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Mike Nolan being dismissed after just one year further tarnishes Mike McCarthy’s first year in Dallas

No more honeymoon phase for Mike McCarthy.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Baltimore Ravens Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Generally speaking most people who hold a head coaching position in the NFL are given more than one year to prove themselves within a franchise. The last time that a coach was dismissed after just one year with a club was Steve Wilks with the Arizona Cardinals in 2019.

It is for this reason, among others, that it never made sense for the Dallas Cowboys to say bon voyage to Mike McCarthy. The Cowboys made a big show about their head coach and the Super Bowl ring that he brought to town a year ago, and all of that combined with the global pandemic that arrived just two months after his introduction, along with injuries to some of the team’s most important players, have justified McCarthy’s place at the helm of the team through, at the very least, 2021.

Not as much can be said about Mike Nolan though (or Jim Tomsula for that matter) as he was asked not to return to the Cowboys after just one year of service. Unlike the offensive side of the ball, the Cowboys defense did not lose three of its best players for a majority of the season. They had no excuse for being one of the worst defenses in franchise history and as a result a decision was made and Nolan and Tomsula are both out.

Life doesn’t stop in the NFL which means that soon enough new coaches will occupy both the offices of defensive coordinator and defensive line coach. What is troubling, though, is that these were selections that Mike McCarthy made a year ago, and to focus on Mike Nolan specifically, one that McCarthy hand-picked.

This is certainly troubling with regards to the future.

Mike McCarthy should bear all responsibility for the disaster that was Mike Nolan

It is often said that the NFL is a league about who you know, an idea that some would say is partly why Jason Garrett got an interview with the Los Angeles Chargers to potentially be their head coach after he coordinated one of the worst offenses in the league in the New York Giants.

As bad as Garrett’s G-Men were at scoring points, they showed no signs of trouble against Nolan’s Cowboys in a must-win game last week at MetLife Stadium. Consider that the Giants entered their game against the Cowboys having scored no more than three points in each of first halves from their previous four games. New York had 20 points on the scoreboard at halftime against the Cowboys.

This was, of course, just the latest example of Mike Nolan’s defense in full display. It is actually difficult to properly contextualize the lows that this group reached in 2020, but the great Bob Sturm found a way to do so recently at The Athletic.

If you need to know why this is where the Cowboys need to focus all of their efforts, consider the following:

No Dallas Cowboys team in 61 seasons has allowed even close to the 473 points this defense conceded. Not even close.

No Dallas team has ever allowed 34 passing touchdowns until this season.

No Dallas defense has ever allowed a passer rating of 100 for an entire year until this season.

Only one Dallas defense — the 2013 group — allowed more yards per game than this defense.

Only one Dallas defense — the 1960 expansion team — allowed more points per game.

Only two Dallas defenses — 1960 and 2000 — allowed more rushing yards per game.

And only one Dallas defense — that same 1960 expansion team that went winless — allowed more yards per carry. That was only a fractional difference of the width from a thumb to a forefinger.

None of this is breaking news to you. I trust, we all trust, that you, like all of us, are painfully aware of how porous the Dallas Cowboys were on defense this season. Mike Nolan is obviously to blame for that as evidenced by his firing.

Here’s the thing, though. Mike McCarthy is actually the one to blame. Consider the timeline of events from January 6th, 2020:

  • 8:53am CT: It is reported by Jay Glazer that the Dallas Cowboys are set to hire Mike McCarthy as their head coach
  • 9:33am CT: NFL Network reports that Mike Nolan is the “name to watch” as McCarthy’s defensive coordinator in Dallas
  • 2:14pm CT: It is corroborated by a different NFL Network report that Mike Nolan does indeed seem to be headed to join McCarthy’s Cowboys
  • 9:00pm CT: Jay Glazer reports that the Cowboys did not place any restrictions on McCarthy as far as his staff was going to be concerned and that Mike Nolan would in fact join him

It is apparent how pre-planned it was for Mike McCarthy to have Mike Nolan join him with the Cowboys.

What is unbelievable really is that we are talking about Mike McCarthy here, the very same Mike McCarthy who spent an entire year away from the game in order to study the NFL and plan for a true and proper return.

How did he spend an entire year - the self-titled McCarthy Project - and come to the conclusion that Mike Nolan was the one whom he wanted to entrust his defense in? Nolan’s most recent stint as a defensive coordinator at the point of his Cowboys hire was with the Atlanta Falcons from 2012 through 2014. In his final season with the Falcons, the group was literally the worst in the NFL from a points allowed standpoint on defense.

Mike McCarthy had an entire year away in a barn where the supposed effort was bettering and advancing his understanding of the league as a whole and he came away with the conclusion that this was the best possible idea.

The point of this conversation isn’t to say that Mike McCarthy should have been shown the door with Mike Nolan and Jim Tomsula. It’s way too early to make a legitimate decision on whether or not he is the right man to lead the Cowboys.

But the Mike Nolan fiasco should serve as a cautionary tale. Mike McCarthy seemingly overlooked recent history in the hiring his friend, Jay Glazer deemed it “returning the favor” in his report on the night of McCarthy’s hiring.

That is concerning. Hopefully it is over.