A lot has changed for the Dallas Cowboys over the course of the last year and a half. For the first time in over a decade the franchise hired someone who wasn’t already working for the team in some capacity to be their head coach in Mike McCarthy. Going down this particular path is a deviation from the one that led the organization to Jason Garrett, oftentimes when teams switch head coaches they go with an opposite-like approach from their previous decision in hopes that they finally find success.
It is difficult to properly assess McCarthy’s first season with the Cowboys given that he lost his franchise quarterback, top tackles, other variations of tackles, top linebacker, and many other things along the way, on top of navigating the most unique season in NFL history amid the pandemic.
This isn’t to say that McCarthy is offered a free pass for 2020 considering that there were some questionable decisions made all throughout the ride (like hiring Mike Nolan as defensive coordinator as one example).
Lately on the NFC East Mixtape (a podcast where Bleeding Green Nation’s Brandon Lee Gowton and I discuss the latest happenings in the NFC East) we have been constructing an All-NFC East team. On this week’s episode we filled out the special teams unit, where Tony Pollard made an appearance, and discussed who should be the group’s head coach and general manager.
It is difficult to say that Mike McCarthy isn’t the best head coach in the NFC East
We have discussed before where Mike McCarthy and Dak Prescott rank as a duo (against other head coaches and starting quarterbacks) within the NFC East, but this exercise is obviously focused just on the head coach. That being said, it is difficult to understand how someone could legitimately argue against McCarthy within the NFC East.
None of this is to say that McCarthy stands particularly tall at the moment against all head coaches in the league, but when you consider who the competition is and what they did last season along with their career resumés, there is no way that you can logically determine McCarthy isn’t the top coach in the division.
NFC East head coaches entering 2021 (2020 results)
- Ron Rivera, Washington Football Team (7-9, lost in Wildcard round)
- Joe Judge, New York Giants (6-10)
- Mike McCarthy, Dallas Cowboys (6-10)
- Nick Sirianni, Philadelphia Eagles (new head coach)
Those who reach only for the lowest-hanging fruit will point out that Ron Rivera’s team won the division and therefore he should be acknowledged as the best. That’s silly. (Rivera went through personal challenges in 2020 that far outweigh the importance of football, and the fact that he powered through them speaks to the testament of his character which should be applauded, but this is strictly a conversation about football-related results)
Another argument points out that Rivera’s team swept McCarthy’s team last season which is true, but difficult to properly quantify.
In the first game between Dallas and Washington the latter had a player take a cheap shot at Andy Dalton, knocking him out of the game. The Cowboys weren’t going to win that game from that point even with Dalton, but beyond the quarterback change that was also the first game in which Dallas operated without Zack Martin on top of Tyron Smith and La’el Collins. Injuries are part of the game and that is true all the way around, but it should be noted.
The second contest between the division rivals is also difficult to evaluate given the extraordinarily difficult circumstances the Cowboys organization was facing following the death of Markus Paul. Again, football is a game and should be separated from matters much more important to it, but it was clearly a heavy week for the team for understandable reasons.
Eagles fans overwhelmingly voted against Mike McCarthy as the best coach in the division
In spite of all football-related challenges that both the Cowboys and Football Team faced last season, the latter only won ONE more game than Dallas. One!
The truth is that both of these teams were extremely bad last season, but the idea that Rivera did some sort of job that McCarthy did not is hard to accept. Many people cite that Rivera’s group “won the division”, but they did so only because of the poor quality of the NFC East as a whole. What’s more is that Ron Rivera has been the head coach of the last two teams who have won their division with a sub-.500 record. Two of the four division titles that he has overseen to this point in his career have largely been a product of the other three teams around his being worse than his own.
Since so much of what happened in 2020 between Dallas and Washington has unique circumstances, who McCarthy and Rivera were when they took over their respective teams matters to a degree (obviously they were both fired so it can’t be the whole point of measurement). Rivera took the Carolina Panthers to the playoffs four times (one of which with a below-.500 record as noted) while McCarthy had an inordinate amount of success with the Green Bay Packers over a decade and change, including winning a Super Bowl.
Again, the point here is not to say that McCarthy is great, a current top five coach, or anything like that. He is simply the best of the field that the NFC East has to offer. This philosophy holds true in a lot of places and is the exact same logic that I used in noting that Howie Roseman is the best General Manager of the group. He is simply the best of the worst.
Such is life in the NFC East.
Who deserves to be the All-NFC East head coach?
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