A Super Bowl-winning coach.
Back-to-back 12-win seasons for the first time in 23 years.
Sitting with a 4-2 record.
When you take a step back, the track record of Mike McCarthy looks pretty good. He has a Lombardi Trophy on his résumé and the Dallas Cowboys are winning games. What more can you ask for?
Answer: Another Lombardi Trophy
Winning football games is great and the Cowboys do win. Despite their Super Bowl drought, they are still top 10 in winning percentage over the last 20 years. The team has had plenty of regular-season success, but for some reason can’t seem to make any noise in the postseason. McCarthy was supposed to be the answer to correct that. This is his fourth season as the Cowboys head coach, and despite having some degree of success, there still seems to be a lot of uncertainty about his future in Dallas. If the Cowboys once again fail to get past the divisional round, should the McCarthy experiment be over?
Results speak volumes, but there are also some other factors that could end up sending McCarthy over the ledge. We have identified five pieces of evidence that suggest he is not a very good coach which ultimately could lead to his departure in 2024.
REASON 1: THE GREEN BAY IMPROVEMENT
McCarthy left Green Bay on a downswing as he finished his tenure with two straight losing seasons after previously having eight straight winning seasons, including a Super Bowl win in 2010. There was a big debate about whether or not the Packers' failures were due to McCarthy or possibly something in the front office that wasn’t giving the coach adequate soldiers to compete. But once McCarthy left Green Bay, the Packers proceeded to have three straight 13-win seasons. Such a positive change for the better presents the idea that maybe McCarthy might have actually been the problem in Green Bay.
REASON 2: THE FIRST-YEAR CATASTROPHE
While Green Bay had success without McCarthy, the Cowboys immediately derailed under McCarthy’s first year as head coach. Some are quick to asterisk that season because of the season-ending injury to Dak Prescott and it being a COVID year, but there were many other things that didn’t go well for the Cowboys that season. McCarthy and his new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan tried to install a new defense without access to spring workouts or a full training camp. Yes, this really happened. New coaches tried to onboard players to a new defense via Zoom. Rather than using his players to their strengths, he fit them into his scheme and had them running around like chickens with their heads cut off. It was insane. McCarthy’s defense ended up surrendering the most points in the franchise’s 60-year history. The locker room was in disarray, star players were airing out grievances in the media, and Nolan ultimately was fired. As for McCarthy, he got a pass.
REASON 3: LACKING PREPARATION
The Cowboys’ defense looked completely outmatched in 2020 and it wasn’t because they didn’t have good players. It was disastrous coaching. The hiring of Dan Quinn remedied all of that in a hurry as it was a night-and-day contrast between Nolan and Quinn’s defenses. While the team plays much better now, the Cowboys as a whole are still making a lot of mistakes as they have become the most penalty-prone team in the league.
- 2021 = 141 penalties (most in the NFL)
- 2022 = 113 penalties (3rd-most in the NFL)
- 2023 = 46 penalties (most in the NFL)
Since 2021, the Cowboys have committed a total of 300 penalties, the most in the league.
On Monday night, they looked extremely unorganized. They couldn’t get the right amount of players on defense (sometimes 12, sometimes 10). They had to burn timeouts three different times because they weren’t ready. And they even called off using pre-snap motion to prevent even more pre-snap penalties. It was not pleasant to watch.
Penalties either happen because players aren’t good enough (so they grab) or exhibit a lack of discipline and get sloppy. The Cowboys have good players and the penalties are happening all across the board so all things are pointing to a general tolerance of sloppiness and very little accountability. Rather than expressing frustration, McCarthy has a ho-hum, blame the officials, “it’ll fix itself” attitude which explains why this keeps happening over and over. This means the Cowboys are forced to fight through this built-in disadvantage because the leadership is not good enough to correct it.
REASON 4: INEPT PLAY-CALLING
The Cowboys offense was better with Kellen Moore. We know this because Moore and a healthy Dak Prescott wreaked havoc across the league, moving the ball and scoring points. It wasn’t always perfect, but a great majority of the time it was fantastic and we all enjoyed it immensely. However, suddenly all of that was forgotten when the offense under-performed last season and was turning the ball over too much. An offense that had deficiencies at receiver depth, and a quarterback who has a career résumé of taking care of the ball, suddenly wasn’t performing up to snuff.
The Cowboys wisely fixed their receiving group by trading for Brandin Cooks and they have a healthier version of Michael Gallup and a more improved Jalen Tolbert. But they unwisely replaced their young points-scoring coordinator in favor of an ultra-conservative, downfield adverse, “we play to our defense” style of offense led by McCarthy.
As a result, the explosive plays are gone. The drives are there sometimes, but they can’t finish in the red zone (Brandon Aubrey leads the league in field goals attempted under 30 yards). They are averaging just five yards per play which is their lowest output in 19 years. In a year where the weapons have improved and their quarterback is fully healthy, the offense somehow managed to take a huge step back.
McCarthy was once a good offensive coordinator. That will never not be true. But to believe that he’s evolved and can outmatch the current defensive coordinators in the league might be more wishful thinking than anything else.
REASON 5: IN-GAME DECISIONS
Resetting the defense and giving up the most points in franchise history was bad. Being the most penalized team in the league is also bad. And taking over the play-calling only to have the worst points per play efficiency in almost two decades is, well, it’s really bad. McCarthy has demonstrated all of those things. But there’s more. We’ve also experienced many instances where his in-game coaching decisions are just downright terrible. Granted, some of these miscues are brushed aside because they didn’t end up having a negative impact, but that doesn’t change the fact that he made a bad coaching decision. There are many examples of this during McCarthy’s stay with Dallas and we have offered up a handful of receipts...
McCarthy Receipt #1: Stubbornness to not challenge— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) October 20, 2023
Scenario: Week 17 finale with playoffs at stake
Mistake: Would've kept NYG out of FG range
Severity: Moot. Wouldn't have made playoffs anyway, but could've been costly. pic.twitter.com/mxY92p5qa4
McCarthy Receipt #2: Stubbornness to not challenge (again)— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) October 20, 2023
Scenario: Key divisional game against PHI
Mistake: Would've given DAL first down instead of turnover on downs
Severity: High pic.twitter.com/hw5NgryvbX
The decision to challenge usually comes from upstairs, but McCarthy seems to have his own system at times. Either he has some incompetent assistants hanging him out to dry or he’s going rogue and just stubbornly trusting his gut. Neither is good. We sure wish he would’ve had that same stubbornness to throw the challenge flag back in 2014 when he was coaching the Packers.
McCarthy Receipt #3: Poor clock management— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) October 20, 2023
Scenario: Tie score, late in the game
Mistake: Could've gotten a shorter FG
Severity: Moot. Zuerlein made it anyway. pic.twitter.com/atqXKvv3a0
McCarthy Receipt #4: Poor clock management (again)— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) October 20, 2023
Scenario: Tie game, late in the first half
Mistake: Would've given DAL a shot at a touchdown
Severity: Moot. The Cowboys ended up winning anyway. pic.twitter.com/mi44VOLuWf
There are several other examples where McCarthy doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing when it comes to clock management and it’s squandered opportunities for them to get points.
McCarthy Receipt #5: Gets too cute on special teams— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) October 20, 2023
Scenario: Multiple failed fake attempts, even twice in one game
Mistake: Doesn't read the room, opponents were expecting it
Severity: Medium. Led to short field/points for their opponents. pic.twitter.com/sxqe90Z0GV
McCarthy Receipt #6: Gets too cute on special teams (again)— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) October 20, 2023
Scenario: Trailed late in a playoff game
Mistake: Did some WTF fake-out after a successful fake punt
Severity: High. The Cowboys got a delay of game penalty that stalled the drive three plays later. pic.twitter.com/dYSHFbmF75
You probably have your own list of atrocities from McCarthy as it feels like these types of things happen all the time. At some point, you have to ask yourself, are McCarthy's in-game decisions a net positive for this team or is it a detriment?
It’s rather evident that McCarthy is not doing a lot of things right as a coach. You might be able to make a case against one thing or another, but this collection of coaching gaffes indicates he might not be the coach he once was. The Cowboys hired McCarthy hoping he’d bring some of that past glory to Dallas, but it’s not looking so good and this could end up being the last season we see McCarthy coaching the Cowboys.