Cowboys give Mike McCarthy huge vote of confidence, while Kellen Moore's status is much more murky
Jerry Jones and Mike McCarthy met this week to discuss the Dallas Cowboys’ future.
Jones, the team owner, didn’t simply express confidence in head coach McCarthy’s ability to win in 2023. Jones summoned the name of Cowboys Hall of Fame coach Tom Landry in expressing his desire to team up with McCarthy for years to come.
“As far as my relationship with Jerry, just using his words, we're in an excellent spot,” McCarthy said Thursday in an end-of-season news conference. “The partnership that we have, he's excited about. He told me a number of times this week that he wants me to coach here as long as Coach Landry did.
“And I said, 'OK, that's a long time.'”
Landry coached the Cowboys for 29 years.
Hyperbole and jest aside, McCarthy indicated Jones’ vision for his immediate future is clear.
The head coach wasn’t willing to give a similar public vote of confidence to his offensive coordinator, Kellen Moore.
Moore interviewed with the Carolina Panthers this week for a head-coaching vacancy the franchise ultimately hired Frank Reich for on Thursday.
Moore’s most-publicized potential alternative landing spot was off the table before McCarthy took the podium. So if Moore is available, will he be the Cowboys’ coordinator next season?
“My evaluation process is still going on,” McCarthy said. “I really don’t want to play this game today. It’s been a long couple of days. Kellen Moore, just like the rest of the coaches, will be evaluated. Every coach will be evaluated. The evaluation, it takes more than one day.
“We’ll continue to talk and I’m hopeful to get together with Kellen as early as tomorrow.”
6 assistants let go
Moore was not among the first wave of Cowboys coaches whose contracts were not renewed.
Running backs coach Skip Peete, offensive line coach Joe Philbin and quality control analytics coach Kyle Valero will not rejoin the team’s offensive staff. Senior defensive assistant George Edwards, assistant defensive line coach Leon Lett and assistant head coach Rob Davis were also not retained.
McCarthy announced those changes in a statement Friday before publicly addressing them. He said decisions were as much philosophical about the design and composition of his staff as they were tied to individual performances. Clarifying roles for 2023 will be a priority.
Could McCarthy return to the play-calling duties he held as Green Bay Packers head coach in a shake-up?
“Excellent creativity on asking me the question that I've already answered,” McCarthy said. “Just get started in the evaluation. I'm not calling plays this week. I think we clearly had things situated where I was very confident in how the offense would not only be called but the game plans were being built and so forth. I get the result, and it's because of the result that I have to answer these questions. Every coach, including myself, is being evaluated.”
How to fix Dak Prescott’s recent struggles
The No. 1 question for the Cowboys' offense is how to eliminate turnovers, particularly the league-leading interception count that quarterback Dak Prescott posted in his seventh season. Prescott was inconsistent in the campaign, including in the postseason. His regular-season finale generated a measly 45.8 passing efficiency rating; his spectacular five-touchdown, no-error performance in a wild-card win over the Buccaneers jumped to a near-perfect 143.3 rating.
Then, two costly interceptions and futile game-on-the-line drives returned him to a 63.6 outing in a 19-12 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday in the divisional round.
The Cowboys must determine the keys to Prescott’s efficiency, from the consistency in his footwork and mechanics to the confidence with which he diagnoses coverages and aligns reads with his weapons.
McCarthy mentioned Prescott’s production and games with 70+ completion percentage as offsetting factors to his interceptions. Prescott completed at least 70% of his passes in eight of 16 (50%) games last season; he completed at least 70% in eight of 14 (57%) this season.
The Cowboys ranked fourth in scoring this season, a number aided more from the 12 regular-season games Prescott competed in than the five he missed while rehabilitating a Week 1 thumb fracture.
The Cowboys know they need to better bolster Prescott’s receiving corps after a season in which CeeDee Lamb emerged as a true No. 1 option, but the Cowboys received below-expectation contributions from third-round rookie Jalen Tolbert as well as veteran Michael Gallup, who was less than a year removed from an ACL tear.
“I think when you take a step back and take the emotion out of how our season ended, there's an incredible amount of productivity there,” McCarthy said. “The completions, the decisions. Turnovers are obviously the huge negative there. ... We will definitely continue to try to evolve our offense. There’s no question.
“Let’s not be blind to the fact that this has been an extremely effective, productive offense the last two years.”
On the defensive side of the ball, the Cowboys are in great shape. Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn determined Thursday he will return for a third season in Dallas despite head-coaching interviews from three franchises. Dallas led the league in takeaways for a second straight season and improved from seventh in scoring defense to fourth.
The Cowboys’ defense arguably performed sufficiently in the divisional round game to advance, while the offense sputtered.
McCarthy knows he and his staff have not yet reached the postseason standard expected. The coach Jones compared him to won Dallas two Super Bowls. McCarthy won a championship in Green Bay, but has yet to deliver the ultimate prize in Dallas.
He knows. And he wants to fans to know he knows.
“We're all just as disappointed as our fans,” McCarthy said. “But I'll tell you this: From the moment I walked off the field, I was starting to think about changes to adjust and emphasize.
“Please have confidence and clear understanding that we're going to do everything we need to do to get this trophy."
Follow Yahoo Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein