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The final verdict on Mike McCarthy won’t come until the playoffs

If you think that McCarthy’s job with the Cowboys is safe at this point, you could be in for a surprise.

Dallas Cowboys v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Courtney Culbreath/Getty Images

When your team is 10-4 and has already clinched a playoff spot in Week 15, most NFL coaches would feel pretty secure in their jobs. But Mike McCarthy’s seat is still plenty heated, and should remain that way until we see how the Dallas Cowboys perform in the 2022 postseason.

This week there’s been a strong push toward defending McCarthy after Dallas’ ugly loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. And yes, we’ve seen good things from this team this year. The 4-1 run with Cooper Rush, their current record, and contender status in the NFC; it’s all lovely and appreciated.

But even if Dallas wins out gets to 13-4, somehow catches the Eagles in the division, and winds up as the NFC’s top seed, is that really enough? Haven’t we been here before?

Jason Garrett had 12- and 13-win seasons. He won three division titles. He won games with backup quarterbacks. He even won a few games in the postseason, which McCarthy still needs to do in Dallas.

So far, the one thing that McCarthy has on Garrett in Dallas is the back-to-back playoff appearances. After clinching a berth last week, the Cowboys are now guaranteed to have their first consecutive trips to the playoffs since the 2006 and 2007 seasons. Even in those seasons, Bill Parcells was the head coach in 2006 and Wade Phillips had taken over in 2007.

You have to go all the way back to Chan Gailey in 1998-1999 for the last time that the same head coach had Dallas in the playoffs in back-to-back years.

So yes, that’s awesome. But if the Cowboys go lay another egg in January like they did last year against the 49ers, is this trivia fact really enough to keep McCarthy safe?

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Dallas Cowboys
Elliott’s suspension and drama with the league office in 2017 likely cost the Cowboys a playoff spot.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Do you really think Jason Garrett wouldn’t have had back-to-back playoff years with a little better luck? Take Tony Romo’s 2015 injury or Ezekiel Elliott’s 2017 suspension off the table and at least one of those teams probably makes the tournament.

This question has lingered since the 2020 offseason; is Mike McCarthy really an upgrade? This isn’t about defending Jason Garrett, but more about wanting to see this team truly improve and take a step forward. Garrett going after 2019 was fine, but the issue is with the guy they replaced him with.

So far, McCarthy has maintained the status quo. The Cowboys are still a shaky NFC contender. What happened in Jacksonville would be more forgivable if they hadn’t scared us against the Colts or Texans beforehand. This team is trending the wrong way right now and the playoffs are closing in fast.

If you think Jerry Jones isn’t capable of dumping McCarthy after back-to-back playoff appearances, you clearly don’t remember your history. You think the guy who broke up with Jimmy Johnson or quickly cut Wade Phillips loose has a bridge too far?

While not a Jerry move, do you remember what happened to Marty Schottenheimer in San Diego?

Granted, personal issues were involved in some of those scenarios. But nothing is more personal for Jones these days than seeing the Cowboys get back to the mountaintop while he’s still alive to see it and take credit. If McCarthy doesn’t inspire confidence after this year, Jerry’s professed love for him could quickly become the “dreaded vote of confidence” that he’s given Garrett and Phillips before him.

Back in 2020, the Cowboys hired a guy who only got to one Super Bowl with Aaron Rodgers as his quarterback for a decade. Then he made the dubious decision to hire a buddy in Mike Nolan as defensive coordinator.

Honestly, if McCarthy hadn’t lucked into Dan Quinn and Micah Parsons a year ago, would he even still be here?

I’m not trying to be right about Mike McCarthy. I hope with every blue and silver fiber in my being that I’m wrong.

But right now, I’m just very worried that I’m not.

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