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The Cowboys are going all in on analytics in 2023

Mike McCarthy is working smarter, not harder.

Dallas Cowboys v Tennessee Titans Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

When Mike McCarthy was officially hired by the Dallas Cowboys as their ninth head coach, it capped the end of a fairly vigorous public relations campaign for the Super Bowl winning head coach. After being fired by the Packers during the 2018 season, McCarthy ultimately opted to sit out the 2019 season after surveying the various coaching vacancies around the league.

McCarthy spent that season in his garage, working with several other out-of-work coaches (that included current Cowboys linebacker coach Scott McCurley) to study league trends in a hope of reinventing the way McCarthy did things. All of this became highly publicized once the season ended and McCarthy got ready to interview for jobs again, including the fact that the coach had visited the Pro Football Focus headquarters during his year off and reportedly fallen in love with analytics.

McCarthy had apparently become such a believer in the use of analytics in football that he was incorporating it into his pitch to hiring teams:

There’s a flow chart for his proposed 14-person Football Technology Department, including a six-person video unit and an eight-person analytics team. The Chief of Football Technology tops the department, which will run both video and analytics. The top analytics lieutenants will be a Coordinator of Database Management, Coordinator of Football Analytics and Coordinator of Mathematical Innovation. Below them: Football Technology Engineer and two Football Technology Analysts. And finally, a Football Technology Intern.

But when the Cowboys hired McCarthy, the 14-person team didn’t immediately materialize, and he made several comments in his introductory press conference that led some to believe that he wasn’t actually serious about his newfound love for analytics.

However, it appears that things are changing rather drastically heading into a pivotal 2023 season. McCarthy is coming off consecutive 12-win seasons, but has just one playoff win to his name in Dallas. In an attempt to change things, McCarthy has seemingly taken more control over the team than he’s had at any point since arriving. This has been mostly noticed in the way that McCarthy took over play-calling from the departed Kellen Moore.

That isn’t all, though, as the Cowboys have made moves this month that have signaled a full-throated commitment to an expansive analytics department. The moves began when Tom Robinson, the Cowboys’ longtime Director of Football Research, left the team prior to the draft. His role was effectively filled by John Park, under the title of Director of Strategic Football Operations. A couple of weeks later, the Cowboys added Sarah Mallepalle from the Ravens as a Strategic Football Analyst. Not long after, they posted another job opening for an additional Strategic Football Analyst role.

That’s three brand new positions within the organization that are exclusively focused on football analytics, albeit with one position still needing to be filled. Both Park and Mallepalle are rising stars in the football analytics community, and each come from some of the most analytically inclined football organizations in the league.

This is in addition to the coaches on McCarthy’s staff who already have been serving in analytics-adjacent roles. These three coaches all saw shifts in responsibilities this offseason as well. Ryan Feder’s title is now listed as Game Management/Offensive Assistant, and McCarthy has noted that he’s had an expanded role in assisting with head coaching duties as McCarthy takes on the play-calling duties. Justin Rudd has now shifted to the offense, while still carrying the same title of Video/Analytics, while Eric Simonelli shifted to defense from special teams.

All of these moves are significant largely for the rare clarity it offers on the Cowboys. For a long time, the organization has been quiet on their position on football analytics. It was known that Robinson oversaw a small analytics department, but it was always unclear just how much of that extended beyond things like scouting or strength & conditioning purposes; it was also well known that Jason Garrett, who became the head coach in Robinson’s first year with the team, had a general disdain for applying analytics into football decision making.

McCarthy has always talked a big game about analytics, at least as long as he’s been with the Cowboys, even if the on-field results didn’t always match up with his words. But bringing in the likes of Park and Mallepalle make it clear as day that the football analytics department will now have an all-encompassing approach, something likely to be embraced and fully utilized by McCarthy and his staff.

Will this embrace of analytics help the Cowboys get over the hump in 2023? Only time will tell, but it’s encouraging to see the team at least trying to shake things up.

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