Mike McCarthy explains how Kellen Moore, Cowboys changed his mind on ‘never’ giving up play-calling duties

INDIANAPOLIS — Yes, Mike McCarthy knows what he said.

It was 2016. He had relinquished play-calling duties in Green Bay early the previous year. He regretted it.

“I’ll never do that again,” McCarthy said nearly four years ago.

Now, entering his first season as head coach of the Cowboys, McCarthy has changed his mind. He’s entitled to, he figures.

“I have a new job,” McCarthy said Wednesday afternoon at the NFL scouting combine. “I get to start over and take all those ‘never again’ statements back. I think when you just look at the big picture, all these decisions I’m making, particularly early in my tenure, I’ve had a lot of time to think about it.”

What exactly was McCarthy thinking, as he reflected during a 2019 “gap year” on his coaching philosophies and how he could improve them going forward?

McCarthy’s analysis didn’t convince him he should never call plays again. He considered how he’d approach the teams on a case-by-case basis. In Dallas, Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore impressed McCarthy. So McCarthy decided: Why change the play-caller for a team that in 2019 led the league in both yards per game (431.5) and yards per play (6.46)? Sure, some of that production came in garbage time during Dallas’ disappointing 8-8 season. But McCarthy is pleased with the rapport between quarterback Dak Prescott and his receivers, including free agents Amari Cooper and Randall Cobb. He knows running back Ezekiel Elliott is a playmaker whom he’ll continue to incorporate into the game plan heavily.

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Studying the Cowboys’ 2019 film, McCarthy thought the 31-year-old Moore had proven his aptitude .

“Dallas was the one opportunity that it was something I thought it was important to keep the current offense in place,” McCarthy said. “Because of the success they had at the past, the productivity on offense was very high. There will always be things that are different … [but] I’m excited to work with Kellen and I’ve really enjoyed our meetings.

“I really like the way he looks at the game.”

McCarthy and his staff have begun changing the Cowboys’ offensive approach, design and some lingo as it relates to run play calls and protection. But he’s maintaining the bulk of the language that Dallas has in place.

Prescott and center Travis Frederick raved about that decision to USA TODAY Sports last month.

“It’s huge,” Prescott told USA TODAY Sports. “I mean, that’s one of the biggest things when you talk about a quarterback, when you talk about leading an offense. Because if the terminology stays the same, that lessens that learning curve, that gap of, ‘I’ve got to learn that before I can teach it.’ Well now, I know that so I can go straight to teaching.”

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Frederick likened the decision to asking players to learn a new accent or dialect rather than an entire language.

“That makes it super easy the way your brain organizes it,” he told USA TODAY Sports.

Another advantage to Moore calling plays for McCarthy: the coach anticipates devoting more time to personnel evaluation. He said he can already tell he’s more involved in free agency and draft preparation than he had been with the Packers, whom he led for nearly 13 seasons.

McCarthy and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s staff will, however, overhaul the defensive system. They aim to fit the scheme to players rather than rule out players on based on fit.

“When you’re throwing away good players because they don’t fit your system,” McCarthy told local beat writers Wednesday, “you’ve got to take a hard look at your system.”

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.

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