ARLINGTON, Texas -- Once again, the Dallas Cowboys find themselves in the unenviable position of having to figure out their coaching staff. It's a testament to just how quickly life comes at you in the NFL, seeing as it was only 48 hours ago that all involved -- e.g., head coach Mike McCarthy, offensive coordinator Kellen Moore and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn -- were all viewed in high regard around the NFL after engineering a 12-5 season and division title despite the onslaught of adversity the team faced over the course of the 2021 season.
But after a fairly humiliating showing in a 23-17 loss at AT&T Stadium on NFL Super Wild Card Weekend against the San Francisco 49ers, the shine has dimmed quite a bit on at least McCarthy and Moore, while Quinn escapes most criticism by scheming a defense that was effective if not for crippling penalties.
So where does the team go from here, and particularly at head coach -- once again the hot topic in Dallas?
Not long after the CBS Sports report on Monday morning stating the expectation was that McCarthy would return for another season, team exec Stephen Jones confirmed there will be no change at head coach. When asked if he and the organization were confident McCarthy would be present for the third year of his five-year contract, Jones was unequivocal in his reply.
"Absolutely," he said to 105.3FM the Fan on Monday morning. "Very confident."
Ahead of the contest on Sunday, sources told CBS Sports there were zero plans by the Cowboys to move on from McCarthy as head coach, even if they were eliminated in the first round. The premise here being McCarthy turned the team around in 2021 to clinch a playoff berth, and owner Jerry Jones viewing the 2020 season as an aberration fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic and the loss of two-time Pro Bowl quarterback Dak Prescott, granting McCarthy a mulligan because of it.
Following Sunday's game, the answer was much the same, per those same sources, but not exactly the same. One source noted the expectation that McCarthy would remain the Cowboys head coach in 2022, while another noted there was a "lean toward" McCarthy remaining but that a potential move "has not been ruled out." That meant there was at least a window for a possible change, but didn't view it as plausible. What was more likely was that the Joneses would take a moment to let tempers and emotions cool before making such an important decision -- one that is presumably mostly made already, barring a wildly unexpected change of course -- avoiding strapping Prescott with a third head coach in as many seasons.
For his part, McCarthy had already expressed his confidence in being around when the 2022 season gets underway.
"I don't have any concerns," he said in his postgame press conference. "I'm proud to be standing here today. I'm proud of my football team."
McCarthy confessed after the contest on Sunday that the pain he feels from this loss is different from any other he's experienced, which says a lot for a head coach who's been in the league for as long as McCarthy has and who's felt his fair share of NFL heartbreak (while also dishing it out to teams like the Cowboys over the years).
"It hurts more, it definitely hurts more," said McCarthy. "The longer you're in this league, the more you understand being in this position is very hard to accomplish. You think about what we went through as a football team, just we had a tremendous amount of change from last year. Last year was a hard, very difficult year. I talked about this last night in the team meeting, I can't say enough about a football team in today's climate of COVID and the restrictions of players and time at their facility.
"These guys, they've been going strong since February, captain workouts and everything. So, there's a tremendous amount that's gone into the culture in the locker room and the way this group's come together and I'm proud of that. I'm damn proud of that. And I know they are. We're disappointed as hell. This is a game we expected to win."
It's one they very well could've and should've, losing by six points after having made more than enough mistakes to suffer a much more embarrassing loss, but instead being Micah Parsons and Trevon Diggs, among others, and the reality is the roster won't look the same next season, and there's a chance McCarthy's coaching staff won't, either.at stealing away the glory from the 49ers in the waning seconds of regulation. It's a wasted year for a Cowboys team that saw breakout seasons from
"When the time comes, we'll start the journey for next year," he added. "But there's been a lot that's been accomplished. You think about the personnel changes, the coaching changes, and so forth. We've done a lot of good."
'Tis true, they did a lot of good, and there's plenty of promise to look forward to in many areas of the roster. That said, in the end, none of that could overcome all of the bad -- that finally caught up with them on Sunday -- and having entered this season on the hot seat before turning it ice cold en route to a 12-5 finish, McCarthy has again warmed it a bit after what was put on film this past weekend.
The Joneses will keep him around, as expected, but he has to know 2022 will come with an ultimatum.