Mike McCarthy is not a good football coach.
Yes, we know that he has a Super Bowl win on his resume, but so does Barry Switzer. Having a season where your team finishes above all others takes a collective effort from a good coaching staff, an abundance of talent, and a little good fortune in the health department at the right time. That is why having one great season doesn't grant coaches immunity for future seasons. This is evident from what we've witnessed in the coaching carousel in recent years. For example, three coaches who made it to the Super Bowl over the last five years have already been fired - Doug Pederson, Ron Rivera, and Dan Quinn.
What makes a great coach is sustainability. That's why you'll hear no arguments that Bill Belichick, John Harbaugh, Sean Payton, Mike Tomlin, and Pete Carroll are highly regarded as the best coaches in the league. These coaches have won Super Bowls just like the one-hit wonders have, but their squads are also competitive year in and year out.
Jerry Jones was hoping McCarthy falls into this group because of the all of his past success. After all, he did win the Super Bowl with the Green Bay Packers in 2010 with a 10-6 team that got hot at the right time. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to repeat this level of success as that was his one and only Super Bowl appearance. In fact, his Packers team only advanced past the divisional round twice over his final eight seasons as head coach. Dallas fans should be all too familiar with those two instances as each one of them consisted of a heart-breaking, playoff-ending moment for the Cowboys.
McCarthy's lack of recent success ended in two-straight losing seasons, capped off with being fired in-season in 2018 after Green Bay started with a 4-7-1 record. McCarthy's departure turned out to be a breath of fresh air for the Packers organization as they've since put together two-straight 13-3 seasons under new head coach Matt LaFleur.
Clearly, the Packers have benefited more from the McCarthy switch than the Cowboys have, but it's still early. That's why it was a little surprising that the oddsmakers are calling out McCarthy as their top choice to be the first NFL coach fired. This may seem harsh, but it's more reasonable than some might think.
Cowboys fans are holding our breaths that this McCarthy experiment works as nobody wants to endure another coaching change, wasting more prime years of the team's top talent. But what we wish for and what we get aren't always the same.
It's easy to just give McCarthy a mulligan after an injury filled/COVID restricted season. However, when you lay everthing on the table, there's a lot more that attributed to the Cowboys seasonal failures and many of them fall square on the shoulders of the team's new head coach.
The most notable is the decision to hire defensive coordinator Mike Nolan and then try to implement a complex scheme amidst a season where face to face coaching wasn't readily available. How in the world could they think this was a good idea? It created so much confusion and misuse of talent that the Cowboys defense allowed a franchise-worst 473 points, which leads me to another big problem and that's McCarthy's promise to fit his scheme to talent.
Cowboys fans were so happy to hear this news, but that happiness didn't translate into the 2020 season when we witnessed all of the team's top defensive talent asked to things they weren't equipped to do. It became an uphill battle for players like DeMarcus Lawrence, and made other players like Jaylon Smith look absolutely atrocious. This segues into another red flag from McCarthy - players spoke out about how terrible things were.
For all the criticism that former head coach Jason Garrett received, you have to applaud how well he kept things together inside the locker room. Many times the team faced adversity, but never did you see players voice their aggravation to the media. The same is not true for McCarthy's squad. When player concerns were being ignored by the coaching staff after bumbling performances, frustrations grew and they took to the media. And to make matters worse, McCarthy and his good old boy transparency resulted in sharing similar displeasures with the media, expressing that players were feeling sorry for themselves and that a somber attitude had plagued the locker room. Well, that's not ideal.
Exacerbating the problem was that McCarthy's player personnel decisions set his team up for failure and it took him too long to figure it out. Despite being questioned by the Dallas media about moving Zack Martin to right tackle to mitigate the struggles of undrafted free agent Terence Steele, the head coach mocked the notion and called it "fantasy football nonsense."
Eventually, McCarthy did make the switch, but it wasn't until Week 11. And when he finally made the move, Martin flourished.
These types of player personnel miscues happened a lot last season. The overcommitment to defensive tackle Dontari Poe was absurd. It took McCarthy half the season before realizing that was a big mistake as Poe was not only removed as the starter, but outright released. Why was Donovan Wilson only playing special teams in the early part of the season? Once he started at safety, the defense started taking the ball away as Wilson finished as the team's leader in takeaways (he also finished third on the team in sacks). And don't even get me started on why Ben DiNucci got the start in a crucial divisional game against the Philadelphia Eagles. It's as if McCarthy is more determined to roll with "his guys" versus other players who are actually better performers.
McCarthy tried to sell himself as a risktaker, and to his credit he did make some bold fourth-down moves even though the results weren't always favorable. However, some of his aggresive moments were just flat out ridiculous. The relentlessness to push through fake punts were embarrassing as opposing teams saw it coming from a mile away. Taking calculated risks is smart, but if they aren't well thought out, then those risks become foolish.
As Cowboys fans, we should all be rooting for McCarthy to be successful. And there are a lot of players and individual coaches who will have a say in how far this team goes, so even if you're not a believer in McCarthy, there is still hope. Unfortunately, nothing about what we've seen so far makes me feel good about him adding anything to this team that gives them an edge. And if he continues to faulter, don't be shocked if the continually aging Jerry Jones once again hits the head coach reset button.