The Dallas Cowboys ultimately hired Mike McCarthy to be the team’s head coach in 2020, but ownership also explored flashier options. According to Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer, the Cowboys explored the possibility of hiring then-Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley, who just accepted the USC position, prior to landing McCarthy.
“Second, NFL teams have flocked to Norman, Okla. the last few years to learn more about what the innovative Riley was doing, and that made him a sort of white whale for the pros to pursue, in the same way Chip Kelly once was,” Breer detailed on November 29. “Rumors were rampant that the Cowboys had interest a couple of years back, and others have kicked the tires since, and this at least should put the idea of his landing in the NFL on hold for a while.”
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The Jones Family Believed There Was ‘Something Special’ About Riley
Prior to the firing of Jason Garrett, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that Riley was a name to watch if the team switched coaches. Rapoport noted that the Jones family had a relationship with Riley and believed there was “something special” about the college coach.
“The Jones family already has a close relationship with Lincoln Riley, [which] centers around John Stephen, who is Jerry Jones’ grandson who was, at the time, a high school quarterback, very highly-touted quarterback,” Rapoport detailed on December 1, 2019. “Lincoln Riley did an in-home visit with the Joneses, at that point they realized how brilliant he was. They watched film together, it went extremely well. Then Stephen Jones and his son actually took a visit to Oklahoma as well. Oklahoma tried to get him to walk on, it didn’t happen, but that was the genesis of this relationship and when the Jones family realized there’s something special about Lincoln Riley.”
Jones Noted College Coaches ‘Have the Lowest Percentage Rate of Success’ in the NFL
It is unclear how closely Riley was considered by the Cowboys as a potential candidate, or if the USC coach has a desire to head to the NFL. During a December 2019 interview with Dallas’ 105.3 the Fan, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones may have dropped a hint as to why the team would later hire McCarthy instead of pushing for a top college coach.
“College coaches, a head coach coming directly into (to the NFL) head coach, have the lowest percentage rate of success (in the NFL),” Jones said at the time. “It’s pretty obvious they have to get acquainted with personnel. College coaches spend Sunday working. It’s one of their biggest workday weeks. In many cases, they aren’t familiar with the personnel, and that’s a big deal.”
Despite continuous rumors about McCarthy’s tenure in Dallas, the Cowboys coach is likely to have the job for the foreseeable future. McCarthy signed a five-year deal with the Cowboys, keeping him under contract through 2025.
The Cowboys may be in for a fight this offseason as coordinators Kellen Moore and Dan Quinn have been mentioned as potential candidates for college and NFL vacancies. The Dallas staff could have a new look for the 2022 season.