Sometime Wednesday afternoon, the Dallas Cowboys, for the ninth time in their history and their eighth time under the ownership of Jerry Jones, are going to announce that they've hired a new head coach. Mike McCarthy, he of a dozen mostly successful seasons and one Super Bowl victory with the Green Bay Packers, is replacing Jason Garrett, taking over one of the most difficult, and most prestigious, jobs in professional sports.
If McCarthy leads these Cowboys — the Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, Ezekiel Elliott and DeMarcus Lawrence Cowboys — to the franchise's sixth Super Bowl win, he'll be a hero to Jones and Cowboys fans. Even if he doesn't, McCarthy's going to make one big improvement in Cowboys fans' lives as soon as he leads the team onto the field in 2020.
For the first time in a long time, the Cowboys aren't going to be under the constant threat of dying a coward's death, week after week.
Stripping away his positive personal qualities — and they were numerous, to hear those around the Cowboys tell it — Garrett's defining quality as a head coach was risk aversion.
Regardless of the circumstances, Garrett played to string the game out as long as possible, making decisions that, while they technically kept his teams in the game, actually decreased their chances of winning. Over the last 10 years, there have been almost too many examples to count.
There was the infamous 4th-and-1 punt in overtime against the Texans in 2018, the clock management nightmare that helped push the Cowboys out of the 2016 playoffs and the coaching debacle that led to the Cowboys' loss to the Vikings this season, among many, many others. Garrett managed games so that they consistently came down to one or two moments. Too often, his teams came up short.
That's not McCarthy's style, according to research from The Athletic's Bob Sturm. During his time in Green Bay, McCarthy's Packers went for it on fourth down the fourth most in the NFL in non-fourth-quarter situations. From 2010 to 2018, the years both McCarthy and Garrett ran their teams, the Packers went for it the most in the NFL on fourth down with more than four yards to go. Garrett ranked 28th in the league in similar situations.
McCarthy was willing to put the Packers' opponents to the test. Garrett was content to let them put their feet up.
It's an easy thing: just put yourself in the shoes of a fan of the Vikings, Texans, Packers or whoever. Now that you've done that, imagine whether you'd be relieved or nervous after Garrett's decision. If you're a Cowboys fan, you want your coach to make the decision that's going to make the other team's fan base afraid, not the one that's going to lead to them exhaling. Garrett, almost exclusively, did the latter.
The former Packers coach isn't perfect. As Sturm notes, his teams often had trouble killing games off and snatched a defeat from the jaws of near-certain victory in the 2014 NFC Championship Game against the Seahawks, but McCarthy has shown a willingness to make the right decision, regardless of previous outcomes. He went for all those early fourth downs despite the fact that his teams only converted at the 26th-best rate in the NFL.
A quarter-century of history says plenty of painful days are still on the horizon for Cowboys fans. They'll be a little easier to take if McCarthy is doing everything he can to win.
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