INDIANAPOLIS — For seven years, Kellen Moore was the most constant voice in Dak Prescott‘s ear either as a Dallas Cowboys teammate, quarterbacks coach or offensive coordinator.
In 2023, Mike McCarthy will take that role over, as the head coach will be calling plays for the first time in his tenure with the Cowboys.
Prescott tied for the league lead in interceptions with a career-high 15 despite missing five games because of a fractured thumb, and McCarthy said he believes a “new voice” will serve the quarterback well.
“We all can use a sense of motivation and challenge and so forth. This is a new challenge for him,” McCarthy said from the NFL scouting combine Wednesday. “These are his words: He’s very excited about it and I just think, like anything, he’s had a chance to go from the different variations of the offense that was in place. He’s getting ready to take another turn as far as a variation of what we’re getting ready to do. We’re going to build it off what he has established.
“My decision to stay with his concepts and so forth is still intact because I wouldn’t have did what I did in 2020 if I still didn’t believe in him. And we obviously as an organization, myself included, feel very strongly about him as our future, and we will definitely build this thing around him.”
From 2019 to ’22, Moore called plays and directed some of the best statistical offenses in team history while seeing Prescott set a team record for touchdown passes in a season in 2021. But not long after the playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers in January, McCarthy made a number of changes to his offensive coaching staff.
Moore and quarterbacks coach Doug Nussmeier left for jobs with the Los Angeles Chargers, and offensive line coach Joe Philbin and running backs coach Skip Peete were told they would not return to the team with their contracts expiring.
Brian Schottenheimer replaced Moore as offensive coordinator, and Mike Solari was named offensive line coach. McCarthy promoted assistant offensive line coach Jeff Blasko to run game coordinator/running backs coach and assistant Scott Tolzien to quarterbacks coach.
But the biggest difference will be McCarthy’s impact on the offense. He called the plays during most of his tenure with the Green Bay Packers, and after retaking those duties in 2015, he said he would always call plays as a head coach.
When he joined the Cowboys in 2020, he retained Moore because he did not want to disrupt Prescott’s development. McCarthy will be the first Cowboys head coach to call plays since Jason Garrett in 2012.
“I think the last three years, we grew into the offense that I wanted it to be as far as the run-pass combination,” McCarthy said. “And I just feel like we’ll have another variation, and hopefully we can take another step.”
McCarthy praised Moore, but he also acknowledged differences in approach based on their different levels of experience.
“Kellen wants to light the scoreboard up, but I want to run the damn ball so I can rest my defense,” McCarthy said. “I think when you’re a coordinator, you’re in charge of the offense. Being a head coach and being a playcaller, you’re a little more in tune with [everything]. I don’t have the desire to be the No. 1 offense in the league. I want to be the No. 1 team in the league with a number of wins and a championship. And if we’ve got to give up some production and take care of the ball better to get that, then that’s what we’ll do, because we have a really good defense.”
McCarthy said the offense figures to change anywhere from 30% to 35% but the language will remain the same that it has been since Moore started as the playcaller in 2019.
“We’re not throwing everything away,” he said. “We have a lot to build off of. Last year was the most complementary football that we’ve played with our run-pass [balance]. We’re looking to take the next step. Being more balanced and more complementary football is what I’m really looking forward to.”
But McCarthy is happy to be going back to his roots and implementing changes to the offense. Most of the offensive staff is having shorter than usual visits to Indianapolis for the combine in order to put together the new-look offense.
In fact, McCarthy flew to Indianapolis Wednesday morning and was back in Texas hours later.
“This,” he said, “is the most fun I’ve had since I’ve been in Dallas.”