re compiling our list. We recently posted our “pros” list which had four things to like about the hiring. Now, we’re on to the “cons.”

Which brings us to the first of four reasons not to like the McCarthy hiring:

His offense became stale and predictable

The Cowboys chose to move on from Scott Linehan following the 2018 season because the team’s offense had become simple, predictable. Teams seemed to know what was coming, often calling out plays. Routes were mostly in isolation, rarely complemented each other or stressed defenders with difficult decisions. Rubs were rarely employed.

Well, consider this quote from an infamous Bleacher Report article written last spring:

The personnel man says the Packers’ passing offense was essentially “Get open” and that they basically ran the same routes for seven years straight, to the point where division rivals “constantly” called out plays pre-snap and jumped routes.

No wonder the slant route, once so lethal, went extinct.

Where were the route combinations? The motion? The misdirection? “It’s like, ‘Dude, you have to adjust! The league changes!’” the personnel man says. “You’ve got to be humble enough to follow it. If you can’t adapt, you die. He definitely didn’t adapt. You can’t run 90 back-shoulders into coverage. I don’t care who you are. Things got so stale.”

A number of video breakdown guys (Brian Baldinger, John Owning, Brett Kollmann) noted noted at various times that the only offense simpler and more predictable than Scott Linehan’s Cowboys were Mike McCarthy’s Packers. So, let’s hope McCarthy is sincere when he talks about being willing to learn and embrace new concepts. But even that might not be enough when you think about it.

A quote from the Peter King piece has generated excitement among Cowboys’ fans because McCarthy highlighted a Kellen Moore-designed play:

“You can take the same exact formation, and a shift and a jet motion will look exactly the same to the defense. Then you figure all the plays you can run off that formation—run strong, run weak, an RPO [run-pass option for the quarterback], a quarterback-keep, and a full fake with a downfield pass. When Frank [Cignetti, his offensive co-designer] and I are designing the offense, we say let’s have five plays, or maybe a six-pack of plays, that fit a distinct shift and motion with different purposes.”

But Steven Ruiz from ForTheWin points out why this excitement might be misplaced:

I mean, to us, that all sounds great, but what McCarthy described isn’t exactly on the cutting edge. That’s essentially what every offensive coach in the league is doing. That he considers these new ideas in 2019 is a major red flag. Has he really needed a year off just to catch up to where the rest of the league was years ago?

And he’s exactly right. These aren’t new or particularly innovative ideas; they’ve been run in the NFL for years and in college and high school going back years. That McCarthy seems to have just discovered them is a bit disconcerting.

This seeming detachment from the evolution going on in the league brings us to our second reason to not like McCarthy’s hiring:

An ugly departure from Green Bay

Mike McCarthy should be a Green Bay icon. He won a Super Bowl. Went the playoffs repeatedly. Won a bunch of games. All this in a town... a true town... where football heroes become icons and have roads named after them.

In fact, there is a Mike McCarthy Way in Green Bay, befitting his status there. So one has to wonder why his Hall of Fame quarterback and much of the fanbase were happy to see him go.

Again, if you believe the Bleacher Report story and a number of other pieces written about the breakup between the Packers and McCarthy there’s enough blame to spread around:

  • McCarthy’s archaic offensive system was augmented by a detached style where assistant coaches were running meetings and assuming ever more control. McCarthy was flat out accused of checking out:

McCarthy, on the other hand, seemed to be more and more checked out, leading many to sympathize with Rodgers.

The sight was strange at first.

About once a week, a meeting would start up and McCarthy was MIA. Players weren’t quite sure where he was while, for example, an assistant coach would run the team’s final prep on the Saturday before a game. Eventually, word leaked that McCarthy, the one calling plays on game day, was up in his office getting a massage during those meetings.

One player had the same massage therapist, and she let it slip that McCarthy would sneak her up a back stairway to his office while the rest of the team prepared for that week’s opponent.

”That was when guys were like, ‘What the heck?’” says one longtime Packer. “Everybody was like, ‘Really? Wow.’”

Needless to say, Jerry Jones and #CowboysNation will be expecting a more... urgent effort.

  • A deteriorating relationship with his star quarterback. Rodgers is known to be difficult to deal with and doesn’t countenance people he perceives as intellectually inferior. Again, from the Bleacher Report story:

One ex-Packers scout puts it on both. He describes Rodgers as an arrogant quarterback quick to blame everyone but himself—one who’s “not as smart as he thinks he is”

  • A general manager, Ted Thompson, who seemed allergic to signing outside free agents and who allowed the overall roster to decline. McCarthy had almost no say in personnel decisions and was left to make dinner using groceries purchased by someone else (to use a Bill Parcells analogy).

Regardless, the indisputable fact is McCarthy was in a winning situation in a place where he was revered. He had exactly the kind of opportunity NFL head coaches would die for. And, for whatever reason, wasn’t able to make it work. Perhaps he’s learned from that but one has to question how much he contributed to his departure from the Packers.

Is he a yes man?

Dallas Cowboys coaches under Jerry Jones can be segmented into three groups:

  1. Strong personalities who had clear, distinct decision-making powers that largely shaped the organization. This list has only two names: Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells.
  2. Able to voice opinions but unwilling to confront Jerry: this list has one name and one name only - Jason Garrett. Garrett wasn’t a simple puppet doing whatever Jerry asked. He clearly played a strong role in shaping the Cowboys’ culture, roster and scheme. Where Garrett differed from Johnson and Parcells was he simply wasn’t willing to challenge Jerry. I have no doubt Jerry did things that Garrett disagreed with but any opposition Garrett had to such things was kept behind doors.
  3. Yes men - coaches who were only puppets under Jerry’s control and who exerted little to no control over the team’s general direction: Barry Switzer, Chan Gailey, Dave Campo and Wade Phillips.

Which of these will McCarthy be? I seriously doubt he’ll be a yes man - if he is his tenure will be short-lived and end in failure and humiliation. McCarthy’s made of stronger stuff than the names on the “yes men” list. He’s likely to be more like Garrett where he has input but yields when Jerry (or Stephen) want to have their way.

The question will be is McCarthy able to be stronger than Garrett and tell Jerry to stick it occasionally? I feel Garrett would have served himself and the organization better if he’d been willing to stand up to Jerry publicly occasionally. Not take cheap shots but, in front of players, make it clear who they were answering to. Nobody who played under Johnson or Parcells wondered about such things.

That might make your relationship with the owner a little more difficult but at times the players need to know you you’re own man and not always going to do whatever the head man says.

Which brings us to our final point.

Will things really change?

The following coaches have all had high quality Dallas Cowboys’ rosters capable of making deep playoff runs at one point or another:

Chan Gailey (1998)

Bill Parcells (2006)

Wade Phillips (2007, 2008, 2009)

Jason Garrett (2014, 2016, 2018, 2019)

Each failed. And then after failing their teams generally fell apart and grossly under-performed the next season. It’s a cycle we’ve seen repeated over and over. Coaches, quarterbacks, players and schemes come and go but the results remain the same.

The only constant has been Jerry Jones and the unique “Cowboys Way” of conducting business.

I’m deeply disturbed every time I see video or pictures of the team’s Monday morning “coaches” meeting where Jerry and Steven have prominent positions.

No other NFL owners are as deeply involved in the day-to-day football operations as Jerry Jones. It’s been that way since he took over and it’s been a failing strategy for 25 years now. Troy Aikman, who’s close to both the Jones and the organization, basically said as much recently.

“When the organization was unwilling to come out publicly and say that we are seeking a new coach and yet at the same time reports are coming out that they are interviewing potential new candidates for the head coaching position, that’s disappointing. I think in a lot of ways it shines the light on some of the I guess dysfunction if you will within the organization and kind of how they got to the point that they are in now,” he said.

A more lengthy, eloquent dissertation on the topic came from Uche Nwaneri. If the name’s not familiar to you it’s understandable. Nwaneri played guard for seven seasons for the Jacksonville Jaguars, starting 92 games during that time. He was signed by the Cowboys during the 2014 off-season as potential offensive line depth for the Cowboys (who had a loaded offensive line). Nwaneri never played a down for the Cowboys after being cut the final week of the pre-season.

So he wasn’t a Cowboys for long and you can dismiss his opinions if you choose. But the words he wrote on a recent Reddit post could have been written at any time during the last 20 years and still ring true.

The Dallas Cowboys fail because they have an owner who has interjected himself in the daily operations of a professional sports franchise. True enough it is his team, but there is a certain level of trust that an owner needs to have in the abilities of his coaching staff to do the job he has paid them to do. Jerry is the final say on all personnel decisions. He is the spokesperson for the cowboys. The biggest fan of the Cowboys. And in the end, his decree is passed down as if he was the head coach of the Cowboys himself. His influence over the entire narrative for the Cowboys is undisputed, both in the media, and the locker room.

I doubt anyone would disagree with those comments. In fact, I’d say this has been the biggest issue during the Jones era and more so during the Garrett era. Jones didn’t trust his coaching staff enough to let them coach; Garrett didn’t trust the roster enough to let them play.

Nwaneri also talks about an unwarranted arrogance that permeates the Cowboys’ franchise:

I was constantly reminded of the privilege it was to play for the Dallas Cowboys. Posters, and signage plastered all around the facility pushed a message of prestige and inflated arrogance. And as a player who came from a small market team in the Jaguars, I could sense that arrogance a mile away. This was a narrative that was constantly shouted from the mountain tops while at Valley Ranch, not by the players, whom I got along with fine and had immense respect for, but from Jason Garrett and his staff. This was the moniker that no player could escape whether they liked it or not. It was as if we were in some alternate universe in which the Cowboys were defending Super Bowl champs. Except it was a falsehood.

The point Nwaneri’s making is the head of the beast seems to be living in an alternate universe where the Cowboys are the biggest, baddest team on the planet and players are “privileged” to wear The Star. While I’m sure Jones is well aware of the franchise’s failures over the last 25 years, he seems unwilling to own up to those failures instead pretending the Cowboys are still an elite franchise.

Summary

There’s reason to be optimistic, at least cautiously optimistic. Mike McCarthy might be the rare individual able to make it all work in JerryWorld. He certainly has the credentials and is saying and doing all the right things. The choice absolutely could have been worse.

But was Garrett’s failure to take the team farther the illness that plagued the Dallas Cowboys? Or was it a symptom of a bigger disease that has been making #CowboysNation sick for the last 25 years?