Latest Cowboys rumors indicate Jerry Jones forced Mike Zimmer on Mike McCarthy

Jerry Jones might have saved the Cowboys with this one.
Dallas Cowboys Introduce Head Coach Mike McCarthy
Dallas Cowboys Introduce Head Coach Mike McCarthy / Tom Pennington/GettyImages

It felt like a foregone conclusion that the 2023 season would be Dan Quinn's last as the Dallas Cowboys' defensive coordinator. Quinn was shockingly snubbed by the Seahawks, Panthers and Titans in this hiring cycle. If not for the Commanders, Quinn might still be the Cowboys' defensive leader.

With Quinn headed to Washington, Jerry Jones moved quickly to hire Mike Zimmer as Quinn's replacement. It seemed like a perfect fit given that Zimmer previously spent 13 years on Dallas' coaching staff, including seven as a defensive coordinator from 2000-2006.

Additionally, Zimmer and Mike McCarthy saw plenty of each other when they coached the Vikings and Packers, respectively. Zimmer and McCarthy went head-to-head in the NFC North for five seasons, so they have a mutual respect for each other. Zimmer even publicly defended McCarthy after McCarthy was fired as Packers head coach.

With all of that in mind, Zimmer had to be McCarthy's first choice to replace Quinn, right? According to Calvin Watkins of the Dallas Morning News (subscription required), McCarthy actually wanted longtime assistant Joe Whitt Jr. to preside over the defense.

Jerry Jones saved Cowboys from risky Mike McCarthy idea after Dan Quinn's departure

Whitt Jr. and McCarthy worked together in Green Bay for 11 years before Whitt Jr. came over to Dallas in 2021. Whitt served as the Cowboys' secondary/defensive passing game coordinator for the last three seasons before he left to be Quinn's defensive coordinator in Washington.

Given his years under Quinn, promoting Whitt would have allowed for a potentially seamless transition for the defense. However, Whitt would have been a first-time DC. Per Watkins, Jones wanted someone with more experience and suggested Zimmer.

"It was difficult for McCarthy because of his loyalty to Whitt," Watkins writes. "It was a similar situation for McCarthy in 2023 when he let go of Rob Davis, whom he brought from the private sector to become an assistant head coach in 2020. Davis had a tight relationship with McCarthy from nearly 10 years of working together in Green Bay."

It's easy to understand why Whitt was McCarthy's first choice. Given Whitt's experience and the success of Dallas' secondary under his tutelage, many Cowboys fans would have signed off on Whitt replacing Quinn. Whitt's secondary recorded the most interceptions in the NFL from 2021-23 and last season the Cowboys' pass defense ranked fifth in passing yards allowed per game.

Whitt was the most logical successor. Folks even believed Jerry Jones would gloss over external candidates like Zimmer and make the obvious hire. To the Cowboys owner's credit, though, he banged the table for Zimmer and made it happen, albeit after a prolonged negotiation.

Time will tell if Jones was right to pick Zimmer over Whitt, but the early signs indicate Zimmer will be an upgrade over Quinn because of his demand for discipline. Jones' obsession with wanting experienced coaches might have saved the Cowboys from McCarthy's risky Whitt idea.

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