Sturm: Mike McCarthy shows there’s a new sheriff in town in mysterious Cowboys practice

Iamtdg

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By Bob Sturm Aug 31, 2020

Mike McCarthy is not, and will never be, Jason Garrett.

This is very good news for those of us who reference the four-year Bill Parcells era of 2003-06 as a welcome oasis in the desert between the dynasty of Jimmy Johnson and today. Now, let’s be clear: Parcells was cantankerous, arrogant and, more often than not, a bit rude. But he was 100-percent normal in the world of football coaches and their clear distrust for all competitors around the league. He was clear about his belief that it was not his job to say everything and to open his doors to the public. They don’t need to know who is starting, and they don’t need to know what he’s thinking. The media is simply trying to reveal secrets that he didn’t want out there. The Parcells oasis is one that resembles in many ways, shapes and forms the norms around the NFL. There are 32 armies of football men trying to outwit, outplay and outlast each other on the way to the Lombardi Trophy.

Meanwhile, from Switzer to Gailey to Campo to Phillips and then to Garrett, the Cowboys were a public spectacle. These were wise football men, and maybe weren’t crazy about everything being shared with everyone, but they never had the audacity to bite the hand that feeds them. They didn’t fight the circus around them in the Cowboys’ main tent; they joined it.

If it is a game of inches and if every inch truly matters, then why does the local team always focus on the business side so much that the football side becomes an open book to the other 31 teams? Why must this organization have the most leaks to the press (even if I have enjoyed some of them over the years) and the greatest number of times they accidentally post their own draft board on social media? Why do we always know who they want to draft before they do it? Why can’t the local team that often seems to underachieve consider tightening up the loose lips and the relaxed attitude towards protecting intelligence in a league where opponents are looking for every edge?

For those who are frustrated every time a company secret becomes known to the world, I think you might enjoy Mike McCarthy wandering much closer to Bill Parcells than anyone before or since in this desert journey from Super Bowl 30 to present.

Last night the Cowboys welcomed some media folks to AT&T Stadium for a team scrimmage that is probably similar enough to the Blue-White Scrimmages we normally see in California. For the media member who is also a football nerd, this is catnip that cannot be declined. It is football when football is not available. I don’t think I have ever missed attending one, whether it took place in Wichita Falls, San Antonio or sweet Oxnard, CA. The scrimmage is certainly the empty calories of football season, but it is something. And something in football is better than nothing.

For that reason, I was very excited to receive the invitation that fit around my radio gig to go check out the Sunday night scrimmage in person. I figured whether the Mavericks were playing a playoff game (they were) or the Stars were playing a playoff game (they were, too!), I would happily watch those on delay to allow for a little in-person glimpse of Cowboys football under the new regime of Mike McCarthy.

I was told later in the week it was also being televised on the Blue Star Network, the Cowboys’ in-house broadcast entity that we all know so well. I was tempted to stay home for a number of reasons. As my dad would tell me over the years, “You can see just as much at home, son.” I now look back and assume that was part-truth, part cost-cutting. Both can certainly be true when it comes to big-time sports.

Still, knowing that the scrimmage would not allow the public in the door, nor would it allow any nonessential media, I thought I had better take advantage of “making the cut” and seeing what I could.

As you probably know by now, there wasn’t a whole lot to see.

Moments after arriving in the stadium, a fellow media member told me what I thought must be a joke. He said, “I hope you know your players because there will be no names or numbers on the jerseys.”

What? Who has ever heard of that? Surely he was joking.

Nope. Not a joke at all. The players started running on the field, and those in the media quickly saw the truth: There would be no information available tonight. The Cowboys were taking all player identification information away so that nothing could be taken away from the scrimmage by anyone they wanted to protect against.

As a fan of the Parcells era and football games of counter-intelligence, I was torn. Of course, I wanted good information to pass your way. The team purposely wanted you to have none. Honestly, once I started watching the numberless-scrimmage, I was certainly capable of identifying players I have watched for years based on build, bulk, gait and even the way some wear their socks. There is some info to offer, but it is the small potatoes that practices and scrimmages normally contain.

I also loved what I was seeing in the question of how much a different Cowboys coach (not Wade or Garrett) push back at the Jones money machine. This particular machine is trying to mitigate losing all preseason television advertising money in 2020 with a made-for-television event that would air on a Sunday night and possibly be a three-hour infomercial for the Cowboys.

We have scored Round 1 in favor of Mike McCarthy.

Honeymoons don’t last forever, and this one won’t, either. In fact, we saw with Parcells that the media who were used to getting anything and everything they wanted turned quickly on Big Bill for not desiring their blessings. He had reluctantly dealt with the media but understood that the other coaches in other cities wanted him to explain his thinking as often as possible. As he had learned with guys like his old buddy Bill Belichick or adversaries all over football, most people on the outside don’t need to know anything. It isn’t actually a matter of rudeness to the media or to the fans. It is trying to not give up anything to those other 31 teams.

This was Mike McCarthy’s approach last night. He had no offseason program to install his entire system. He is trying to win a Super Bowl while running an organization that had won several already and is set in its ways. Gee whiz, we have a great history. But McCarthy has won one of his own, and he very well could do it again.

This 2020 is a different animal. No spring programs, no summer camps and this training camp? Well, it is very limited in a number of ways. No preseason games and no information network from across the league.

If it is the same for everyone, no big deal. Ah, wait. It isn’t. This organization wants to televise a practice or two and maybe the sponsor money from the preseason games can still be harvested. Genius!

Unless the new coach cannot believe you want to televise information to the world that puts the Cowboys at a competitive disadvantage. Here, the coach himself even explained somewhat after the scrimmage was over why he didn’t want any info out there: “We talked about this past week. This is such a unique season on so many fronts. I can’t tell you the conversations you have about competitive advantage and disadvantage and frankly with the fact that we were televising a practice here tonight. We would be exposing our younger players through the evaluation process that other teams really are not exposing. That was the reasoning of going with the white and blue jerseys.”

In other words, why are we televising this? Why would we want other teams to see the guys we have to cut if we can’t see theirs? Why would we offer evaluations on our own team website of players we have to waive this week if nobody else is doing it?

That makes all the sense in the world.

Now, you ask, why televise it at all if the television broadcast will be limited to nothing but shots of guys on the sideline watching football, press conferences from the last month and interviews with Michael Irvin, Nate Newton and, of course, the extended dance mix visit with Jerry Jones?

Because the organization was still trying to make money while the football side was trying to protect the product.

And while I know that must have been the most frustrating thing in the world to watch — and frankly, if you chose that over playoff hockey, I think you have to reevaluate your decision making, anyway — it is the right thing to do. No, you don’t want to anger your fans. But, honestly, those opinions don’t matter. The results do. And if that dog-and-pony show saved you one young player who you can keep on the practice squad rather than losing him to Denver or Detroit because you wanted your fans to feel satisfied with the race for the seventh WR by broadcasting an open practice, well, it is worth it.

Usually, in August of every year, the entire organization sends out all of its scouts to other preseason games around the league to get valuable cutdown information. It is a very important part of finding pieces. Every roster has found players this way. But 2020 is different. And McCarthy is aware of that.

“We definitely have a process in place, and Will McClay is leading that process. You know, frankly, that is part of our reasoning with the white and blue jerseys. We are watching everything (around the NFL) we can get our hands on just to get a glimpse, and it is a challenge of COVID of how you evaluate personnel around the league, so that’s a process that’s in place.”

In other words, the scouts aren’t traveling this year. There is nothing to see and nowhere to go. But they do have the morsels of information that teams elect to give out.

And over the years, no team has given out more free information to its competitors than this one.

So if McCarthy has the sense, authority and desire to shut that pipeline down, I am absolutely for it. Even if it means I waste some gas driving across town to see very little.

I actually feel like the value was in seeing that once again, there is a new sheriff in town. If all he values is what gets him closer to a trophy and he doesn’t mind the richest franchise in sports leaving a few hundred thousand dollars on the table, then finally someone around here gets it.

And it is at least five years overdue. Maybe more.
 

ravidubey

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Roster will be vulnerable anyway because the team has depth at a lot of positions, but this showed MM is his own man and will find creative ways to fight the circus.

Too bad he has to.
 

yimyammer

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If it is a game of inches and if every inch truly matters, then why does the local team always focus on the business side so much that the football side becomes an open book to the other 31 teams? Why must this organization have the most leaks to the press (even if I have enjoyed some of them over the years) and the greatest number of times they accidentally post their own draft board on social media? Why do we always know who they want to draft before they do it? Why can’t the local team that often seems to underachieve consider tightening up the loose lips and the relaxed attitude towards protecting intelligence in a league where opponents are looking for every edge?
 
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