When Mike McCarthy got fired by the Green Bay Packers, all the way back on December 2, 2018, the shocking decision was accompanied by the sentiment that he wouldn’t be out of coaching for long. Sure enough, McCarthy was at the top of every team’s coaching shortlist once the regular season came to a close.
But the Super Bowl-winning head coach wasn’t going to settle for any job, and it quickly became clear he was only interested in the New York Jets job. McCarthy wasn’t at all interested in the Browns, Cardinals, Bengals, Broncos, Dolphins, or Buccaneers jobs, and it made sense. Cleveland, Arizona, and Cincinnati were all known for having dysfunctional front offices, while Denver, Miami, and Tampa Bay lacked clarity at the quarterback position. While New York wasn’t exactly a shimmering beacon of stability, they had promise with Sam Darnold.
But then the dysfunction reared its head for McCarthy when the Jets revealed that their head coaching offer was contingent upon the front office having control over McCarthy’s staff. That was enough for him to pull his name out of consideration and take a year off.
Of course, it wasn’t actually a year off from football, as McCarthy spent the 2019 season watching game film, visiting the Pro Football Focus headquarters, and diving into advanced analytics to reinvent himself as a coach. That likely made him a better coach as well, but it didn’t change the fact that he could’ve had many of the head coaching jobs in 2019. Yet McCarthy was careful with his decision.
It’s not hard to see why McCarthy chose Dallas over the other options. The Cowboys were considered to be a premier coaching job due to their highly talented roster, headlined by Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott. But a closer evaluation of the fit reveals that the Cowboys were exactly what McCarthy was looking for: a better situation than what he left in Green Bay.
It’s hard to top what McCarthy had in Green Bay, though. He won a Super Bowl there and got to work with two all-time-great quarterbacks in Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, as well as a few exceptional players at other positions. He even had a street named after him to honor his sustained success with the Packers.
But there were shortcomings that played a major role in the team’s overall decline near the end, which in turn led to McCarthy’s ousting. An unsupportive front office with a frustrating free agency strategy and a mercurial star quarterback whose relationship with his head coach was strained from the very beginning put McCarthy in a tough spot. That he won 125 games and a Super Bowl under those conditions is impressive in retrospect.
In Dallas, those issues are nonexistent. Sure, Stephen Jones has gained a reputation for being a penny-pincher, but the Jones family is clearly willing to make big moves to upgrade their roster. Even under Jason Garrett, who seemed to prefer going with his own homegrown players, the Cowboys made moves to get Robert Quinn, Greg Hardy, Kyle Orton as a backup, and of course Amari Cooper, into the fold.
Just look at the way these two teams operated in the draft. Wide receiver was hardly a need for the Cowboys, and depending on who you asked, it wasn’t a need at all; that didn’t stop them from taking CeeDee Lamb after he fell into their laps. The Packers, on the other hand, arguably needed a receiver more than anything else. Not only did they not select a receiver at all, but they traded up to select their quarterback of the future in Jordan Love.
In Dallas, McCarthy has a front office that supports him and is willing to take bold moves to upgrade the roster. As a result, McCarthy has possibly the best receiver group he’s ever coached in his career. He also has a franchise quarterback known for his leadership and humility, and who just had a career year that included throwing for more yards than Rodgers has ever had in his whole career. These are luxuries McCarthy has never had as a head coach.
On the Cowboys’ end, McCarthy pretty much fit the bill for what they were looking for. In his comments about college head coaches coming to the NFL, it was clear that Jerry Jones was looking for someone with a proven track record of winning in the NFL. With a Lombardi trophy literally sitting on his bookshelf, McCarthy was that man.
For as much as the Joneses loved Jason Garrett, and rightfully so, he spent too much time learning on the job. Garrett showed promise as an interim head coach, but that didn’t guarantee him success as a full-time head coach; making that transition while also overseeing a quasi-rebuild didn’t help either.
McCarthy, on the other hand, oversaw not one, but two quick rebuilds with the Packers. He took over a team that went 4-12 the year before and went 8-8 his first year before going 13-3 the very next year. A changing of the guard at quarterback resulted in just one losing season before the Packers rattled off eight straight playoff appearances, five division titles, two NFC championship game berths, and a championship.
McCarthy did in Green Bay what everyone had hoped Garrett would do in Dallas. Even Bill Belichick called him “one of the best coaches I’ve ever gone up against.” And with Garrett moving on after the overwhelmingly disappointing 2019 season, the Cowboys didn’t want to wait through another coach’s growing pains. McCarthy is ready to win now, just like the Cowboys.
In the Cowboys, McCarthy found everything he was looking for in his next head coaching gig, and likewise America’s Team checked off every box on their list when they landed him. Only time will tell if the partnership yields success, but these two really are a perfect fit for each other.