Let’s look past what the new Dallas Cowboys’ head coach, Mike McCarthy, says he’s going to be, and look back to what kind of coach he actually was…
There’s a lot of information floating around concerning what Mike McCarthy is going to bring to the Dallas Cowboys as the new head coach. If you look around Cowboys Nation, optimism is largely reigning supreme as fans look to possibilities of the post-Garrett era.
But up in the Northwoods of Wisconsin a different narrative is prominent because the fans of Green Bay aren’t quite so complementary of their former coach. So let’s sift through the ashes and find out, based on his time in Green Bay, what kind of coach Mike McCarthy is.
For now, let’s look past Mike McCarthy’s evolution away from coaching that took place this season. Since being dismissed from the Packers, McCarthy has gone through a re-birth, so to speak. Through self-reflection and trend tracking McCarthy has been able to correct his biggest flaws: He’s embraced the aggressiveness of analytics, tracked the newest offensive trends, reloaded his outdated playbook, and is dedicated to using proven methods of pre-snap motion and play-action more often (things he abandoned in GB).
Want your voice heard? Join the Sports Dallas Fort-Worth team!Write for us!
But instead of rehashing what he says he’s going to do, let’s look at what he’s done…
Head Coach 2006-2018
For the purposes of this exercise let’s look at his last 13-years in Green Bay. Mike McCarthy had the fortune of working with both Brett Farve and Aaron Rodgers during his tenure. He never not-had a Hall of Fame passer in his employ.
Now Rodgers didn’t start off a Hall of Famer. He was made. And contrary to what the self-obsessed Rodgers says, Mike McCarthy helped make him. McCarthy has always been a hands-on coach with his QBs and that was no different with Rodgers.
In their time together they built one of the most talented offenses this century. That may sound like hyperbole, but it’s the truth. They thought of themselves as unstoppable, and for a long period of time they were… as a unit (GM Ted Thompson’s neglect of the defense is another story).
McCarthy was running the show at that time (later Rodgers would essentially take over). He was confident, creative, and aggressive. Eventually bad blood between Rodgers and him would derail things. As did his overconfidence in his system and lack of continued innovation, but for a long time it was the Gold Standard of offenses and it was because of more than just a great QB.
McCarthy was often blamed for being far too conservative in an already conservative league. The 2015 playoff game where he kicked FGs from the 1-yard line TWICE has become the shining example he can’t seem to shake. But the truth is, when the whole picture is digested, McCarthy was actually more aggressive than his coaching counterparts.
He was still far too conservative for what’s needed today, but so are all NFL teams not named Baltimore. Going for it on fourth down early and often is just smart business – even if it does hold risk and come with an undeserved amount of second-guessing.
Recency bias leads us to focus on the ending rather than the big picture. And while the ending was brutal and can’t be ignored, the big picture shows the Packers offense was downright elite in the McCarthy era. According to Pro Football Focus between 2006-2018 McCarthy’s team ranked 3rd in EPA/play (that includes the terrible years of mutiny and sabotage).
A big reason why was his reliance on the passing game to set up the running game. He often led the NFL in 1st down passing attempts which is the most fruitful down one can throw the ball. And it’s not just because of Aaron Rodgers and/or bad running backs. Even when Rodgers was hurt and his running backs were deep, it was a pass-first offense. Up until 2013 he was No. 2 on PFF’s annual play-calling list.
What it means
So even if Mike McCarthy deceived us all with his 2019 makeover and he reverts back to that coach from Green Bay, he’s still an upgrade over Garrett because he’s more aggressive and he’s more likely to pass on early downs (by a wide margin).
The fact that he has Dak Prescott instead of Aaron Rodgers even helps his cause. No, not because Dak is better than Aaron (although a case can be made Rodgers has been just average over the past four seasons), but because the relationship in Green Bay soured so much it was impossible to be anything but dysfunctional.
For a great story about what happened in Green Bay and how Aaron and Mike are both to blame, check out this story from Tyler Dunne at the Bleacher Report
The last three seasons of McCarthy were bad and a lot of that is because McCarthy seemed to check out. But through most of McCarthy’s years he was running an elite program. As long as Dallas doesn’t get the 2016-2018 version of McCarthy, they should improve.