In his first season as the Dallas Cowboys’ head coach, Mike McCarthy saw his team’s defense struggle immensely. People believe that a lot of this had to do with the hiring of defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. Now, with Nolan out, McCarthy recently discussed the state of his team’s defense heading into the 2021 season. However, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith had something to say about McCarthy’s comments, as well as his previous defensive decisions. In fact, he claimed that one decision McCarthy made even “compromised the success” of the team.
Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said that defense is a focus heading into 2021
Before hiring Mike McCarthy as head coach, the Dallas Cowboys’ defense was not too bad in 2019. It only allowed 20.1 points per game, which was No. 11 in the league that year.
However, McCarthy did not retain previous defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli or the man who had been calling plays on defense, Kris Richard. He, instead, brought in Mike Nolan as the team’s defensive coordinator. Nolan had not been a defensive coordinator since 2014 with the Atlanta Falcons. His defense ranked near the bottom of the league in points allowed per game that year, too, as it allowed 26.1.
A similar outcome occurred when Nolan became the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator in 2020. The team’s defense allowed an atrocious 29.6 points per game last season. It also gave up 473 total points, which was a franchise record, per USA Today’s Cowboys Wire.
The Cowboys have since fired Nolan and have hired Dan Quinn as the team’s defensive coordinator. Quinn was most recently the Falcons’ head coach from 2015 to 2020.
“The focus of change will definitely be on the defense,” McCarthy recently said in a press conference, per Cowboys Wire.
“We tried to change too much on defense [in 2020], if you’re looking for a mistake,” McCarthy also said, per Dallas Morning News reporter Michael Gehlken. “And I don’t think we made a mistake. We just didn’t get it done. We went in with too much volume.”
He also defended Nolan, per Gehlken: “It’s not just one guy.”
Stephen A. Smith calls out Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy
Stephen A. Smith and his co-hosts discussed McCarthy’s recent comments on the March 26 episode of ESPN’s First Take. Smith went off about his issues with McCarthy, too.
“You inherited a team that was top 11 defensively,” Smith said, “… when you had Rod Marinelli and Kris Richard as basically your defensive coaches. That’s what you inherited. You got rid of them to bring in a guy in Mike Nolan last year … he was so bad that he went six years without being able to get a damn job. You got fired in Green Bay primarily because you were accused of being archaic, holding on to the old school ways, holding on to old school people.”
He continued: “You took a year off. You had an epiphany. ‘Things are new now. I’m revived and I’ve changed, I’ve modified my way of thinking.’ And you bring in some dude from 2014. … Last time I checked, you kept [offensive coordinator] Kellen Moore. He was a rookie the year before, but you kept him. But somehow, someway Rod Marinelli gotta go; Kris Richard gotta go so you could bring in one of your good ol’ boys. He was ineffective, inefficient, didn’t get the job done, compromised the success of the team to some degree.”
Smith then concluded his rant by saying that McCarthy needs to own up to the fact that he hired the wrong man in Nolan.
“You shouldn’t have hired him to begin with. What’d you do it for?” Smith said. “What’d you do it for? Because you knew him? Because you were comfortable with him? As opposed to a brother like Kris Richard, who was working with Rod Marinelli, who had done the job. And you pushed him out the door. That’s what I don’t like.”
Well, tell us how you really feel. No matter what you think about Mike McCarthy, we can all agree that Mike Nolan was the wrong hire for Dallas. So, is Dan Quinn the right one?
Is Dan Quinn the right hire for the Cowboys?
The Dan Quinn hire is certainly an interesting one for Mike McCarthy. He was the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons from 2015 to 2020 and led them to a Super Bowl during the 2016 season. However, before that, he was the Seattle Seahawks’ defensive coordinator in 2013 and 2014, which was during their Legion of Boom era. So, he certainly knows how to run a successful defense.
His Falcons teams, though, didn’t rank better than 19th in scoring defense in any of the last three seasons. There may be a lot of factors that played roles in that, but it’s still not great.
Mike McCarthy has said that defense is the main focus, and frankly, it better be after last year. We’ll see if Quinn can turn things around in 2021.
Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference