The caustic claps were but a faint echo last week as Mike McCarthy, a football guy, clearly uncomfortable in a suit, sat at a table and faced the media as the next head coach of the Dallas Cowboys.
The clouds seemed to part over the Star in Frisco as the former Packers coach found himself sandwiched in between Jerry Jones and his son, Stephen. The glitz of the Dallas Cowboys, the most valuable franchise in the world, that also hadn’t sniffed a championship since the ’90s, was on display.
McCarthy lacked the dry formality of Jason Garrett, the former coach, who led one of the most talented Dallas Cowboys teams in recent years to an 8-8 record. But that long, painful breakup was finally over. Enter Jerry’s new shiny toy, who had a ring, but wasn’t quite sure what to do with his hands.
“I’m having a moment here,” McCarthy cracked, grin wide, a homely and human breath of fresh air. “I’m having a moment here because I don’t know where the hell to put my hands. I never sat at a table for a press conference, so excuse me.”
Garrett had 9.5 seasons as the Cowboys head coach. He was Jerry’s hand-picked Tom Landry. It never quite worked out. The Garrett Era was marked by .500 records, and the occasional glimpse of hope that only turned to cruel heartbreak.
Perhaps the most vivid was as Dez Bryant high pointed a 4th and long miracle heave from Tony Romo, made a few football moves towards the end zone, fumbled the ball at the one yard line, and caught it again at the goalline. That happened in front of McCarthy in the NFC Divisional round at Lambeau Field. McCarthy threw down a red flag, erasing an iconic moment that has since been tossed in the overflowing bin of what could have been.
Now, McCarthy admitted at his introductory press conference last week that Dez did in fact catch it. Well, sort of.
“It was a great catch, I can say now – but it wasn’t then, technically,” McCarthy said, after a few quips about how the NFL Competition Committee has since changed the rule, in part due to the efforts of Stephen Jones, a member of the committee.
McCarthy went on to lead the Packers to the NFC Championship that year. Three years earlier, he led the Packers to a Super Bowl in the house that Jerry built. That is the past. So are the following years, where McCarthy’s relationship with Aaron Rodgers–the golden lamb of Lambeau Field, the man who replaced Brett Favre and is on pace to break most of Favre’s records–reportedly soured.
The quarterback stayed. The coach left. McCarthy finished his time with the Packers with a 125-77 record and one ring before being let go in 2019.
McCarthy, documented by NBC Sports Peter King, reportedly spent this football season in a barn, watching film and playing pretend coach on Sundays with other coaches that had been relieved of their duties.
McCarthy said it was to stay current with NFL trends to be prepared once he got another gig. The story was either a PR stunt to help his coaching viability, or a glimpse at his desire to do what he says he was put on this earth to do, coach football. Regardless, he now has the keys to America’s Team. What he does with them is yet to be determined. He’s not playing fantasy football anymore.
“The commitment will be unwavering,” McCarthy assured fans at the press conference. “I won my first Super Bowl here in North Texas at AT&T Stadium. I am anxious and excited to get to work on the next Super Bowl for the Dallas Cowboys.”
Of the coaches available this offseason, McCarthy doesn’t have the unbridled sizzle of a college coach, yet to be baptized by the NFL. He doesn’t have the fresh optimism of a Matt Rhule, or a Lincoln Riley, names that a large part of the Cowboys fanbase clamored for after the disappointing losses piled up until the playoff window was shut in their face by the Eagles.
But with McCarthy’s blemishes also come experience, and perhaps his best attribute, a chock full rolodex of NFL relationships. He’s assembled an impressive staff in about a week.
Jerry said McCarthy’s experience in the NFL made him the clear option.
“You’ve got a choice,” Jones told media members at the Ford Center at the Star in Frisco last week. “You can get in that foxhole with somebody that hasn’t been shot at. Or you can get in there with somebody that’s been shot at and hit and is still going. Now that’s the one I want to be in there with.”
And with a roster seemingly engineered to win now, assuming he retains players like quarterback Dak Prescott and wide receiver Amari Cooper with new contracts, he has the potential to be the best hire of the NFC East bunch that saw three teams welcome new coaches in January. The Cowboys now have their ninth coach in franchise history. McCarthy is looking to revive the championship tradition that hall of fame coaches Tom Landry, and most recently, Jimmy Johnson created.
Jerry said No. 9 checks a lot of boxes. He hopes this one does what Chan Gailey, Dave Campo, Bill Parcells, Wade Phillips, and Jason Garrett couldn’t: complete the job.
“One of our primary goals in selecting the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys was to focus on a proven team builder and winner, someone who has a proven track record of winning, not only consistently but at the highest level,” Jones said in the presser. “In Mike McCarthy, we found a coach who not only checked those boxes, but also has the experience of taking an NFL team to the biggest stage, a Super Bowl, and completing the job.”
Will McCarthy-ism lead the Dallas Cowboys to a long-awaited Super Bowl? Guess we’ll see.