New Cowboys HC Mike McCarthy won a Super Bowl with Aaron Rodgers. Can he do it with Dak Prescott?
A proverb holds that a coach is only as good as his quarterback, which might seem a stretch to you but Dave Campo swears by it. Jimmy Johnson was better with Troy Aikman in his prime than a wilted Dan Marino. Vinny Testaverde may not have gotten Bill Belichick fired in Cleveland, but Tom Brady has made him look smarter in Boston, to say the least.
What, then, are we to make of the collaboration of Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers, and what does it portend for the new guy and Dak Prescott?
Before going there, let me say this about Jerry Jones’ eighth hire after 30 years in charge of jocks and socks:
Considering how long it took to make Jason Garrett’s termination official, and the explanation that the awkward wait was “out of an abundance of care and respect,” Jerry got over it pretty quickly. Garrett’s name wasn’t even crossed off the will yet, and Jerry and Mike were having a sleepover at the mansion.
Anyway, it seems safe to say Jerry might have had something like this in mind longer than his feelings for Garrett indicate.
Or maybe he simply believes that a year away from the NFL has been as good for McCarthy as it was for the Packers. They did just fine without him, in case you were wondering. Better than that, actually.
McCarthy, 56, brings a year of analytics-driven introspection and a quality resume to the job. A .618 winning percentage. Nine playoff appearances. Four NFC title games. Even a Lombardi Trophy from his visit to JerryWorld in 2011.
He was also 11-16-1 in his last two seasons and 4-7-1 when he was canned, so you can imagine the reaction when Matt LaFleur put up a 13-3 record in his debut.
McCarthy’s critics might say the record of his successor only lends credence to the theory that the Packers won because of Rodgers, not McCarthy. Should have won more, in fact. Maybe as many as a half-dozen Lombardis with a quarterback of that skill set. Rodgers would no doubt second that notion.
By all accounts, Rodgers isn’t as much fun to work with as it looks like in all those State Farm commercials. His talent is without question. Might spin it better than anyone who’s ever played the position, Brady included. But the man holds a grudge. Ask his family, which would apparently appreciate a call.
McCarthy endured a Cold War with his quarterback throughout his 13-year tenure in Green Bay. According to a Bleacher Report account last spring, Rodgers’ resentment runs all the way back to the 2005 draft, when McCarthy took Alex Smith No. 1. And McCarthy was working in San Francisco at the time! Multiple sources report the relationship has festered ever since, in good times or bad.
McCarthy didn’t help his cause any his last few years in Green Bay. His schemes became repetitive and stale. A few insiders told Bleacher Report he lost any creativity as well as his enthusiasm for the job. Whether that’s fair or accurate is hard to say. But if it’s any indication, he was in the middle of a makeover when Jerry called.
During his hiatus, McCarthy says he suddenly embraced analytics, even proposing a 14-person technology department in his new gig. If Jerry goes along, and McCarthy holds up his end, it’ll be an upgrade over the approach by Garrett, who fended off trends with the same skill as reporters’ questions. Say what you want about geeks with numbers, but they don’t lie. It’s why the Mavs’ 7-3 center shoots 35-footers these days. Any team that romances numbers benefits from the association, as the Ravens demonstrated this season.
Can McCarthy make the numbers work in Dallas? His quarterback won’t be nearly as talented as Rodgers is, but he’ll be willing. Dak’s ability to take coaching is one of his best traits. Contrary to popular opinion, he has several strengths. Loyalty is one. Leadership, too. He won’t question McCarthy’s football IQ in private. Won’t mouth about bad play calls or simply stare at his boss. Won’t undermine him as a result.
McCarthy will enjoy working with his new quarterback, and the feeling should be mutual. A look at the progression of Rodgers’ set-up over the years vouches for that. Even Rodgers says so. McCarthy runs a two-week QB camp every spring in which he breaks down every play of the previous season. Details drill down as far as the correct way to take a snap under center.
Dak benefited greatly this season from the fundamentals taught by Jon Kitna and Kellen Moore, but, as our film studies major, John Owning, writes, there’s room for improvement.
Dak’s liable to be the Cowboys’ quarterback for a long time, which is fine with me, but he’ll never be as good as the one McCarthy left in Green Bay. No one rises to that level. What the Cowboys must hope is that McCarthy’s track record and newfound interests can make Dak Super Bowl-worthy.
McCarthy went that far once in 13 years with the most talented quarterback ever. He’ll have to work harder here. It’ll be an adjustment, all right. Not only is he coming from an organization without a primary owner, he’s bunking with the most meddlesome one in sports. The new guy’s apparently learned a lot in the last year or so. He’s about to get another lesson.