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Five thoughts about Mike McCarthy and the Dallas Cowboys

OK, McCarthy is now official, so let’s take a breath and look at things.

Dallas Cowboys Introduce Head Coach Mike McCarthy Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

It’s all official, as Jerry and Stephen Jones have welcomed Mike McCarthy as the new head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. How the hiring went down is now a new chapter in the legend of Jerry, with changing accounts and clarifications of clarifications still emerging. But that is now in the rear view mirror. It’s time to face forward and start thinking about what McCarthy means and how the future of the Cowboys will be shaped.

Time to toughen up

Back when the wheels started to come off the 2019 season, it appeared that this edition of the team had a crippling trait. It was frankly soft. I made this observation during one of the Brews and the Boys podcasts I have the privilege of doing with Michael Sisemore, and he concurred. When the going got tough for the Cowboys last season, they just kinda folded. It was clear this team badly needed some steel inserted in their spine.

I think McCarthy is a great choice to do just that. He has been described as a football grunt. And it was meant as praise. There is some of that old-school toughness about him. He brought it into the game as part of his nature, and those years of coaching a team on the frozen tundra electrically heated turf in Green Bay just honed it. (The grass and ground may be soft and warm, but that doesn’t do a thing to help the temperatures of a Wisconsin winter.)

As a long-time supporter of Jason Garrett, I only admitted that his time had to end when the 2019 campaign slumped into defeat. But he always had a cerebral, almost professorial air about him. He wanted to teach and instruct his players. There was little intimidation factor, and last year saw his approach fail in dismal fashion. Although he could curse about as well as anyone, excluding Marine Rod Marinelli, you never thought of “tough” when you considered his coaching.

McCarthy gives off a much more rugged vibe. He should instill some of that in the Cowboys. It is certainly needed.

A bit of emotion is also a welcome thing

As Garrett rides off into the sunset, or whatever job he winds up in, he takes the robotic image with him. Just as you didn’t think “tough” when you saw him, you never associated the words “dynamic personality” with his appearances before the media or on the sidelines. Reportedly he was a bit more animated during practices, but the overriding image of him was cool and collected, no matter what.

In his first press conference, McCarthy showed more personality than Garrett exhibited in any whole month of a season. But does that help in coaching?

It should. NFL teams take on some of the character and aspects of the head coach. Garrett was all about calm and steady. That can be valuable, but it also can certainly be overdone. McCarthy brings some fire to things. He doesn’t appear to overdo it, but football teams can benefit from emotion. It is very intangible, of course, but that new style should pay some benefits.

Winning the bosses over

One thing that Garrett had was tremendous trust from ownership. If there was one thing that was certain to be a step backwards with any new head coach, it was that faith that the Jones family, especially Jerry, had in their head coach.

Watching the way McCarthy interacted with his new bosses forced a reconsideration. Watching the way he has rebuilt the coaching staff, with Kellen Moore looking like the only significant holdover, reinforces that. I thought it would take years for any new hire to get the kind of influence and control Garrett had, but just days into his tenure, McCarthy not only has reached what looks to be equivalency there, he may have exceeded it. There has long been heavy influence from ownership on who was hired to fill the coaching ranks in Dallas. Arguably, McCarthy has had as much freedom in filling his staff as any coach since Jimmy Johnson.

The interview for the job has been widely described as a case of McCarthy blowing the socks off of the Joneses. Based on all the evidence so far, that seems to be a bit of an understatement.

Being on the same page

Reports are emerging about a very disturbing level of dysfunction in Garrett’s staff. There was a clear and easily observable issue with special teams all season. Now we are hearing about both the offensive and defensive assistants pulling in different directions. Given what we saw happen on the field, that is completely believable.

McCarthy is bringing in a bunch of people that presumably are “his” guys. That would argue that they are more likely to be in step with one another.

Oh, and that thing above about emotion and personality? It may be more impression than factual deduction, but he seems like the kind of head coach who is not going to tolerate dissent in the ranks. All indications are that he has the power to snuff it out by whatever means necessary. Don’t expect a situation like we saw with special teams to fester throughout an entire season and cost games.

One big question

Was the “McCarthy Project” a legitimate self-analysis, education, and reinventing of the coach, or just a sophisticated PR campaign? While many of us are getting very excited by the potential of McCarthy and his apparent “dream team” of a coaching staff, we are a long way from finding out the answer. Potential can be achieved or wasted in the NFL. Dream teams become more of a nightmare far too often. There are certainly legitimate concerns that can be raised about McCarthy, including how he may have become stale and predictable before being fired from the Packers.

We will have to see how it all plays out, but one thing may be an indication that there is substance behind the sizzle. That is the retention of Moore. He is, as noted earlier, at the time this is being written the only holdover from last year’s staff that has been announced. During his effort to get a new gig, McCarthy singled out what Moore did at times with Dak Prescott and the offense. Keeping Moore is a sign that he truly is looking for innovation and fresh ideas to incorporate along with bringing in a bunch of experienced veteran assistants.

There is always the possibility that Moore is a bit of a sop to Jerry and Stephen Jones so they don’t feel McCarthy is taking too much control into his hands. After all, if he keeps the play-calling duties, which is still to be determined, he can easily control just how much innovation actually gets on the field.

But another well-discussed trait adds to the likelihood that he will really incorporate meaningful changes to his approach. That is his willingness to go for it on fourth down. It shows an acceptance of risk that will be needed to make those hoped-for changes in his own style and philosophy.

These are some of the reasons that McCarthy could well be just what Dallas needs to become a real contender. One thing is certain, and that is change had to happen. There were too many things going wrong and far too many missed opportunities last season to just keep the same head coach and hope he could come up with the answers that so clearly eluded him. We don’t know for certain that McCarthy represents the right change. But so far, everything is very encouraging.

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