Cowboys HC Mike McCarthy Explains Giving Up Play-Calling to Kellen Moore

Mike McCarthy

Getty Mike McCarthy

Years ago, during the twilight stages of his Green Bay Packers tenure, Mike McCarthy famously vowed never again to cede play-calling privileges.

“I’ll never do that again,” were his exact words, in 2016.

What’s that expression about saying never?

McCarthy’s tune changed upon his arrival to the Dallas Cowboys, where he was faced with an immediate decision: Retain incumbent offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, a holdover from the Jason Garrett era, or oust the 31-year-old and put a stranglehold around the responsibility.

He went with Door No. 1, and not only that, granted Moore full play-calling autonomy. There’ll be McCarthy elements sprinkled into the scheme, but it’s the wunderkind’s show for another season.

Needless to say, it was a surprising reversal of fortunes which the media didn’t let McCarthy forget during his press conference at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

“I have a new job, so I get to start over and take all those never again statements back,” McCarthy said Wednesday, chuckling, per Pro Football Talk. “I think when you just look at the big picture, these decisions that I’m making particularly early in my tenure, I’ve had a lot of time to think about it. I’ve had a chance to study the opportunities that were in front of me for quite some time and Dallas was the one opportunity was something I thought it was important to keep the current offense in place because of the success they’ve had in the past. The productivity on offense is very high. There will always be things that are different. I think anytime you have a coaching change, that’s obvious. Our approach to offense will change. The design of how we put things together will be different. But it’s important to build off the successful concepts and particularly the language in place.

“I’m excited to work with Kellen, and I’ve really enjoyed our meetings. I really like the way he looks at the game.”

McCarthy previously revealed that he “liked” Moore after watching him from afar in 2019, when Dallas boasted the league’s top-ranked offense in total yards and the second-best aerial attack. Moore was a tangible breath of fresh air taking over for Scott Linehan, as his creative passing concepts unlocked a career year for quarterback Dak Prescott, who came within one yard of the team’s single-season record.

“I wanted to make sure we were able to capitalize on what has been established here,” McCarthy said on Jan. 16, after confirming Moore as his OC.

McCarthy plans to leave most of the terminology unchanged, easing the transition from Garrett and providing all-important continuity for Prescott and Co. He also tapped ex-tight ends coach Doug Nussmeier as the new QBs coach and brought in former Packers OC Joe Philbin as the offensive line coach.

“Between us we can take this offense forward another step,” McCarthy said last month, per ESPN.

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McCarthy Makes Clear Prescott ‘Definitely’ is Franchise QB

That sound you hear is Prescott’s camp celebrating newfound leverage.

Amid ongoing but slow-rolling contract negotiations, which have hit an impasse in recent weeks, McCarthy dubbed Dak as the franchise quarterback capable of leading the Cowboys to a championship.

“Definitely,” he said Wednesday at the Scouting Combine, per The Athletic. “It’s exactly where we want to be with Dak. I think what he’s done to this point speaks to itself. Dak, he’s in a business situation right now — I’ve gone through this as a head coach with a number of my players in the past — and like anything, it’s time to be patient and let the business people work out the business matter. That’s really where we are as an organization, and that’s where Dak is in his personal flight to get a contract done.”

Prescott is scheduled to test the unrestricted free-agent waters on March 18. The team has until March 10 to apply the franchise tag to the two-time Pro Bowler, if long-term negotiations do not culminate with pen touching paper.

It remains unclear when, how, and by what means the club will get Prescott under contract. But the who — as in “who’s quarterbacking the Cowboys in 2020?” — isn’t up for debate.

“Defense gets teams to the Super Bowl, quarterbacks win Super Bowls,” McCarthy said, adding that Prescott “can get that done,” according to The Athletic.

READ NEXT: Cowboys Reportedly to Begin Contract Talks with Key Offensive Free Agent

Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL