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The McCarthy Chronicles: Cowboys have been rebuilt in the image of their coach

It’s proving to be a successful formula for Dallas.

Washington Commanders v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

It wasn’t pretty, but the Cowboys walked out of SoFi Stadium with a convincing win over the Rams despite being underdogs. It marked their fourth straight win and their second win over a reigning conference champion. Now, with a road trip to Philadelphia next week, the Cowboys have an opportunity to propel themselves to the forefront of the NFC.

This is what Jerry Jones envisioned when he first hired Mike McCarthy, although he likely didn’t imagine it would happen with Cooper Rush under center. Still, McCarthy was brought in because he had a winning pedigree: 125 regular season wins, a 10-8 record in the playoffs, four conference championship game appearances, and a Super Bowl ring. He was billed as the coach who was supposed to come in and elevate a talented team that consistently underperformed with the previous coaching staff.

It didn’t exactly happen that way, though. It turns out that McCarthy had a little home renovating to do when he arrived in Dallas. The culture in the locker room had grown stale, and McCarthy had a very different idea of what a winning culture looked like. It matched up more with his new quarterback, Dak Prescott, than it did with several other players on the roster at the time. Like Prescott, McCarthy was all about winning football games; whatever it took to do that, he was going to do it. Anything that doesn’t contribute to that goal doesn’t matter.

In retrospect, it shouldn’t be a surprise that some in the locker room didn’t immediately gel with McCarthy’s plan. It didn’t help that the player who most closely aligned with him - in addition to being the heart of the team - had his season ended just five games into McCarthy’s first year. Either way, that first year revealed that some players had to go, and McCarthy needed more like-minded players in the building.

And so the Cowboys roster very quickly underwent a facelift of sorts. It wasn’t labeled a rebuild, because the Cowboys were very much trying to contend immediately - and their 12-5 record the next year proved they were right - but Dallas did swap out a lot of players that once made up the supposedly talented team McCarthy had inherited.

Consider this: on the day that McCarthy was introduced as the team’s next head coach, the Cowboys had 80 players on their roster; 53 players from the season, and 27 more between practice squad and injured reserve players. Today, just 18 of them remain in Dallas.

Those 18 players include Tyron Smith, who hasn’t played yet this season; Michael Gallup, who just came back from a torn ACL two weeks ago; four players in Tony Pollard, Connor McGovern, Donovan Wilson, and Luke Gifford who had just completed their rookie seasons; and, of course, Cooper Rush, whom the team cut a few months later after signing Andy Dalton. They eventually brought him back, obviously, but he wasn’t necessarily a holdover like some other players.

Over the course of McCarthy’s tenure in Dallas, the team has brought in 60 new players to make up their current roster; the same roster that’s won four straight games with a backup quarterback and won each of those games as an underdog. That’s significant: it puts into perspective how much this team has changed under the new coach, and it’s become apparent in their play as well.

It’s already been noted how drastic the difference is between McCarthy’s record with backup quarterbacks and Jason Garrett’s record with backup quarterbacks. But this team has truly become McCarthy’s team. It’s often said that the best way to tell if the culture is sticking is when the players start to sound like their head coach. So take this quote from Ezekiel Elliott, one of those 18 holdovers from the Garrett era, on people disrespecting Mike McCarthy.

“We’re the Cowboys. People always have something to say about us. F—- ‘em. All we care about is what’s in this locker room, what’s in this building.”

While McCarthy has never said those exact words in front of microphones before, it certainly carries the same tone. This is now a team that’s focused inward on themselves and what they believe - what they know - they can achieve. They’re not concerning themselves with what the national talking points are, just like McCarthy doesn’t concern himself with betting lines.

For four straight weeks now, the Cowboys have proven that they are, in fact, nobody’s underdogs. That’s a direct reflection of the man leading them out of the locker room. This is Mike McCarthy’s team, through and through, and the results have been great.

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