FRISCO, Texas – The spotlight shined bright on Mike McCarthy during the month of January, and the Cowboys' head coach is not shying away from it.
Take your pick from the topics that have prompted speculation about McCarthy's future as he gears up for a third season in Dallas. There was the obvious disappointment of a wildcard loss to San Francisco, and that was compounded by the sudden retirement of longtime Saints head coach, and former Cowboys assistant, Sean Payton.
Of course, all of that pales in comparison to the comments from team owner/general manager Jerry Jones, who himself speculated last month about his head coaching job – including whether or not defensive coordinator Dan Quinn was a viable candidate to fill it one day.
"Mike knows that someday, somebody other than him will be coach of the Cowboys," Jones said two weeks ago at the Senior Bowl.
It was that quote specifically which entered the news cycle, when McCarthy appeared on "The Rich Eisen Show."
In a wide-ranging conversation, Eisen asked McCarthy bluntly about the speculation, and McCarthy responded that it's simply part of the "landscape" of the Dallas Cowboys.
"I've never once felt that I was not going to be the head coach moving forward, and frankly I've been at this long enough that that's all I'm focused on," he said.
A big part of this storyline is the return of Quinn, who was named the AP NFL Assistant Coach of the Year over the weekend after helping to turn the Cowboys' defense into one of the biggest success stories of the 2021 season.
Despite the narrative that Quinn might one day take McCarthy's current job, McCarthy echoed Jones' sentiment that the Cowboys' head coach played a big part in keeping Quinn from leaving for another opening. In a revelatory moment, McCarthy even acknowledged that he had spoken with Quinn about the effect that outside speculation could have on the team.
"In reflection to the relationship Dan and I do have, he said 'Hey man, I'm not comfortable with this narrative. If you really feel like I need to take one of these jobs, just be honest with me,'" McCarthy said. "We kind of laughed about it, and I just said 'Dan, 10 to 12 years ago I'd tell you please get the hell out of here, I don't want to deal with this.' But the reality is I'm about winning, he's about winning, and the best thing for the Cowboys is for Dan Quinn to be here."
That doesn't make the conversation any less unusual – a reality that McCarthy acknowledged on multiple occasions. But at the very least, it's at least encouraging that the Cowboys' brain trust is on level terms about it.
In fact, McCarthy also acknowledged to Eisen that he has spoken to Jones since those initial comments hit the news cycle.
"We talked about Dan's situation, definitely. We talked about Sean Payton's narrative, also. It's been discussed," he said. "The conversation was 'You and I are in this back-to-back. It's a partnership,' and just focus on what we need to do moving forward. He made some personal comments about how he feels about it, but that's for him and I. But I'm very, very comfortable with our relationship and our dialogue."
The goal, as McCarthy added, is to end the Cowboys' current Super Bowl drought of 26 years. If they manage that, this is all a moot discussion.
Until then, though, discussions will be had. For his part, McCarthy will try to keep the focus on what matters.
"I wish we were talking about something else. But it is part of our landscape," he said. "I just think keeping things real, keeping things focused, because at the end of the day it's about the people you're in charge of, it's about the people you coach and most importantly it's about our locker room – and our locker room is about winning."