Why Cowboys can thank their defense for putting Mike McCarthy in charge of the offense
MOBILE, Ala. — The change is coming on offense.
The direction in which it's heading is, ironically, thanks in part to defense. Because to Dallas Cowboys team owner and general manager Jerry Jones, his dynamic duo of coaches clears the way for this change.
The return of defensive coordinator Dan Quinn clears the way for head coach Mike McCarthy to call plays for the first time in his Cowboys tenure.
Jones explained his reasoning during a 20-minute exclusive interview with Yahoo Sports.
“I think having Dan and Mike gives the Cowboys one of the most fortuitous coaching situations that is not only in the NFL today but that we’ve ever had,” Jones said from the hallway of his Senior Bowl practice suite. “These are proven people that know the personnel, they know what we can do personnel-wise or how our personnel fits what we want to try to do. This isn’t like they’ve just come on board, yet they’re fresh enough in the process that you’ve got so much to ever get from them.
“It’s frankly one of the best [ways] I’ve ever felt about our staff.”
Many in Dallas expected the Cowboys to lose Quinn as the former Atlanta Falcons head coach interviewed for the top role with the Denver Broncos, Arizona Cardinals and Indianapolis Colts. Instead, before any of the three jobs were filled — only Denver was, as of Thursday night — Quinn recommitted to the Cowboys for 2023, giving the Cowboys confidence that shifting McCarthy’s responsibilities does not risk a deficit of leadership over defense.
Jones said the change in offensive leadership is “different, new territory which could be good.” Coordinator Kellen Moore mutually parted ways with Dallas, joining Los Angeles as the Chargers' new offensive coordinator within 24 hours of his announced departure. The Cowboys have yet to name an offensive coordinator but Jones said there is no chance that hire will call plays.
“No. Oh, no. No,” Jones said. “I think Mike’s the coordinator. Whoever he brings in is the assistant to him in the coordination. But Mike is coordinator.”
McCarthy’s predecessor, Jason Garrett, delegated calls to Moore. Upon McCarthy’s arrival in 2020, Moore continued his position as the Cowboys expressed desire to give quarterback Dak Prescott continuity.
The result: top-five scoring offenses and top-11 in yardage in the two years Prescott was healthy enough to play the majority of games. The Cowboys won 12 games each of the past two seasons, losing in the wild-card round last season and the divisional round this season. But Prescott and his receivers’ rhythm was inconsistent this season, contributing to a league-high 15 interceptions.
Jones said the decision for McCarthy to call plays “was mutual.”
“Yes I wanted him to,” Jones said, “and yes he wanted to.”
Scheme philosophy is expected to shift as McCarthy redesigns the plan, McCarthy’s West Coast principles further emphasized after Moore was brought up with Air Coryell principles. Horizontal concepts could more heavily factor in alongside vertical concepts, maximizing opportunities defenses present rather than aiming to dictate as aggressively.
Jones confirmed two candidates whom the Cowboys interviewed for their offensive coordinator opening: Los Angeles Rams assistant head coach/tight ends coach Thomas Brown and Carolina Panthers assistant head coach/offense Jeff Nixon.
Brown’s versatile experience includes work in the pass and run games as part of the Rams’ Super Bowl-winning staff. He also developed players and coordinated the offense at the University of Miami, in addition to coaching running backs on six different collegiate staffs.
Nixon’s previous Panthers positions include running backs coach and interim offensive coordinator. He previously was co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach at Baylor, tight ends coach for the San Francisco 49ers and running backs coach with the Miami Dolphins, among other positions.
“They were outstanding,” Jones said. “They certainly have had success [and] skills. They’re very potentially qualified and I know firsthand that Mike has really got a lot out of it and had a lot of positive things to say about those guys.”
Brian Schottenheimer, who spent 2022 with the Cowboys as a coaching analyst, could also be a candidate for the position. Schottenheimer coordinated offenses for the New York Jets, St. Louis Rams and Seattle Seahawks across 12 different seasons.
Regardless of who fills the role, McCarthy wants “Mike and Dak to join at the hip on the execution at quarterback.”
Jones is buoyed by the potential.
“I think we’re definitely going to see positive, positive, just a lot of positive results from Mike calling the plays and working that closely with Dak,” Jones said. “I just think it’s propitious. Riding behind these successful years, they should be building blocks. And they are, because of this structure.
“I’m really excited.”
Follow Yahoo Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein