© Matthew Emmons | 2017 Oct 8
The Dallas Cowboys hired Mike McCarthy on Monday, per multiple reports, less than 12 hours after officially announcing they were parting ways with Jason Garrett following his nine-plus seasons as head coach.
Their addition of McCarthy, the former longtime Green Bay Packers head coach who earned six division titles and won Super Bowl XLV in 12-plus years at the controls, comes a mere three days after NFC East rival Washington was the first of five NFL teams — three of them in the same division — to fill its head-coaching vacancy, hiring Ron Rivera.
McCarthy, 56, trails only Hall of Famer Curly Lambeau among all-time Packers coaches in wins with 125, and his 18 postseason victories are the most in the charter franchise’s history. But he was fired in December of 2018 following Green Bay’s second consecutive losing season ending short of the playoffs, an abrupt conclusion to one of the more successful tenures in modern NFL history.
However, the disintegrating relationship between McCarthy and QB Aaron Rodgers came to a head, with the Packers opting for a fresh start with the hire of 40-year-old first-time head coach Matt LaFleur, who led them to 12 wins and a division title this season.
Ironically, many expected the Cowboys to also seek a younger offensive mind to pair with impending free agent Dak Prescott after moving on from Garrett. Instead, Jerry and Stephen Jones chose McCarthy, who spent his year away from the game rebuilding his image with an increased focus on analytics and modern trends that seemed to be missing from an increasingly stale Packers offense near the end of his tenure.
McCarthy’s fit in Dallas will be fascinating given that he goes from the lone franchise without an owner to the only one whose owner doubles as general manager, enjoying having as high a profile as anyone in the organization. McCarthy also has built a reputation for being a no-nonsense coach but joins a locker room rife with known knuckleheads, not necessarily accountabilty and maturity.
But after Garrett’s Cowboys this season was among the more underachieving teams in recent memory, finishing 8-8 and squandering their postseason destiny in late December despite a plus-113 point differential — the sixth highest in the NFL — it was clear a long overdue change was coming. And McCarthy, in addition to obviously bringing a lot more playoff experience and a track record of developing Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre, owned Garrett’s Cowboys over the past decade, winning six of seven — including twice in the playoffs — despite the perception of many that Dallas was more talented than Green Bay outside of the QB position.
Of course, with the exception of the Rodgers-McCarthy relationship, it was the head coach-defensive coordinator Packers pairing that arguably invited the most scrutiny. And it was Dallas’ defense that took a step back this season under Rod Marinelli. Will McCarthy’s reported replacement choice, old Niners pal and Saints LB coach Mike Nolan, be more successful than Dom Capers was in Green Bay? Like Capers, Nolan has no shortage of experience at every NFL level. And after helping 30-year-old journeyman Demario Davis become a first-time first-team All Pro this season in New Orleans, Nolan will inherit a defense that appears to have more juice than a number of the Packers groups overseen by McCarthy and Capers.
We’d also expect current Cowboys DBs coach/passing game coordinator Kris Richard to be a strong candidate to stick around on Nolan’s staff.
Then there’s the whole changing coaching landscape in the NFC East, where three of the past eight NFC title-winning coaches now reside. With Washington quickly hiring Rivera — a former Panthers colleague of Giants GM Dave Gettleman — and the Cowboys stunning Monday by hiring McCarthy on the heels of his Big Blue interview, the pressure is escalating awfully fast now for Gettleman and the Mara family to nail their hire.
It’ll be some time before we know whether the Cowboys got it right this time with McCarthy, but he brings the vast NFL experience Jerry Jones reportedly insisted on, and there’s little question he can coach quarterbacks. Whether he’ll prove to be more adaptable in his second go-around, and how well two Alpha Dogs in Jones and McCarthy can work together, will provide answers to the most important question: Can Jones’ Cowboys bring the Lombardi back to Dallas for the first time in more than two and a half decades?