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Not to be too Freudian – or too sexist – about this, but Mike McCarthy is just not the football coaching equivalent of a hot, er, attractive woman.
For the better part of the last 10 years, NFL fans have been treating McCarthy like some hacky sack, joyfully kicking him around for fun. The internet is loaded with those who disparage his coaching as if he were some weird fusion of Dave Wannstedt and Richie Kotite.
Now, only one week into the season, people are already talking about the end of McCarthy’s run in Dallas as if he’s somehow to blame for the massive run of injuries that have left the Cowboys impotent this season.
Here’s the weird thing: McCarthy has won the same number of Super Bowls as Tony Dungy, Bill Cowher, Mike Holmgren, John Madden, Pete Carroll, Mike Tomlin, Hank Stram, and – brace yourselves Cowboys fans – Sean Payton. His 143 career victories (153 counting the playoffs) are tied for the 24th most in NFL history and his winning percentage (60.5%) ranks with all those coaches. Last year, the Cowboys led the NFL in scoring with 530 points, went 12-5 and won the NFC East.
“I know exactly what you’re saying and I don’t get it,” a close friend of McCarthy said. “He’s the coach that everybody loves to hate, like they can’t stand him. I mean, he’s not the greatest coach in the history of the league, but he’s damn good.”
To be clear, Mike McCarthy has his imperfections. The story of him getting massages during work days in Green Bay feeds the notion that he frittered away years with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who McCarthy couldn’t seem to get along with. Earlier in his career, he was responsible for running off Brett Favre in favor of Rodgers, which turned out fine.
He also annoyed the analytics world with his stories about relentlessly studying the game and embracing analytics during his year away after being fired in Green Bay.
He didn’t do a lot to help himself during the 2020 season in Dallas, going 1-3 to open his first campaign before quarterback Dak Prescott was knocked out for the year.
But there’s something bizarre beyond those tangible reasons. It is something that is both real, yet difficult to grasp. Unlike the regal and religious Tom Landry, the cocky Jimmy Johnson, or the commanding Bill Parcells, McCarthy is a gruff, lumpy Pittsburgher coaching in Texas. He isn’t flashy, doesn’t seem overly creative, and doesn’t play well with the media.
Perhaps most of all, he’s not that exciting. He is not the darling of Dallas who Cowboys fans keep waiting to return their affection.
He’s not Sean Payton.
“I never thought of it that way, but that’s dead on,” McCarthy’s friend said. “Everybody keeps waiting for [Dallas owner] Jerry [Jones] to hire [Payton] and it never happens.”
It is, in a bizarre way, like the good-looking woman who is constantly talking to you, but politely declines to go out on a date. Just when you think she might say yes, well, she smiles and declines yet again.
Jones, who is something of an expert in relentless pursuit, has let the story of pursuing Payton play out for years. What Jones hasn’t done is agree to give Payton the type of control Payton would want and pay the price in both contract and trade to get Payton from the Saints, who still control the coach’s rights.
However, if the current Cowboys season goes south amid the flurry of injuries, expect both the hate for Mike McCarthy to grow along with the push to give Payton whatever he wants.