Tim Heitman – USA TODAY Sports
The Dallas Cowboys suffered another first-round playoff exit, extending their streak to 25 years without an NFC Championship Game appearance. With one of the best rosters in the NFL and an eager Jerry Jones, big changes are possible in Texas.
While the Cowboys posted a six-game improvement from 2020 to 2021, head coach Mike McCarthy doesn’t get the credit. NFL Insider Charles Robinson shared on the “You Pod to Win the Game” podcast that many around the NFL credited defensive coordinator Dan Quinn for the team’s impressive turnaround.
There are also questions regarding McCarthy’s future in Dallas. CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora reported ahead of the Wild Card game that many people familiar with Jones believed an early exit from the Cowboys playoffs would cause the owner to consider a coaching change.
It doesn’t help that McCarthy made confusing decisions and that this team lacked composure or discipline (14 penalties). All of these factors could force Jones to change coaches. McCarthy was the X factor for Dallas in the playoffs and many of his shortcomings have proven costly with the season on the line. While the Cowboys don’t like to fire the coaches they love, it’s necessary.
- Dallas Cowboys record (Mike McCarthy era): 18-16
After being knocked out of the playoffs, let’s take a look at four Dallas Cowboys coaching candidates who could potentially replace McCarthy.
Kellen Moore, Dallas Cowboys Offensive Coordinator
There are few NFL coaches on whom Jones is superior to Kellen Moore. The former Boise State quarterback only played in Dallas for three seasons (2015-17) and played in just three games. But his time in the organization has raised eyebrows. After retiring, Moore was immediately hired as the Cowboys’ quarterbacks coach. A year later, he was promoted to offensive coordinator and now calls plays for the NFL’s best offense.
If McCarthy is fired, Moore becomes the favorite to replace him. Jones signed him to a new contract in 2021 to prevent him from taking the Boise State job / Cowboys owner too offered glowing praise regarding Moore becoming a future head coach.
But there are risks in promoting Moore. In-game management, including using challenges and call timeouts, is lacking. More worryingly, the Cowboys offense has seen a lot of inconsistencies this season and Moore’s play has become predictable. Many of Moore’s problems as a coordinator were exposed in the loss to San Francisco. Plus, hiring Moore would mean the next candidate would leave.
Dan Quinn, Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator
While Moore would be the likely candidate to replace McCarthy, Quinn might be the better inside option. The driving force behind the Cowboys 250 point improvement in the point differential this season was defense. Quinn and his team were instrumental in Trevon Diggs’ leap as a sophomore, Dallas’ pass rush dominating and his plan suited the staff perfectly.
Related: NFL Defense Ranking – Best NFL Playoff Defenses
If Dallas doesn’t promote Quinn to head coach, chances are he won’t return next season. He is the favorite to replace Vic Fangio for the Denver Broncos and interviews several other teams. While the Cowboys could replace him with Mike Zimmer, it could impact the locker room. If experience counts, he also has two Super Bowl appearances, including one as a head coach.
Of course, there will now be questions about Quinn. Dallas seemed unprepared for the 49ers’ rushing offense and lacked the discipline to manage movement and execute a boot action. If McCarthy is fired, fans might not like Quinn getting a promotion after that defensive performance.
Brian Daboll, Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator
If Jones decides to replace McCarthy, Brian Daboll must be at the top of the Dallas Cowboys’ roster. He is the best offensive player in the NFL today and is credited with helping make Josh Allen an MVP candidate. The NFL world has also seen him craft the perfect game plan to beat Bill Belichick twice this season, in storm-free conditions.
Frankly, Daboll could do even more for Prescott than Moore so far. A receiving body of Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb would be chess pieces in Daboll’s attack, with the veteran coach finding countless ways to get them to play the football in space. He would also have one of the smartest quarterbacks in the NFL, a maestro at reading the pitch and making adjustments before the break, executing everything. Daboll is the kind of coach who could push the Cowboys to the next level.
Byron Leftwich, Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator
NFL teams looking for a coach who can build a great relationship with his quarterback and an entire locker room should target Byron Leftwich. This is more than the Buccaneers play-caller receiving glimmers Mentions of Bruce Arians and one Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady. He also watches over the interest of the players, as contractual incentives, and is a past master in the art of game preparation.
“It’s not just, ‘OK, you’re going to handle my stuff and we’ll do it my way. We’re going to do what we have to do to make sure our band, as a band, plays well.’
Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich on the importance of making adjustments to game plans, via NYT
the New York Times Leftwich detailed adaptability as a coach, one of the most common qualities of great head coaches. Brady also praised Leftwich’s willingness to listen both and his ability to identify elements of the game that match what Brady likes. This is exactly the kind of relationship Jones should want his head coach to have with Prescott.
Leftwich wouldn’t be able to keep Quinn as a defensive coordinator, but his connections around the NFL as a player and then as a coordinator will give him access to a deep pool of quality candidates. Combine that with his natural leadership and rare work ethic, it’s easy to see why so many people believe he can thrive.