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Tim Cowlishaw: Jerry Jones’ ire toward end of Cowboys’ season leaves two options on the table in Dallas

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Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy talks to Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones on the sidelines in practice during training camp at the Dallas Cowboys headquarters at The Star in Frisco, Texas on Monday, Aug. 31, 2020.

Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy talks to Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones on the sidelines in practice during training camp at the Dallas Cowboys headquarters at The Star in Frisco, Texas on Monday, Aug. 31, 2020. (Vernon Bryant/The Dallas Morning/TNS)

As I type this, nearly 72 hours have passed since Jerry Jones went on 105.3 The Fan [KRLD-FM] and left Mike McCarthy twisting in the wind. No endorsement for a job well done, no vote of confidence going forward, not much of anything regarding his head coach beyond a pet peeve about using the offseason to fix the Cowboys’ invasive penalty issue.

Beyond the entertainment value of Jones’ 22-minute interview on the station, the relevant question is this: Did it mean anything?

There are two possibilities. One is that, five days after the club’s loss to San Francisco, Jones was still so ticked off at his head coach that he didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of hearing that everything is OK and that he will, indeed, have a job here in 2022. And upon re-listening, I think that is the more likely answer to this riddle. With Jones, you tread lightly through the mine field of his ambiguity, but if forced to take a side, I would probably choose this one.

Jones is still mad, but nothing is going to happen. End of story.

The other possibility — and I do believe it’s real — is that, as the owner said, nothing compelled him to make any announcement Friday morning. His evaluation is ongoing. The primary reason for any hesitation on his part is that defensive coordinator Dan Quinn was having his fifth head coaching interview Monday, this one with the New York Giants. He already has interviewed with Chicago, Minnesota, Denver and Miami.

Should Quinn be offered one of these positions, Jones could try to cancel his exit by offering him the top job here. I don’t think this is something Jones is inclined to do or that he would see as a major upgrade, so it probably won’t happen. But I also don’t think Jones believes McCarthy has really done anything to suggest this is a terrible idea, trading out one veteran coach for another in order to maintain some of the positive feelings Quinn generated as this club developed a much more aggressive, turnover-creating defense.

I find it funny that critics of this notion get overly worked up about how Atlanta blew a 28-3 lead to New England in the Super Bowl five years ago when Quinn was head coach, rather than debate how much of the responsibility for that collapse belongs on the shoulders of the offensive play-caller at the time, Kyle Shanahan (answer is a lot). That game is no more relevant to the Cowboys’ future than is the Super Bowl that McCarthy won in Arlington 11 years ago. In today’s game, both are the ancient history of other teams. Coaches thrive and fail mostly based on the particular talent they inherit and collect in different situations.

Quinn got fired after an 0-5 start in 2020, and he still had a winning record. In Atlanta. Let’s not pretend his head coaching experience was the same as Rod Marinelli’s.

We have seen Quinn come to Dallas and do rather well. I don’t want to overstate it because this defense is hardly perfect, but it was a nice upgrade from a year ago. To think he could lead this team in the same manner as McCarthy and perhaps do a little better is not a crazy idea. I believe it’s the only change Jones would consider because the club has an enormous number of coaches under contract. If you changed McCarthy out for Quinn, you would not be forced to eat millions in other contracts beyond the head coach’s.

At the same time, that’s probably the best reason Quinn would have for going elsewhere. If he is liked well enough in one of the other five cities, he can build his own staff. In addition, depending upon the job, time will be on his side. Four of those teams had losing records and Miami was 9-8. Expectations are different than they are here where 2022 will be evaluated based on whether or not the Cowboys reach that elusive NFC Championship Game.

My best guess, though, is that Jones has resigned himself to another season of status quo on the coaching staff. It’s not something he’s excited to announce, and he surely didn’t want to sound as if he’s indifferent about the entire mess.

In over 30 years of being around the Dallas owner, I have found only two criticisms that truly bother him. The second biggest one is that he and son Stephen Jones are all about making money and not winning. That will anger either one of them in a hurry. And while I consider it a huge overstatement, there is no getting around the fact, and there never will be, that 31 general managers and personnel directors compete with their jobs on the line each year.

The Jones Boys do not.

The other criticism, the one that will have Jerry coming over the table at you, is to suggest the three Lombardi Trophies earned in the ‘90s were solely the work of Jimmy Johnson and that nothing good has been achieved (beyond Barry Switzer winning one title with Jimmy’s players) since his departure.

And it’s that criticism — again an overstatement of how things were although Jerry certainly wasn’t sitting next to Jimmy in coaches’ meetings in 1992 — that keeps the owner from settling in comfortable with his current head coach. There’s only one way to kill that criticism for good, and Jerry has been searching for that answer for a quarter of a century.


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