It is July 2021, and Dallas Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy is setting the stage - and the standard - for his team's upcoming season.
Declares McCarthy on Episode 1 of HBO's Hard Knocks:
Charlie F*ckaround? He doesn't work here. High School Harry? Get his ass out the f*cking door. This is about winning a world championship. Nothing else. Winning season? Not good enough. Playoffs? Not good enough. Getting to the conference championship game? Not good enough. This is about winning the Super Bowl. Period.
It is January 2022, and in the wake of those goals being wildly whiffed, Cowboys critics and fans alike are decrying that "Charlie F*ckaround" is none other than McCarthy himself.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones canceled his regular Tuesday morning appearance on 105.3 The Fan, sending NFL national talking heads into a tizzy. This, despite vice president Stephen Jones on Monday - on the same radio station, no less - giving McCarthy a hearty vote of confidence.
Asked if the coach's job was safe, Stephen responded "Absolutely."
UPDATE: The Cowboys are scheduling a McCarthy presser for Wednesday afternoon at 2 p.m. here at The Star. We will be there - and we will take this as a "business-as-usual' sign from the team.
Nonetheless, on ESPN Tuesday morning even former Cowboy and noted "true-blue believer" Marcus Spears predicted McCarthy's firing after being reminded that in 2019 Jones also canceled his first post-season radio show and then days later fired Jason Garrett.
"I think McCarthy should be fired," Spears said, "and Jerry should promote Dan Quinn."
Others in the national media have spent the days after Dallas' excruciating Wild Card loss to the 49ers digging deep for bread crumbs that lead back to McCarthy's incompetence, even highlighting a "lie" he told to land the Cowboys job in the first place.
Jerry could have immediately muted the speculation about his coach when asked about McCarthy's status after the loss. But in the heat of the moment, all he could muster was ...
“I don’t even want to discuss anything like that at this particular time. No discussion about anything.”
McCarthy signed a five-year contract in January of 2020, and there's no rational proof to suggest his job is in jeopardy. There is, however, a mountain of damning evidence justifying the coach's critics as the Cowboys - for the 30th time during Jerry's reign - end another season with nothing more than a participation plaque.
Sure, McCarthy coached a 12-5 record and won an NFC East championship during a season of eye-popping individual and team records. He backed up his bold guarantee that the Cowboys would march into Washington and win on Dec. 12.
And in Dallas he's 18-15, recording the third-most wins by a Cowboys coach in his first two seasons behind only Barry Switzer (24) and Wade Phillips (22).
"There's been a lot that's been accomplished," he said after the loss to San Francisco.
The Cowboys' season-long toxicity of being undisciplined bit them fatally against the 49ers. The most-penalized team in the NFL in the regular season drew an NFL-record 14 playoff flags.
Cowboys Trade Answer: Dalton Schultz to Tom Brady’s Bucs?
The Cowboys could re-sign Schultz now or let him walk for next to nothing in 2023
'Stir the Pot': Jason Garrett Advice to Cowboys Coach Mike McCarthy
"That’s just the world that we live in. The days of Walter Cronkite telling you the news as it is ... Those are long gone. It’s 24-hour news cycles and we’re trying to stir the pot.'' - Jason Garrett.
Cowboys 2022 Training Camp Dates Announced
Updated by the minute, our Cowboys NFL Free Agency and Trade Tracker: News and views on the roster-building effort
They became only the second team in NFL history (joining the 2000 Rams) to score 500 points in the regular season but not win a playoff game.
And there's the little thing regarding clock/time management. As some of us have bemoaned all season, McCarthy's two-year trend of bungling of timeouts and illogical risk-reward assessments on fourth downs and two-point conversions has grown into a national punchline.
For some - obvious officiating errors be damned - calling a quarterback draw with :14 left and no timeouts should be the final nail in the coach's coffin.
In the six-point loss to the 49ers the Cowboys:
*Threw only five passes (resulting in one catch) to leading receiver CeeDee Lamb, despite playing against a porous San Francisco secondary that led the NFL in pass-interference penalties and had only nine interceptions.
*Didn't make in-game adjustments with Connor Williams and/or Tyler Biadasz to slow a 49ers' pass rush (without Nick Bosa, by the way) that consistently harassed Dak Prescott out of the pocket and into five sacks.
*Gave 12 carries to Ezekiel Elliott (who admitted after the game he was playing with a torn knee ligament) and only four to Tony Pollard.
Bottom line: An offense that averaged 31 points during the season managed only 17 in a home playoff loss. Granted, McCarthy should have received helpful input from his two hot-commodity assistants: Kellen Moore and Quinn.
Questions abound this offseason. After a 2021 season seemingly ripe for success, where does Dallas' improvement come from to avoid failure in 2022?
Because of their regular-season success the Cowboys will draft 24th, down from the lofty positions that netted them stars Lamb (17) and Micah Parsons (12) the previous two years.
Next season the Cowboys play a first-place schedule. Their last four seasons following an NFC East title have resulted in records of 6-10, 4-12, 9-7 and 8-8.
And in 2022 the Cowboys can only hope to remain as healthy as they did this season, while division foes such as the Giants and Washington continue to provide a guaranteed four wins.
Jerry has done is part.
He re-signed Will McClay to continue to acquire talent such as Lamb, Parsons and Trevon Diggs. He's paying Prescott a record contract. He hired a Super Bowl-winning coach, and surrounded him with lieutenants that almost every team with an opening has interest in.
“When you get this combination of players together,'' Jerry said, "you need to have success.''
Despite the stars seemingly aligning in 2021, the Cowboys ultimately didn't.
To some, Jerry's statement is merely a motivational indictment of his coach. To hopeful others, it's a salvo for the looming firing of "Charlie F*ckaround". But that doesn't seem to be the plan, as we will learn for certain at 2 p.m.