FRISCO, Texas – Part of Mike McCarthy's job as head coach is keeping contingency plans.
Both his coordinators, Kellen Moore and Dan Quinn, have interviewed with multiple NFL teams for head coaching vacancies. That was expected when the Cowboys led the league in total offense and defensive takeaways during a 12-win regular season.
If one or both leave, McCarthy will adjust. But it doesn't sound like he'd consider calling plays on offense if Moore accepts a promotion elsewhere.
"I don't think that's the best way to run an offense," McCarthy said during his season-ending press conference Monday. "I told you the first day I was standing here, whoever calls the offense will install it. It's important for the play caller, and it's the way I've always done it, that every call on that play sheet, he has to believe in."
McCarthy called his own plays for the vast majority of his time as Packers head coach from 2006-18, the exception being the first three months of the 2015 season when his associate head coach Tom Clements handled those duties. McCarthy resumed the role for the last few weeks and kept that structure the following season.
His philosophy changed when he took the Cowboys' job in January 2020. He told the front office that he wanted Moore -- then fresh off his first season as offensive coordinator -- to continue as the play-caller in more or less the same scheme.
A big reason was continuity for quarterback Dak Prescott, who has essentially been in the same system since he entered the league in 2016.
"At the end of the day, the goal is to try to keep the foundation for Dak — Dak's success and what he had accomplished on offense in his original couple of years. So that was the goal," McCarthy said.
"You're always evolving your offense. That process, if Kellen is here or not, that won't change. We're always going to build the offense around the success of the quarterback. That's the whole philosophy. So that's all intact. We have that built over a two-year period. Dak will always be the focal point. We believe in him and we want to continue to define our system of offense. It's the Dallas Cowboys offense and I hope Dak's running it for a long, long time, because it's built around making him successful."
McCarthy took off the 2019 season after departing from the Packers and liked what he saw from afar watching Moore direct the Cowboys' offense. He wanted to keep the same structure for Prescott, who has a great relationship with Moore, and he wanted to give the 31-year-old Moore freedom to grow as an OC.
"I've worked for some defensive head coaches that once in a while would have a great idea, and he's your boss so you put it in the plan, and I'd run it in the first two plays just to get it off the damn call sheet," McCarthy said. "I laugh at that stuff, but I don't try to do that to Kellen. But I have input, I have things I see and I tell him, 'Be aware of this and that.' But for him to be, or anybody, the way we do it on offense, defense and special teams is the same. The play callers install.
"Obviously the head coach can have input in anything he wants, we all understand that, even during the game. So yeah, I have that ability. But for us to be the best that we can be, I feel that's the way you should run your offense, defense and special teams."
McCarthy spoke highly of Moore's work and credentials as a head-coaching candidate elsewhere, saying, "I think he's definitely someone that's worthy of this, and he's prepared himself very well."
The Cowboys led the league in total and scoring offense during the regular season, though production was less consistent after the bye week, including the 23-17 playoff loss to the 49ers. The run game wasn't as successful as they'd hoped, averaging 105.5 yards in the final 10 games, due in part to injuries to Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard. And the passing game wasn't as efficient during that stretch, though Prescott did finish the season with a franchise-record 37 touchdown passes.
Whether Moore stays as OC or the Cowboys are forced to find a replacement — McCarthy didn't elaborate on those contingency plans Monday — they will focus on ways to the offense can improve.
"We've talked before about how the season goes — how the first third of the season, the challenges you have there, then the second and third and how tough it is in the final third. You break that down in all three phases," McCarthy said. "Specifically to the offense, you've got to take a hard look at that. What made you successful early? How did you go through the adversity and the tribulations of injuries and changes in your lineup, because you have to play a little differently then. There's concepts and people you need to help. Do we have enough help in our protections? These are all questions that are very fair and we're going to take a normal look at it. It's not like we're taking a hard look at it. But we definitely need to tweak some things."