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Mike McCarthy is stuck in quicksand, and the more he struggles, the faster he's going to sink. The 58-year-old head coach is finding out just how truly different the Dallas Cowboys are from the other 31 organizations in the NFL. Of course, there are a lot of similarities as well, particularly between owners, but none of them are quite like Jerry Jones. And now as McCarthy enters his third year of a five-year contract as head coach of the Cowboys, he finds himself battling more than just football issues that led to his team's dismissal in the first round of the NFL playoffs.

He's also up against public statements made by his team's owner, with Jones going a bit too far in apparently trying to motivate his staff into fixing things for the 2022 season. The Hall of Famer gave private assurances to McCarthy shortly following their loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Super Wild Card Weekend that he'd remain head coach, and finally made those public in stating McCarthy's job was never in jeopardy

But with offensive coordinator Kellen Moore (whom the Cowboys remain very high on) and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn making their rounds in head coach interviews, Jones was also hellbent on keep them both in Dallas, even if it meant allowing them to believe they might someday take McCarthy's spot. He got his wish with each team passing on Moore and Quinn committing to stay put "for years to come," and now eyes turn to McCarthy to gauge his approach to it all.

"[Dan Quinn] stays here because there always has been, with every coach, every one of those three coaches, have said they'd love to be the head coach of the Cowboys," Jones told 105.3FM the Fan in early February. "Every one. Every one. So my point is that has, in my mind, a lot of logic as to why they might not take a job now rather than one or wait and see how the cards go in the future."

He wasn't done there, mostly because the microphone was still on, and stumbled further -- seemingly intentionally -- into making it clear that if not for McCarthy, Quinn would instantly be a top candidate to coach the Cowboys now, not later.

"He's certainly qualified. He's very qualified," Jones said. "Yes, I would consider. If I didn't have a coach, I would have been interviewing him for coach. ... Mike knows that someday somebody other than him will be coach of the Cowboys."

In the ever-wise words of a certain pet detective: Alrighty then.

For his part, when asked about Jones' not-so-veiled comments, McCarthy expressed an understanding with and of Jones, but also didn't exactly hide his frustration in finally figuring out what all comes attached to being head coach of the Cowboys, having previously found himself defending his honor in the waning moments of his stint with the Green Bay Packers.

"I think it's a number of things. I think -- No. 1 -- every landscape in this league is different," he said on 'The Rich Eisen Show.' "I've been very fortunate to work at two of the very premier organizations in pro football, and they're all different. And I think the way things are done here, there's a bigger picture focus. I always, frankly, just keep it about winning and have always taken a blind eye and a blind ear to those things, but that's not the case when you work here. 

"I think, clearly, when you look at those types of comments, I think you have to understand the platform that they come from. I have an excellent relationship with Jerry Jones. We talk on a daily basis about everything and anything -- big picture type focus on what we're doing, program-wise, and more importantly is his interest in the development of our players; and especially our young players."

But will Jones' comments regarding Quinn create a rift in 2022 -- one that sees McCarthy looking over his shoulder at his own close friend? Logically, one would think so, and that's probably the grand design behind why Jones is positioning his words the way he has: to motivate all involved to chase what he views is the throne in Dallas.

McCarthy isn't biting that cheese though, at least not as it relates to side-eyeing a talented defensive coordinator whom he also worked hard to convince sticking around was better than leaving for a promotion in 2022. Quinn even asked McCarthy outright if it would be better to pack up and leave, to which the latter wanted no part of seeing.

"When I look at the comments -- the thing about Dan is, Dan Quinn being here was very important to both me and our organization," McCarthy said of Quinn. "Dan and I had visited long before he took a head coach interview, long before the playoffs even started, about how happy he is being here. And I envy him in some ways where, as a head coach, sometimes you get pulled away from the things that would help you advance in this league. The joy he's having coordinating, he's been a tremendous asset for me, personally and professionally, having another individual with the experience of a head coach. 

"We talked about him staying here long before he ever took the interview[s]. Now, obviously, when he took the interview[s] and this narrative broke out -- in reflection to the relationship Dan and I do have -- he said, 'Hey man, I'm not comfortable with this narrative. If you really feel like I need to take one of these jobs, just be honest with me.' We kind of laughed about it, and I just said, 'Dan, 10 to 12 years ago I'd tell you to please get the hell out of here. I don't want to deal with this.'

"But the reality is I'm about winning, he's about winning and the best thing for the Cowboys is for Dan Quinn to be here. It was his decision and his decision alone, but I clearly wanted him to know that from the start of all of that, I wanted him here. It's in the best interest of us winning."

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And so it goes that the relationship between McCarthy and Quinn remains solid and unfractured by Jones' attempt at installing a variant of hunger games within the Cowboys coaching staff, but there's also the much larger mastodon in the room, and its name is Sean Payton. With Payton stepping away (not retiring) from the NFL for 2022 and intimating he'd like to return to coaching as early as 2023, the longtime speculation on if/when Jones would pursue the former Cowboys assistant head coach/quarterbacks coach turned New Orleans Saints head coach has hit fever pitch. 

Because it's not actually Quinn (or Moore, anymore) who is the lead horse in the potential race to replace McCarthy in 2023, it's presumably Payton, a coach Jones has an intense fondness for and likely equates to his wish of having not ignored signing Bill Belichick in yesteryear. So now that Payton can be acquired, and particularly without giving anything to the Saints (as would be the case in 2023), then you have to believe the pressure already present on McCarthy has now become exponentially more suffocating.

"We talked about Sean Payton's narrative also," said McCarthy. "It's been discussed. The conversation was, 'You and I are in this back-to-back. It's a partnership and just focus on what we need to do moving forward.' He made some personal comments about how he feels about it but, at the end of the day, those are for him and I. But yea, I'm very, very comfortable with our relationship and our dialogue. 

"At the end of day, we both want the same thing and that's to win a world championship. Definitely, the narratives are unusual, but you have to trust the relationships and the connections that you have in our leadership group. And I think we're doing everything we possibly can to build a championship team here."

The bottom line is all McCarthy can do (and better do) is focus on the task at-hand, but his eyes are wide open, and it's now fair to wonder if McCarthy might eventually be done with Jones before Jones is done with McCarthy. After all, it's not as if a head coach hasn't given up on Jones and his PR antics before.

Just ask Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells.

As a bit of a sidebar, it also bears mentioning how Moore is not McCarthy's "guy", but instead a rollover from the Jason Garrett era (most certainly Garrett's "guy") who found adoration in the Joneses and was simply allowed to remain by McCarthy, due to his ability at the time to coordinate a No. 1 offense in the NFL. 

But with Moore's talents now questionable as of late, one has to wonder would McCarthy take play-calling duties away from him in 2022 -- if the Cowboys offense gets off to an abysmal start to a season that will decide the fate of McCarthy in Dallas? And, would the Jones "allow" him to, given how they've been grooming Moore for years now (similar to the ascension of his mentor in the ousting of Wade Philips)??

It's all open for meaningful discussion now that Jones has tied C4 to the hornet's nest and detonated it.

"As far as what happens next, and all that? I think that's just a part of the landscape," McCarthy said. "Jerry's the owner, he's the GM, and he's always taking a 360-degree view of everything. We have a lot of one-on-one conversations and we've discussed all these things. I never once felt that was not going to be the head coach moving forward and, frankly, I've been at this long enough that that's all I'm focused on. ... I'm about winning. That's all I've ever focused on and that's all I ever will focus on.

"Are these narratives unusual? Absolutely. I've never dealt with anything like this. 

"Do I wish I didn't have to come on here and answer questions about it? Yea, no doubt about it. I wish we were talking about something else, but it is a part of [the Cowboys] landscape. I just think keeping things real and keeping things focused because, at the end of the day, it's about the people you're in charge of, the people you coach and, most importantly, it's about the people in our locker room."

McCarthy is currently 18-15 in the regular season as Cowboys head coach, but the 2020 season is much more forgivable given the loss of Dak Prescott and the subsequent poor play of his backups -- Garrett Gilbert notwithstanding. In what could be easily viewed as a mulligan season, McCarthy led the team to a 12-5 record and NFC East crown, but a consistently uneven offense in December ultimately did them in when January rolled around. With the top three coaches back for another try in 2022, the Cowboys will have to not only fire out of the gate as they did in 2021, but finish with nothing short of an NFC Championship Game appearance.

And, hell, even then you can't guarantee the Joneses won't make a move at head coach, that's assuming the head coach hasn't already made a move to get away from the Cowboys. It's simply unclear how much longer McCarthy will endure this landscape before looking to take root somewhere else.