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Mike McCarthy knows he messed up, but does he have what it takes to fix the Cowboys?

The Cowboys defensive coaching decisions were disastrous, but does the head coach have what it takes to right the ship?

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Mike McCarthy is the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. That either makes you happy, makes you sad, or makes you feel somewhere in between. For a lot of people, there is this built-in certitude that he’s inevitably going to be an upgrade of former Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett. After nearly a decade of coming up short, just the removal of Garrett alone would seem like a big improvement for a large group of fans.

Of course, the grass is not always greener on the other side as McCarthy’s first year with the Cowboys was a disaster. But in his defense, so much that went wrong were things completely out of his control. The multitude of injuries, including losing Dak Prescott for most of the season, provided a huge obstacle that is going to be a problem for any head coach.

While the health factor can be filed away as bad luck, the team also created it’s own bad luck by the choices they made in attempt to completely revamp the defense. We all know the end result. It is remembered simply by the magic number 473. That is the amount of points the Cowboys defense allowed last season, which unfortunately has become the new record in this team’s 61-year history. That is certainly not the upgrade this new staff had in mind when they decided to shake things. up.

We also know that a lot of problems the team had defensively were attributed to players just not having a clue what they were supposed to be doing. We were confused throughout the season as to what the root cause was between coaching and on-field ability, but it became more and more apparent that the blame fell on the shoulders of the coaching staff. Players voiced their frustrations, first within the locker room, then publicly.

After the team started the season 2-4 and surrendered 34+ points for the fifth-straight game, frustration started setting in and those frustrations made its way to reporters. NFL Network’s Jane Slater shared with us a few of these disparaging comments. First, some scuttlebutt from the coaches:

“There have sorta been these insinuations by the coaching staff that perhaps these players were improvising a bit.”

And then the players themselves had some choice words.

“The coaching staff is totally unprepared.”

“They don’t teach.”

“They don’t have any sense of adjusting on the fly.”

“They just aren’t good at their jobs.”

Jane would go on to say, “this thing feels very broken.” Here’s the video...

It was very unsettling to learn about that because we’ve seen the team fall on hard times before, but never has there been so much discontent in the locker room to where the coaching staff and players were pointing fingers at each other.

Fast forward to now where some of those defensive coaches have been fired as Mike Nolan is out and Dan Quinn is in. Trying to implement so much change during a year where COVID restrictions hindered the team’s ability to transfer these new learnings was just a terrible idea. Nolan gets the blame, but how McCarthy allowed this atrocity to happen in the first place is not good.

Slater revisited this issue in last week’s press conference and specifically asked McCarthy about how players felt they weren’t graded out as much or they didn’t feel they were being taught correctly. Needless to say, McCarthy was not having any of it to the point where his exchange with Slater became awkward.

Thankfully, McCarthy has at least acknowledged that they tried to change too much and that things went south. Not that we needed his words to confirm what we saw, it’s good to see it recognized and even better to see a new teacher show up in the classroom.

Hopefully, some new defensive coaches will implement the winning antidote and get this group playing better. However, if these internal issues still persist, it could be a sign that better days are not coming under McCarthy’s direction. Another thing that was also alarming from the presser is that while McCarthy did accept blame, he made sure to group the Jones’ with him for the defensive failures.

“When Jerry and Stephen and I sat down, this was all part of the direction that this football team needed to go.”

The alarming part isn’t that McCarthy is publicly spreading out the blame, but more so the notion that Jerry and Stephen would even be involved in things of this nature.

McCarthy is a splashy name with notch on his belt in the form of a Super Bowl trophy that he tends to remind people of whenever his coaching ability comes in question. Having a championship - that’s his appeal. But he’s also a coach that the Joneses can finesse their way into the decision making of this football team.

And that is where things can go bad. Jerry has shown that he’s only as good as the people around him and isn’t the wizard general manager he thinks he is. And if McCarthy, who had taken a year off to reflect after being fired from what has since become a really good football team, doesn’t have the ability to lead this ship, don’t be surprised if things go sideways and this Cowboys team becomes stuck once again.