FRISCO, Texas — Mike McCarthy began his Dallas Cowboys tenure with a confession.
Maybe, just maybe, in his year away from coaching, he didn’t watch every play of the 2019 NFL season as he studied trends with a team of fellow ex-NFL coaches.
Sure, McCarthy analyzed Kellen Moore’s Cowboys offense and Dak Prescott’s best year as a quarterback among Pro Football Focus edits and clips that guided what he says are updated theories on situational football and the best schemes for an evolving game.
But when McCarthy described the breadth of his study for Cowboys owner Jerry Jones during a 12-hour interview, Jones’ new coach admits he stretched the truth.
“I need to confess: I told Jerry I watched every play of the 2019 season,” McCarthy said Wednesday during his introductory press conference. “I wanted the job. You do what you gotta do right?”
McCarthy explained further after laughter died down.
“It was more about tracking the trends and seeing what people were doing,” he said. “And a big part of it, too, was watching players, watching some of these new offenses, really a couple of guys on defense we were able to study.
“With the Cowboys and their excellent offense, they were a big part of those studies. It was more situational specific.”
The detail didn’t bother Jones too much. McCarthy’s pitch for how he’d improve the Cowboys’ game plan, how he’d elevate Prescott’s game and more was enough to sell Jones and his sons during the late-night session as Saturday stretched into Sunday.
But McCarthy’s public confession was one of several moments during his introductory press conference that spurred laughter from the audience. His ability to make light of situations, and spew self-deprecating comment after self-deprecating comment, was a marked difference from his predecessor.
Jason Garrett was often more candid with media in walk-off discussions during nine-plus years as Cowboys head coach. But he earned a reputation at the podium for being robotic, albeit polite, as he steered clear of any off-color comments. He left those to Jones, his often-interviewed owner.
McCarthy offered focus and substance in his introductory remarks.
He also displayed a range of emotions, from his first sentences seated between Stephen and Jerry Jones.
“I’m having a moment here,” McCarthy explained, “I’m having a moment here because I don’t know where the hell to put my hands. I never sat at a table for a press conference, so excuse me.
“Second thing, I should have brought my typed copy of notes like Jerry did. I tried to be slick and slip this in on ya.”
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Seconds later, McCarthy was choked up.
“My wife said I wouldn’t make it through 10 words,” he said. “I think I got to about six.”
McCarthy recounted an emotional Saturday night exchange between him and the Joneses, when the two sides decided to unite in pursuit of a Lombardi Trophy. McCarthy has won one in North Texas, his Packers Super Bowl victory in 2011 taking place at AT&T Stadium.
“I am anxious and excited,” he said, “to get to work on winning the next Super Bowl for the Dallas Cowboys.”
The eagerness only heightened when McCarthy spent 2019 out of coaching. The year allowed for self-reflection, driving his daughters to school and attending their volleyball games.
“I was on a boat in August,” McCarthy laughed. “That’s never happened before.”
He looked in the mirror, he says, and took an honest accounting of the decisions he made it in his decades of NFL coaching at different levels. Which decisions worked? Which seemed like they worked at the time, but in retrospect weren’t ideal? How would he build a staff, and with whom, if he got another chance?
It was clear to his wife, Jessica, that the Cowboys’ job was the right decision.
“When I came home, she said I looked 20 pounds lighter and a lot happier,” McCarthy said. “Frankly, trust me, we’re thrilled.”
And McCarthy hopes his locker room authority proves a bit stronger than his household authority during his season away.
“I’ll just say this,” McCarthy said. “If our players in Dallas listen to me the way my daughters listen to me, we’re in trouble.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.
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