If a team starts off the season on the wrong foot and wants to reverse its fortunes, there aren’t too many options available for that front office. Can’t cut all the players on the roster, can’t draft new players, can’t even fire the GM if he happens to be the owner of the team, and certainly can’t swap out the existing fan base for a kinder, gentler one.
But you can fire the head coach.
If recent history is anything to go by, there will a couple of mid-season coaching changes this season, just as there will be coaching changes after the season. And in just his second season coaching the Cowboys, Mike McCarthy already is the favorite to be the first head coach fired this season.
On Tuesday, SportsBetting.ag released odds on which head coach will be fired first during the 2021 regular season, and McCarthy has the lowest odds at 7/1, or +700, just ahead of Vic Fangio (8/1) and Matt Nagy (9/1).
McCarthy led the Cowboys to a 6-10 finish in 2020, and the pressure is surely on to get the team to the playoffs this year. And given the state of the NFC East, comfortably getting them to the playoffs may even be a minimum ask, as fellow German Timo Riske, aka @pff_moo, recently observed:
I’m always wary of using tired old cliches like “Jerry Jones has an itchy trigger finger”, but Jones is not getting any younger, and he may not have the patience to sit through another disappointing year, especially if the Cowboys get off to yet another slow start.
Yes, we know that Jones has never fired a head coach after less than two seasons, but trying to predict what Jones will do based on past behavior is almost always a fool’s errand.
Remember how Jones had never fired a coach mid-season - until he fired Wade Phillips after Week 10 in 2010. Or remember how “not even Jimmy Johnson lasted for more than four years” in Dallas - until Jason Garrett more than doubled that in his 9.5 year-tenure as head coach in Dallas.
What McCarthy needs to do to keep his job in 2021:
Some believe McCarthy must make the playoffs to keep Jones happy, especially with the woeful state of the division. Others believe the Cowboys must win at least one playoff game. Others believe that simply winning a lowly wild-card game won’t be enough, that it must be a least a divisional round win, perhaps even a conference championship.
Expectations are always high in Dallas and the universal truth, as Brian Galliford of SBNation’s Buffalo Rumblings wrote almost 10 years ago, is that annually being on the hot seat is pretty much par for the course for a Cowboys head coach:
Last year, injuries provided a convenient excuse for a disappointing Cowboys performance, and Mike Nolan turned out to be a super-convenient scapegoat for a defensive mess that could be seen coming from a mile away, as Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News explained in detail at the end of last season:
These defensive struggles were as predictable as a poorly disguised blitz. A question on this very topic was posed to McCarthy in the spring.
On May 27, in a conference call with reporters, McCarthy was asked the following: “Does anything need to be adapted in terms of your schematic install, given the lack of practice reps, the relative lack of practice reps? Does anything need to be simplified in any capacity, or are you just installing the same volume of scheme, plays that you would be otherwise?”
“I am excited because this is probably going to be the most experienced team that I’ve coached,” [McCarthy said] “so we’ll definitely rely on that. I think if we were going to push to one side or the other, we’d definitely push on the side of the volume because of our veteran experience.”
The challenge was there to see.
The Cowboys (4-9) did not adjust.
If the Cowboys fall behind in the playoff race this season, at what point would Jones consider the McCarthy experiment over? What about you as a Cowboys fan, at what point would you start calling for a new head coach?
What does McCarthy need to deliver in his second season as the Cowboys head coach to keep his job?