Is Mike McCarthy Already Making His First Big Mistake With the Cowboys?

On January 3, 2020, the Dallas Cowboys announced it would not bring head coach Jason Garrett back for another season. In many ways, the move was not surprising. Over the course of nine-plus years with the Cowboys, Garrett’s future had frequently been questioned. The team’s 2-4 collapse at the end of 2019 was the final nail in the coffin.

The day after Garrett’s firing, the Cowboys announced they’d hired Mike McCarthy as the new head coach. Many analysts assumed this move would involve overhauling the offensive system.

Yet in a baffling move, McCarthy recently decided to allow second-year offensive coordinator Kellen Moore to continue calling plays. Let’s look at why this may be McCarthy’s first big mistake with the Cowboys.

Kellen Moore’s career so far

Moore enjoyed a successful college career, finishing fourth in the 2010 voting for the Heisman Trophy. His NFL career was relatively common. As an undersized and not particularly strong player, Moore struggled to find a place in the NFL, ultimately retiring after six seasons of intermittent play.

Yet Moore’s football knowledge made him an excellent coaching candidate. In 2018, the Cowboys hired him as quarterbacks coach. In January 2019, the team promoted Moore to offensive coordinator under Garrett, where he embraced the Air Coryell style of offense long preferred by Garrett.

Mike McCarthy’s career so far

Head coach Mike McCarthy of the Dallas Cowboys talks with the media
Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy talks with the media | Tom Pennington/Getty Images

McCarthy put together an impressive coaching resume in his 13 seasons with the Green Bay Packers. He compiled a 125-77-2 regular-season record while going 18-10 in the postseason and winning the 2010 Super Bowl. Of course, it didn’t hurt that McCarthy had both Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers as his quarterbacks.

Still, McCarthy proved himself a more-than-capable head coach, especially on the offensive end. His schemes were built around a West Coast offensive style popularized by legendary coach Don Coryell. This system emphasizes short, horizontal passing routes rather than the longer passing used in the Air Coryell scheme.

Why letting Moore call plays may be a mistake

The case for letting Moore keep calling plays rests entirely on continuity. After all, the team is already familiar with the Air Coryell playbook that’s been in place for years now. By letting Moore keep the system in place, the Cowboys can avoid the hiccups that often occur when switching to a new system.

Yet many analysts assumed the point of hiring McCarthy was to overhaul the Cowboys’ stale offense. After all, the coach has built his reputation on his offensive schemes. Play-calling was always a central part of McCarthy’s coaching style. In fact, he was the play-caller for all but one of his seasons as a head coach.

Many commentators find it hard to believe that McCarthy can step back from play calling and still be an impactful head coach. Those reservations only increase when you consider that McCarthy will coach a team that uses an offensive scheme he has little experience with.

It also seems odd that McCarthy feels comfortable putting his trust in an offensive coordinator with only one year of experience. Many analysts speculate that the decision was not McCarthy’s, but rather a mandate passed down by Cowboys brass.

Whatever the case may be, the decision to let Moore continue calling plays could prove to be disastrous, especially with the Cowboys expected to be in win-now mode. If Moore can’t lead the team to wins in the early part of next season, McCarthy may take over as play-caller, leading to an even bumpier transition.