NFC East title puts Mike McCarthy in rare place among Cowboys coaches

The Dallas Cowboys are your 2023 NFC East Champions following Sunday’s victory over the Washington Commanders. It is the team’s second division title since Mike McCarthy became head coach in 2020. That puts him in good company among the lineage of Cowboys coaches.

With two NFC East titles in his first four seasons, McCarthy has achieved something that even Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells didn’t in their runs with Dallas. Only Tom Landry, Barry Switzer, and Wade Phillips have had that much early success with the Cowboys.

Landry comes with a bit of an asterisk as there were no divisions in the NFL during his first seven seasons. And, during those seven seasons, Dallas didn’t even have a winning record before going 10-3-1 in 1966. But once divisions became a thing in 1967, Landry’s Cowboys won five in a row; three when it was formerly known as the Capitol Division and two once it was renamed as the NFC East.

Barry Switzer inherited Jimmy Johnson’s Super Bowl-ready roster in 1994 and won three straight NFC East titles to start his run. Similarly, in 2007, Phillips took over the playoff contender that Bill Parcells had built and won the NFC East that season and again in 2009.

Like Switzer and Phillips, Mike McCarthy didn’t find a bare cupboard when he became Cowboys head coach. They were 8-8 under Jason Garrett in 2019 and won the NFC East the year before. McCarthy had Dak Prescott ready to go as a veteran quarterback and other solid pieces already in the foundation.

Still, McCarthy had to help the team progress again after plateauing under Garrett. It didn’t start pretty; Prescott’s major leg injury and the disastrous hiring of Mike Nolan as defensive coordinator torpedoed McCarthy’s first season in 2020. But the Cowboys took a big step forward in 2021, going 12-5 and giving McCarthy his first NFC East title.

Dallas has now finished 12-5 in each of the last three seasons. It’s brought them two division titles in 2021 and 2023. That’s good enough to potentially win a division any year in the NFL, but last year the Eagles eclipsed them with a 14-3 record.

Still, at least in terms of the regular season, McCarthy has validated what Jerry Jones brought him here to do. After a rough first year, he’s produced three 12-win seasons and two NFC East championships. The Cowboys are entering these playoffs as the NFC’s number-two seed with realistic aspirations of finally getting back to the conference championship game.

Now comes the real measure of McCarthy’s value to the Cowboys; what happens in this postseason? Even Jason Garrett once told his players to give their division champion hats away and keep their sights set on something bigger. That expectation is even stronger for McCarthy, whose Super Bowl win with Green Bay was perhaps the biggest reason Dallas even hired him.

That said, before we get fully into playoff mode, let’s celebrate what Mike McCarthy has accomplished with the Cowboys. Winning the NFC East rarely comes easy, and McCarthy’s now done it twice in his last three seasons. Hopefully, it’s a sign of even better things to come.


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