How different will the Dallas Cowboys be under Mike McCarthy?

Mike McCarthy, Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)
Mike McCarthy, Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images) /

 So far, Dallas Cowboys’ new head coach Mike McCarthy has steered the team through a very successful offseason. But what does the future hold?

Over the last few years, there was a steady beat of dissatisfaction with Jason Garrett as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. So when Garrett was finally let go in January, the exultation was a palpable all around Cowboys’ Nation. Fans were, and are still, quite eager to see a new coach on the sidelines.

Now, five months after the hiring of new coach Mike McCarthy, many fans have seen a marked difference between how the team was run under Garrett, and how it seems to chugging along under McCarthy. I certainly have, in three particular ways.

1. Coaching Hires

In 2018, Garrett hired Keith O’Quinn, a coach with a relatively short resume coaching to oversee their special teams. O’Quinn had previously been a highly regarded scout with the Cowboys, before working at a variety of assistant coaching assignments on the team for the previous eight years before being named to the special teams’ position in 2018.

At the date of his hiring, O’Quinn was far from the most impressive candidate. Then, despite performing poorly that year, O’Quinn was invited back for the 2019 campaign. It was a puzzling decision at best.

In contrast, one of McCarthy’s first head coaching decisions was to hire John (Bones) Fassel, who is widely regarded as one of the best special teams coaches in the NFL. Fassel has been a special teams coach for ten years on the NFL level and even served briefly as head coach of the Los Angeles Rams during the 2016 season.

This one hiring is emblematic of McCarthy’s assistant coaching hires in general. Most are highly regarded coaches with lots of experience.

2. Defensive Tackles

Under coach Garrett and his defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, the team preferred smaller, more agile defensive tackles over the last decade. Though this occasionally bore fruit with a high sack-count, it also seemed to hurt in defending against the run.

One of the team’s earliest specific statements under McCarthy was that they would now be looking for larger defensive tackles. Indeed, in the first week of free agency, the team signed free agent tackles Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe, who outweigh the team’s starting defensive tackles from 2019 (Maliek Collins and Antwaun Woods) by 62 pounds. Both are also Pro Bowl players and cost America’s Team a significantly larger financial investment than they’ve put into the position in years.

3. Player Over System

Coach Garrett, though he was usually a good judge of talent, often praised as helping the Cowboys acquire a talented roster, preferred to look first to positional needs in the draft, as opposed to choosing the best player available in each round.

This resulted in the selection of some excellent players, like All-Pro offensive tackle Zack Martin in 2014, but also produced duds like released defensive end Taco Charlton who was chosen in the first round of 2018, when there were higher-rated players on the board.

Another one of McCarthy’s early pronouncements was that he preferred to find the best players he could regardless of position or scheme. He said if they found a very talented player that didn’t fit his scheme, he would rather change his plans than miss out on the player.

This proved to be true a few weeks ago when the Cowboys surprised the football world by selecting CeeDee Lamb of the Oklahoma Sooners, widely regarded as the most talented wide receiver in this year’s draft, with their first-round pick, instead of choosing a player in a position deemed a higher need. The Cowboys then proceeded to select highly-rated players in every round, and were roundly praised as having one the best drafts in the NFL.

I think most Cowboys’ watchers have been impressed with these moves, and see them as an improvement over the prior coaching regime. Does this mean the team will be better in 2020? Not necessarily.

But the moves are encouraging. They all look likely to improve the team. But they also seem to highlight a smart way of doing things.

How brilliant McCarthy will look once the season begins remains to be seen. Will his offensive and defensive strategies be an improvement over Garrett’s? Will he be better at clock-management and in-game decision making? Will he get more out of his players?

All of these queries point to perceived deficits in Garrett’s coaching arsenal. But will McCarthy be better at these areas? We don’t know that yet. We can’t.  It’s May, months before the start of the season. Encouraging signs are all we’ve got. But for now, I’ll take optimism.

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What do you think of McCarthy’s moves so far? Do they make you more optimistic for the (hopefully) coming season? Leave us your thoughts in the comments below.