American Football

The McCarthy Chronicles: Cowboys head coach betting on himself in 2023


Chicago Bears v Dallas Cowboys
Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Mike McCarthy is finally doing it his way, and it will be the crucial year in his Cowboys’ tenure.

“Fine, I’ll do it myself.” We’ll never know for sure if the iconic words of Thanos were on Mike McCarthy’s mind, or if the Cowboys head coach even knows who Thanos is, when he made the decision to take over calling the plays on offense from Kellen Moore, but the sentiment is the same.

McCarthy has undeniably accomplished a lot in his short time in Dallas. He just led the franchise to consecutive 12-win seasons for the first time since Barry Switzer’s first two years on the job (1994-1995). The Cowboys reached the postseason in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2006-2007, and McCarthy himself became the first Cowboys coach to do so since Chan Gailey in the late 90’s. Unlike Gailey, though, McCarthy remained employed afterwards. He also just notched his first playoff victory with Dallas, ultimately ending Tom Brady’s illustrious career in a blowout win on the road.

There is plenty to feel good about so far, but McCarthy came to Dallas for more than that. He wants to become the first head coach to win a Super Bowl with two different teams and, in doing so, prove that he wasn’t just some schmuck who was lucky enough to be carried by Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay.

For as much as McCarthy has accomplished in these last two years, both have ended at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers. In particular, both of those playoff losses saw the Cowboys offense thwarted at every turn, with an inability to move the ball or score points when necessary. The dynamic between Kellen Moore and Dak Prescott has produced countless eye-popping results over the last four years, but Moore seemed completely incapable of figuring out the 49ers defense even with a year to sit on his first playoff loss to the team.

So McCarthy made a change, and Moore is now with the Chargers. Gone, too, are quarterbacks coach Doug Nussmeier, assistant defensive line coach Leon Lett, and offensive quality control coach Kyle Valero, all of whom were the only remaining coaches from Jason Garrett’s final staff in Dallas. Moore was easily the most influential one of that bunch, but it hammers home the overall point: this is, without a doubt, McCarthy’s team now.

It’ll be his offense, too, as the head coach will go back to calling plays as he did with the Packers. It makes sense, as the coach built his career off of his ability to coordinate great offenses and won a Super Bowl with that setup. Not only has McCarthy experienced all kinds of success as a play-calling head coach, but he spent the 2019 season – his “off year” from football – grinding tape and working to reinvent his long lasting schemes. Now, he’ll finally get the chance to implement those changes, and he’ll be doing so after spending three years watching Moore and (likely) making note of his former coordinator’s shortcomings.

Unlike McCarthy’s first year in Dallas, defense is not an issue. Dan Quinn has turned down overtures from teams with head coach vacancies each of the last two years and opted to stay with the Cowboys, where he’s built one of the most elite units in the league. Special teams coordinator John Fassel has also done a solid job, rejuvenating Brett Maher’s career and adding an explosive return specialist in KaVontae Turpin.

Realistically, offense hasn’t been a real issue, either. Teams like the Jets and Broncos would kill to field an offense as productive as the Cowboys have had these last two years. But defense and special teams aren’t what caused the Cowboys to lose 23-17 in the playoffs a year ago and 19-12 this year. Both times it was the offense that faltered, and Moore in particular struggled to exploit a 49ers defense that, just a week later, gave up 31 points to the Eagles.

McCarthy has endured a lot of criticism through the years, and most of it has been undeserved. But McCarthy’s decision to take control of the Cowboys offense opens him up to more critique than ever before. He’s now personally tasked himself with fixing the things that ailed this offense, elevating Prescott’s play a year after he led the league in interceptions, and ultimately taking the Cowboys past the Divisional Round of the playoffs for the first time in three decades.

If McCarthy is able to pull this off, he will have every round of ammunition he’s ever wanted. To add even more responsibility to his plate and finally succeed in Dallas where so many others have failed would grant him unprecedented bragging rights. But if he continues to slam into the same ceiling that so many Cowboys coaches have also run into, the anti-McCarthy sentiment will reach a fever pitch, and even Jerry Jones may not be able to ignore it.

McCarthy is betting on himself in a massive way for 2023, and for good reason. McCarthy knows what it’s like to win a Super Bowl this century; Quinn is the only other figure in the building who can say that. So McCarthy is going to finally do things his way in every sense of the word. It’s a risky gambit, but the head coach stands to gain everything if he can deliver.

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