Why the Cowboys hired Mike McCarthy: Lessons from Packers could help restore Super Bowl standard in Dallas

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones hired Mike McCarthy as the ninth head coach in franchise history on Jan. 7, a move that followed the end of a 10-year run by Jason Garrett.  

Why did Jones go behind enemy lines? After all, McCarthy is a Pittsburgh native who spent 13 years as the coach of the Green Bay Packers. 

McCarthy’s rocky relationship with Aaron Rodgers in his final seasons with the Packers overshadowed an otherwise solid run. McCarthy can bring some of that success to a franchise that has not been to the Super Bowl in 25 years.  

Mike McCarthy’s Packers record

McCarthy ranks fifth among active coaches with a .618 career winning percentage. He led the Packers to a victory in Super Bowl XLV in 2010.  

He is one of nine active coaches who have won a Super Bowl. That list includes Bill Belichick, Andy Reid, Sean Payton, Mike Tomlin, John Harbaugh, Doug Pederson, Pete Carroll and Jon Gruden. 

McCarthy is tied with Harbaugh with 10 career playoff victories. Belichick (31), Reid (15) and Carroll (11) are the only coaches with more.  

A lot of that playoff success is tied to coaching Brett Favre and Rodgers in Green Bay, but McCarthy is hoping to have the same effect on Dak Prescott in Dallas.  

Playoff success compared to Dallas coaches  

Dallas’ first three coaches in franchise history – Tom Landry, Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer – combined for five Super Bowl championships and eight Super Bowl appearances.  

The next five coaches – Chan Gailey, Dave Campo, Bill Parcells, Wade Phillips and Jason Garrett – have combined for nine playoff appearances since 1998. The Cowboys are 3-9 in the postseason in that stretch and have not advanced past the divisional round.  

McCarthy led the Packers to nine playoff appearances, and Green Bay won at least one playoff game in six of those nine seasons. The Packers made the NFC championship game four times under McCarthy.  

It’s worth knowing that McCarthy and Rodgers tormented Dallas in that stretch. The Packers had a 7-3 record against the Cowboys under McCarthy, and that included memorable victories in the divisional playoffs in 2014 and 2016.  

What will Dallas’ offense look like?  

Don’t be surprised if McCarthy strives for a more balanced offense with the Cowboys. He often talked about the need to “establish the run” with Green Bay – even though the Packers only ranked in the top 10 in rushing once in those 13 seasons.  

That outlook could change given Dallas’ strong offensive line and Ezekiel Elliott, a two-time NFL rushing champion who finished fourth with 1,357 rushing yards in 2019.  

Dallas retained offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, and Joe Phibin – who was Green Bay’s offensive coordinator in 2011 when the team led the league with 35 points per game – is the offensive line coach. A mix of those offensive ideas could lead to a big season for Dak Prescott.  

How will Dak Prescott benefit?  

The Packers ranked in the top 10 in passing offense 11 times in 13 seasons under McCarthy.  

Prescott hit career highs in passing yards (4,902) and TDs (30) last season, and Dallas has an excellent group of receivers in Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and tight end Blake Jarwin. First-round pick CeeDee Lamb will add to that mix.  

McCarthy’s relationship with Prescott will be overanalyzed given the fallout with Rodgers, but McCarthy helped revive Favre’s career when he arrived in Green Bay in 2006. Favre’s passer rating jumped to 95.7 in 2007.  

Prescott had his highest passer rating as a rookie in a season in which he had his fewest attempts. Don’t be surprised if McCarthy follows that model. Prescott’s numbers might go down, but that could lead to the win total going up.   

Where will McCarthy need to improve?  

Green Bay ranked in the top 10 in both scoring defense and total defense twice in 13 years under McCarthy. It’s not a coincidence that the 2010 team that won the Super Bowl fit that description.  

Dallas has finished in the top 10 in total defense the last three seasons, and veteran defensive coordinator Mike Nolan will be responsible for keeping it that way.  

How long will Jerry Jones wait?  

Jones is 77 years old, and he gave Garrett every opportunity to succeed in Dallas. McCarthy was a re-tread hire, but Jones made it clear what those expectations are.  

“One of our primary goals in selecting the next coach of the Dallas Cowboys was to focus on improving, team builder and winner,” Jones said at McCarthy’s introductory press conference on Jan. 8. “Someone who’s got a proven track record of winning, not only consistently but at the highest level. 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 — the Super Bowl — and completing the job.” 

This is the relationship worth watching. McCarthy and Prescott will be fine. How does the veteran coach handle the pressure of coaching in Big D with the most-outspoken owner looking over his shoulder? 

Jones brought McCarthy in to take a talented team to the Super Bowl. Sporting News has Dallas reaching the NFC divisional playoffs (we picked the Cowboys to make the Super Bowl last season).  

McCarthy faces the same standards he had in Green Bay. That doesn’t change between those two franchises. Don’t think that’s the case?  

Watch the reactions if the Cowboys lose the Rams in Week 1. 

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