You likely won't have to spend a lot of time talking with Scott McCurley about football before he quotes Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy. Just about everything that McCurley has learned in the NFL either came directly from McCarthy or while being alongside him on the sidelines or in the coaching offices.
After a decade of Jason Garrett's culture and regime, McCarthy will now rely on the people he trusts most to help make clear how he expects his team to conduct its business, and McCurley will be tasked with getting that message across to a group of players with plenty of eyes on them: the linebackers.
Shortly after being named linebackers coach, McCurley stated that the young duo of Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch have pretty much all the qualities that you want in a linebacker ("They've got a lot of ability, they've got size, they've got length, they can run"), but he also knows that the expectation for his unit is going to be higher than how they've performed. They're going to get there through the trust they build in each other and working through differences of opinions, while maintaining a fundamental-focused work ethic.
"I don't think anybody here is afraid of the tough times," McCurley said. "The conflict is going to come."
McCurley started with McCarthy as an intern in Green Bay back in 2006 and worked his way up to coaching the linebackers, most notably helping Clay Matthews transition to inside linebacker in the middle of his career. But when McCarthy was fired by the Packers in 2018, McCurley showed his faith and loyalty in the man who gave him his shot.
After parting ways with Green Bay, McCarthy decided that he would dedicate his time to studying film, researching analytics, and understanding what innovations various teams are using to find success. He and a small circle of coaches, including McCurley, formed what was deemed "The McCarthy Project." The thinking was that the former Packers coach would get another shot at running an NFL team, and when that happened, he and a few select people he wanted around him would be ready.
But as the 2019 season came around and McCarthy was still unemployed, sticking with him meant having patience in something not guaranteed. McCurley and his wife have two children, and he admitted that there were some "scary times." He was offered a position on the LSU staff as an analyst, which would have earned him a National Championship, but he turned it down.
"I didn't know at first how it would work out, but I knew I trusted in Mike," McCurley said. "I knew the kind of coach he was, the kind of person he was. I was confident that he would get another opportunity, and that's who I wanted to be with."
McCurley characterized the year as productive and said that fans and media don't realize how innovative a coach McCarthy really is.
"I think one thing that people don't give him enough credit for is he is on the cutting edge of things."
Ultimately, a head coach in the NFL needs to understand a constantly evolving game while also knowing how to inspire people. McCurley is an example of someone who McCarthy has inspired.
"First of all, I go back to the character of the man and the way he treats people," McCurley said. "I was with him for 13 years. You know what you're getting from him."
McCurley's faith in his mentor paid off. Now he's at the helm of a group of players with a lot of talent and a lot to prove.
A question bouncing around from fans and the media is whether the Cowboys will make a switch from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4. McCurley says that he's more concerned with coaching mechanics and fundamentals during every single practice so that his players continue to improve.
"That's what's going to win us games. Even in this day and age with all the schemes, we'll have answers [for all that]," said McCurley. "But we've got to get them trained up the right way fundamentally, and that'll get them ready for pretty much anything we face."
Naturally, McCurley wasn't willing to divulge any potential scheme changes in the defense, but he was happy to quote his head coach.
"As Coach McCarthy has said: 'Scheme isn't a crutch.'"