The Cowboys finally divorced themselves from their nine-year head coach Jason Garrett even if he took a while to move out of the house. The driving force behind Jerry Jones keeping Garrett was the belief that only teams with veteran staffs can reach the Super Bowl and that changing coaches resets the journey to reach it.
The driving force in selecting a new head coach was that Jones is 77 years old and wants his best chance to win now, not down the road. He believed that securing a veteran head coach with winning credentials would give the Cowboys the best chance to win more in 2020, not some college head coach or first-time head coach that might take a year or more to pan out. Unfortunately, this gives McCarthy a tremendous amount of pressure to win now.
McCarthy signed a five-year deal and the move was applauded by at least most factions. The ex-Green Bay Packer head coach was there from 2006 to 2018 and was an offensive coordinator in San Francisco (2005) and New Orleans (2000-2004). His time in Green Bay resulted in nine playoff appearances and they won Super Bowl XLV at Dallas in 2010. He amassed a 135-85-2 record there and was the 2007 Coach of the Year.
McCarthy finished just 7-9 in 2017 and then 6-9-1 in 2018 before being fired. As an ex-offensive coordinator, he called the plays. He gave up that role to OC Tom Clements in 2015 only to take it back by the end of the season. The Packers stumbled in 2017 largely due to Aaron Rodgers breaking his collar bone. 2018 had Rodgers playing hurt but overall, the Packers offense had lost almost all punch and McCarthy was released on December 2 that year.
In 2019, he interviewed with the Browns but declined their offer. The Jets and Cardinals were also interested but opted for other options for their head coach. McCarthy announced that he would sit out one season and return to coaching in 2020. He spent his time away studying the NFL including the use of analytics, the role of the quarterback and how to assemble a coaching staff that best addresses the current NFL.
It is also notable that McCarthy coached in Green Bay for 13 seasons and yet only two starting quarterbacks in that time – Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. When the team was without either, it struggled so there is speculation that his good record for many years was a product of his quarterback as much as what he did. There was also a question about the relationship between McCarthy and Rodgers, give that McCarthy was the offensive coordinator in San Francisco where he wanted to play, but they drafted Alex Smith with the No. 1 and allowed Rodgers to slide down to the Packers near the end of the first round.
The Cowboys level of talent gave high expectations that were not remotely fulfilled last season. The consensus reasoning was that Garrett had gone stale and was unable to put the pieces together well enough.
This is one of the more rare events. McCarthy is an offensive coach and a play-caller for his last 18 years, reaching back through his days as a coordinator and then as a head coach. But – he opted to retain second-year coordinator Kellen Moore. And he says that Moore will call the plays (at least until he takes that away from him. Happened before). That McCarthy would want to keep Moore says a lot about the direction of the Cowboys offense.
In his first seasons running the offense and calling the plays, Moore produced an offense that ranked No. 2 in passing yards (296.9 per game) and No. 5 in passing touchdowns (30). They also ranked No. 5 in rushing yards (134.5 per game) and No. 7 in rushing touchdowns (18). The Cowboy’s problems last year were not on the offense. All combined, their 431.5 total yards per game was No. 1 in the NFL. They ranked No. 6 in total scoring (27.1 points per game).
It is very unlikely that McCarthy has no input on the offense but it is already working at a high level. McCarthy stems from the West Coast coaching tree that included Marty Schottenheimer, Jim Haslett, and Mike Nolan. The Packers under McCarthy always ranked well in passing with a healthy Favre or Rodgers but the only running backs of any note under him were Eddie Lacy and Ryan Grant. McCarthy inherited Ahman Green to start but the back was already on his downturn by then. McCarthy has never led an offense with a powerback like Ezekiel Elliott.
In McCarthy’s 13 seasons in Green Bak, there were only four instances of a back rushing more than 200 times. So Elliott as a central focus will be new to McCarthy and there is no concern that Elliott’s usage will change.
The Cowboys offense is already one of the best in the NFL. The hope that brought in McCarthy was that he could do a better job putting all the pieces together better than Garrett could. The offense already sports the (as of last year) No. 3 quarterback, the No. 3 running back, and the No. 10 wide receiver in the league. The Cowboys defense was their shortcoming last year. That is where the improvement needs to be made by new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan who comes in preaching takeaways and execution.
The Cowboys have to sign Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper in the offseason to keep the band together. Michael Gallup already had a breakout last season when he logged 66 catches for 1,107 yards and six touchdowns. The addition of Tony Pollard gives the Cowboys another option at running back in the unlikely event they ever need one. The only position with potential change is at tight end with Jason Witten no lock to return. Blake Jarwin (31-365-3) flashed the occasional promising game but isn’t likely to evolve into an elite tight end. McCarthy has never used the position much in his previous offenses anyway.
Last season was the first for Kellen Moore as a coach and the results were very encouraging, enough so that the offensive-minded McCarthy retained him and intends to let him call the plays. There’s no reason to change expectations for the Cowboys offense this year so long as both Prescott and Cooper remain on the team.