The hot seat just gets hotter for Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy. Or at least that is the perception. He is already seen as a failure and the offseason moves (or lack thereof) are seen as a cunning plan to set the team up for Sean Payton to come in and replace him, or Dan Quinn to be promoted. Next year is seen as the most likely target, but odds are being given for McCarthy getting the old ax during this season as well.
I t is all balderdash. (That is not the word that first came to mind, but this is a family friendly site.) McCarthy has coached two years with the Cowboys. The first was clearly a disappointment with quarterback Dak Prescott out for much of the season. McCarthy also was working through the COVID precautions that really curtailed many normal activities. Last year, he led the team to a 12-5 record and the NFC East crown. It was an obvious improvement. So why are so many expecting things to go south for Dallas, leading McCarthy to be shown the door?
We discussed this overall idea on the latest episode of Ryled Up on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Make sure to subscribe to our network so you don’t miss any of our shows! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.
Despite having the third seed in the playoffs, the Cowboys left us all with a bitter taste after a decidedly lackluster loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the Wild Card round. McCarthy is assigned a lot of blame for that, as his team looked mentally unprepared. That is certainly an argument to consider, but it is also a fairly major assumption that this was all or even largely on McCarthy. For whatever reasons, the team seemed to be losing confidence late last season. The last six games of the year were odd. They had a really bad showing on Thanksgiving against the Los Vegas Raiders, defeated a mediocre New Orleans Saints squad, beat up on a couple of their NFC East rivals, then were rather exposed by the Arizona Cardinals in the last game after they had a playoff spot sewn up. Some were getting an uneasy feeling despite the blowout nature of the next to last game against the soon to be renamed Washington Football Team. Others likely read too much into that trouncing of a team they had beaten by just a touchdown two weeks prior. It is arguable that Dallas capitalized on an easy schedule rather than having things under control.
After that quick playoff exit, the idea that this is a make or break season for McCarthy has taken hold. I confess to having that thought at times, especially as the rumors swirled about Payton being all lined up to become the next head coach. After further reflection, it seems more likely that the team would really have to crater for Jerry and Stephen Jones to decide to boot McCarthy after this year, much less make a change midseason. McCarthy still has three years left on his contract. It is instructive to remember how many years Jason Garrett got before the Cowboys moved on from him. And they did not fire him. They just let his contract run out, then let him twist in the wind a bit before announcing they would be hiring a new head coach.
This could be the same pattern with McCarthy, especially if he is able to get this team to the playoffs as the NFC East’s best team. Despite the confidence of a couple of other fanbases, Dallas still has the best quarterback in the division with some good players around him. The offense has some issues to resolve, particularly at wide receiver and along the offensive line, but there are some strong players on defense, including rising star Micah Parsons and Jayron Kearse. Overall the defense looks to be in good shape.
Further complicating things is the control the Joneses, especially Stephen, have over the roster. While McCarthy is believed to have a lot of input in the draft, there is no evidence he has any real input on free agency. So far, the Cowboys have done nearly nothing there despite having plenty of cap space. While it is not unimaginable for the ownership to set McCarthy up to be terminated, it seems counterproductive to deliberately hamper him and thus make winning harder. Despite the perception of just caring about the bottom line, winning is still important to the owner. It all seems like shooting themselves in the foot by damaging the brand.
There is more of a sense of incompetence in the front office than any devious plan to dump McCarthy. While expressions of confidence in him are always going to be met with a healthy skepticism given how often the words and actions of the owners have not aligned, the history of the team leans to giving him at least a couple of more years to shape this team. He does seem to be working to establish the culture he wants. Dan Quinn is also a big part of that, but it really looks like he is more ally than rival within the building.
It all will come down to the win-loss record. No matter what is in the heads of the owners, the players are certainly in this to win it. Prescott is the clear leader of this team, and he is a dynamic one. He is aided by Ezekiel Elliott, Parsons, and more. While it was a long time ago, we once saw the players largely take things into their own hands and win a championship despite some real ineptitude in the coaching staff. The model exists.
This should be another playoff year for Dallas. Perceptions will be driven by how they get there and what they do with the opportunity. Clearly, however, our view from the outside will have little to do with what the owners think. They made a big investment in McCarthy, and just like with draft picks, they should want to give him every chance to pay off and validate their decision. It seems most likely that McCarthy has at least a couple of more years before things would reach a breaking point. If he gets more success out of his team, that may not come.