The Dallas Cowboys got some wonderful news on Thursday when defensive coordinator Dan Quinn made it official that he was returning in 2023. While this is a huge win for the organization as a whole, is it possible that Quinn’s return could ultimately be bad news for head coach Mike McCarthy?
Naturally, getting Quinn back has plenty of positives for McCarthy. After the disastrous one-year tenure of Mike Nolan as defensive coordinator in 2020, Quinn arrived and immediately put the Cowboys’ defense on the map. Getting Micah Parsons in the 2021 Draft certainly didn’t hurt either, but Quinn’s been instrumental in his development and that of other young studs.
With Quinn easily being the best defensive coordinator Dallas has had in the last 10 years or more, there’s no debating his value to the team. He will certainly give McCarthy, now entering what feels like a make-or-break season in 2023, as good a chance for success as he could ask for.
But what if things don’t go well next season? The Cowboys have a lot of work to do this spring and summer to reload a roster with numerous free agents and some big question marks. What if they don’t find the right mix, or perhaps suffer another critical injury at quarterback or somewhere else that handicaps them?
The reason to think about this relative to Dan Quinn’s presence is Jerry Jones’ history with head coaches. Jones has the distinction of being involved in every head-coaching change in franchise history, going all the way to back to when he fired Tom Landry to make room for Jimmy Johnson.
Seven of those eight times that Jerry has found a new head coach, that move came during the offseason. Six of those times, the new guy came from outside of the organization. Only when Dave Campo replaced Chan Gailey in 2000 did Jones go to someone already on staff.
But the coaching change we should focus on was in 2010 when Wade Phillips was replaced midseason by Jason Garrett. It’s the only time that Jerry has fired a coach in the middle of the year, and it’s a situation that presents a relevant comparison to what Mike McCarthy is now up against in 2023.
While Garrett had never been a head coach himself, he was clearly Jerry’s handpicked successor for whenever Phillips’ time was over. When the Cowboys utterly imploded during that 2010 season, Jones went ahead and got a head start on the next era.
Of course, Dan Quinn isn’t some homegrown product of the Cowboys. He rose to fame with Seattle as a defensive coordinator and had a mostly successful head coaching run in Atlanta. He’s not one of “Jerry’s guys.”
While it’s from experience rather than perceived potential, that doesn’t change the reality that Quinn presents a viable option to replace McCarthy in the near future. In fact, thanks especially to his Falcons days, he would make even more sense to take over midseason in an interim capacity than Garrett dd in 2010.
That’s why this news is a double-edged sword for McCarthy. While Quinn’s prowess as a defensive coordinator could be part of what helps McCarthy finally get the Cowboys over the hump, it could be also a contributing factor in a potential coaching change if he falters.
There were already whispers of McCarthy being on the hot seat in 2022. Most of that was fueled by speculation of Jerry’s interest in Sean Payton, but the question of whether or not McCarthy has truly improved this team from the Jason Garrett days is still out there. Another second-round playoff exit only threw more fuel on the fire.
Again, the hope is that Dan Quinn’s return will be part of what helps the Cowboys take the next step and secure Mike McCarthy’s job for the foreseeable future. But like we saw in 2010, if things go in the wrong direction, Quinn’s experience and marquee value could motivate the front office to make a change faster than they normally would.