June 14, 2024

6 best Cowboys coaching candidates to replace Mike McCarthy, from Bill Belichick to Jim Harbaugh

The Cowboys have been longing for a deep playoff run. Dallas has not seen a game past the divisional round of the playoffs since winning the Super Bowl in the 1995 season. The 2023 Cowboys appeared to be a strong bet to reach the NFC title game in a weaker conference.

That didn’t happen. It didn’t even come close. The No. 2-seeded Cowboys, fresh off winning the NFC East in Week 18, were dominated by the Packers at home, falling 48-32 in a humiliating wild-card defeat

Hiring Mike McCarthy, a former Super Bowl-winning coach with the Packers, was supposed to change the fortunes of the Cowboys. Dallas has reached the playoffs in three of McCarthy’s four seasons as the head coach, going 12-5 each year. It lost in the wild-card round in 2021 and the divisional round in 2022. Now, it’s out after the wild-card round again in 2023.

Some franchises will be content with their team reaching the playoffs every season. The Cowboys are not one of those franchises. The expectations on McCarthy were higher than simply reaching the postseason, and he’s come up short of the goals for a team capable of competing for a Super Bowl.

Cowboys coaching candidates for 2024

Bill Belichick

  • Last Team: Patriots
  • Position: Head coach

No name will be linked more with a potential Cowboys’ opening than Bill Belichick. The Patriots and Belichick mutually decided to part ways after a disappointing season in New England. But the 71-year-old coach appears poised to continue his career with the headset, with teams like the Falcons and Chargers potentially interested in him.

There are some young, up-and-coming coaches that are going to excite other fanbases and teams. But Jones doesn’t want to wait to see if a coach might work out. His team is capable of winning now, and he’d likely be interested in seeing what a coach of Belichick’s track record can do taking over what would likely be his most talented team since the Patriots won the Super Bowl in 2018.

The biggest question with a potential Belichick-Cowboys pairing would be handling personnel decisions. Belichick was the general manager in New England, a role Jones himself occupies in Dallas. Would the two share decision-making? Would Jones delegate the role to Belichick? Or would Jones keep Belichick’s focus on the headset?

The Cowboys are “America’s Team.” There might not be a more “America’s Team” hire than bringing in the coach with the most Super Bowl rings and the second-most collective wins in NFL history between the regular season and playoffs.

Jim Harbaugh

  • Team: Michigan
  • Position: Head coach

All the talk for years about Jim Harbaugh is that Michigan would be a stop-gap for him between the 49ers’ head-coaching job and another gig in the NFL. He has stayed in Ann Arbor longer than many expected, but after winning a national championship, there is more talk than ever that he is ready to make the leap back to the NFL.

So far, most of the talk has been surrounding Harbaugh and the Chargers, with the allure of coaching Justin Herbert potentially drawing him to Los Angeles. But the chance to coach a team loaded with talent and another star quarterback in Dallas could add another team to the mix for Harbaugh.

Harbaugh has an extensive track record of success with quarterbacks, particularly in the NFL with Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick, and he was extraordinarily successful in the league, leading San Francisco to a 44-19-1 record and a Super Bowl appearance in his four years at the helm.

Harbaugh has spoken often, even since arriving at Michigan, about the Super Bowl being the greatest prize in the sport, and something he would ultimately hope to achieve in his career. Pairing him with a loaded roster and an owner desperately craving a title could be just the matchup to draw him back to the NFL.

Mike Vrabel

  • Last Team: Titans
  • Position: Head coach

There were few moves in this year’s coaching cycle as shocking as the Titans’ decision to let go of Mike Vrabel. Tennessee overachieved consistently under Vrabel, including reaching the conference championship in 2019 and the No. 1 seed in the AFC in 2021. The Titans had only two losing seasons under Vrabel, both of which came during a period of tumult and injuries at quarterback.

Vrabel is a defensive-minded head coach, and his teams have embodied the toughness and physicality he showed as a player in the NFL. Tennessee has had only two seasons ranking in the bottom half of the league in scoring average.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Vrabel’s teams with the Titans was the consistent success despite a standout quarterback. Ryan Tannehill resurrected his career in Tennessee, but still was a far-cry from the top tier quarterback the league has become accustomed of teams that consistently stand out.

Vrabel should be widely pursued as a head-coaching option this offseason. Combining his coaching acumen with this stout roster could be a dynamic match.

Mike Tomlin

  • Team: Steelers
  • Position: Head coach

Mike Tomlin has been as consistent as it gets. The Steelers have never had a losing season under Tomlin. They’ve reached the playoffs 10 times with him as head coach, including two Super Bowl appearances. Yet, there’s a chance after 17 years the two sides could look for a change of scenery.

There’s no question Pittsburgh has over-achieved with Tomlin as the head coach. He guided an aging Ben Roethlisberger and a team quarterbacked by Mason Rudolph to playoff appearances in 2021 and 2023, respectively. And in 17 years as a head coach, Tomlin has only twice coached a defense that ranks outside the top half in scoring average.

Again, there is no guarantee Tomlin will hit the market. He’s as well regarded in the league as any coach and, much like Belichick, is undoubtedly headed to Canton by the time he retires.

But if Tomlin and the Steelers decide for a mutual parting of ways, he’d be another big name Jones could pursue to try and turn the fortunes of the Cowboys around.

Dan Quinn

  • Team: Cowboys
  • Position: Defensive coordinator

Before the playoffs began, Dan Quinn was a hot name among coaching candidates. He has coached a stellar defense in Dallas over the past three years, and had plenty of experience as the Falcons head coach for six years that included guiding Atlanta to a Super Bowl.

After the Cowboys’ defense surrendered 48 points to the Packers, Quinn’s perceived value remains to be seen. It’s possible he’ll still be a popular name on the market given his combination of defensive chops and prior head-coaching experience.

He would not be the splashiest name for the Cowboys, but he knows the team well and could be well poised to take over as the head coach over potentially taking a job outside the organization.

It’s possible Sunday’s crushing loss will end any hopes of Quinn being a head coach this cycle. He’ll just have to hope his overall body of work is enough for Jones — or other teams — to look past a disastrous playoff game.

Bill Belichick (left) and Jim Harbaugh (right)

Kellen Moore

  • Team: Chargers
  • Position: Offensive coordinator

Kellen Moore has had an upward arrow next to his name in coaching cycles since he retired as a player and became the quarterbacks coach in Dallas. He then further bolstered his profile in 2019 when he took over as offensive coordinator, a position he held until leaving for the Chargers in 2023.

Moore and the Cowboys separated after the 2022 season, but it was a mutual decision, per reports, with Moore wanting a fresh start to continue to bolster his career and further position himself as a future head-coaching candidate. Los Angeles struggled offensively in 2023, but that was also due in part to a wave of injuries, including to Herbert.

If the Chargers wanted to keep Moore around as the head coach, it’s likely he would have been made interim head coach when Brandon Staley was fired midseason. Instead, Giff Smith was named the interim head coach.

Moore’s name should come up in plenty of head-coaching searches. Perhaps the Cowboys will be the one to give their former backup quarterback and former offensive coordinator his first head-coaching gig in the NFL.

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