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Is Mike McCarthy overlooked as a head coach ahead of the 2021 season?

Mike McCarthy had a poor debut season with the Dallas Cowboys in 2020, which has altered the perception about the former Super Bowl winning coach.
Credit: AP
Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy looks on against the Philadelphia Eagles during an NFL football game in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

DALLAS — We are currently mired in one of the few slow periods on the NFL schedule. 

Training camp is still a few weeks away and teams are quietly putting together their preparations for the season to come. For the Dallas Cowboys, who’ll get to work earlier than most teams because of the Hall of Fame game, this represents the quiet before the storm. After a tough 2020 in Mike McCarthy’s inaugural campaign, the Cowboys are aiming for a bounce back season.

McCarthy has won a Super Bowl as a head coach, and he sports a career 59% winning percentage. Perhaps most relevant to the Cowboys, McCarthy knows the pressures of leading a storied franchise.

Under McCarthy, the Green Bay Packers took home Super Bowl XLV, played in four NFC Championship games, and went to the playoffs in nine of his 13 seasons. Those are all accomplishments that would make any Cowboys fan envious after the 25 years of inconsistency in Dallas.

McCarthy’s tenure didn’t end well with the Packers, but he didn’t just forget how to coach. And, while he was fortunate to have quarterbacks Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers leading his teams, he also has another good signal caller with the Cowboys in Dak Prescott.

Yet somehow McCarthy doesn’t seem to be thought of as one of the better coaches in the NFL. A recent CBS sports article ranked every head coach in the league, and McCarthy came in at 23rd overall. That number seems low, especially when considering that there are only seven coaches ahead of McCarthy on the list who have won a Super Bowl.

An example of McCarthy’s perception problems include Washington Football Team’s Ron Rivera coming in six spots higher than McCarthy despite the absence of a championship on Rivera’s resume. Rivera can’t even claim to have a higher career winning percentage than McCarthy (59%-53%).

Perhaps the ranking favors recency, where Rivera’s team claimed the NFC East last season, but they did so with a record below .500 and with the Cowboys suffering from one of their more injury plagued seasons in recent memory, including Prescott’s season-ender in Week 5.

CBS Sports was hardly the only place where McCarthy wasn’t highly thought of. 

The current Cowboys’ leader was listed as a Tier 3 coach, according to SI.com. McCarthy once again finds himself below Rivera, and behind several relatively new coaches in the league. These rankings also considered job security in their hierarchy, which means there is a presumption that McCarthy will be on a short leash with Jerry Jones.

Perhaps even more questionable was New York Giants’ head coach Joe Judge being placed higher than McCarthy in Sports Illustrated’s view. After all, Judge’s team finished with an equal 6-10 record to McCarthy’s Cowboys and the former New England assistant has no track record for success as a head coach.

It’s a strange world where a coach’s record and history of success are completely forgotten after an injury-riddled season in one of the more unusual sets of circumstances in league history.

McCarthy is also listed on numerous sites as the odds on favorite to be the first coach to be fired in 2021. The odds are longer for McCarthy to win Coach of the Year (22-1) – an award he’s already won before – than they are to be the first coach shown the door (15-2).

Of course, these lists are subjective and should not be taken too seriously, but they do shine a light on the current perception out there on McCarthy. In many ways, he mirrors the Cowboys franchise itself. 

While he aims for a rebound season in 2021, his reputation and respectability are on the line. But the fact of the matter seems to be that the Cowboys’ head coach doesn’t seem to be inspiring much confidence among outsiders.

In McCarthy’s last stop, the Packers struggled with injuries in his first season in 2006, with both Favre and Rodgers missing time on the way to an 8-8 season in Green Bay. 

The Cowboys are hoping the narrative continues as McCarthy led the Packers to a 13-3 record and an NFC championship game appearance in his second year. By year five, McCarthy helped the Packers to a Super Bowl title at the building then known as Cowboys Stadium.

Overall, McCarthy is a solid coach who didn’t have much success in his first season with the Cowboys. It appears many are already dismissing him and the Cowboys after a frustrating year.

There is only one way to silence the doubters for McCarthy in his second season in Dallas: he must lead the team to more wins, and eventually they must be important wins in the playoffs. 

Until that happens, the perception of underachievement will be hanging around for both McCarthy and the Cowboys.

Do you foresee Mike McCarthy showing that he’s still one of the better coaches in the NFL in 2021? Share your thoughts with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.