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Cowboys retaining Mike McCarthy for 2024: Dallas coach hopes to keep Dan Quinn if DC not hired as HC

Dallas’ D has been terrific under Quinn since 2021

            Garrett Podell

By Garrett Podell of cbssports.com contributing

FRISCO, Texas — Now that the Dallas Cowboys are officially retaining head coach Mike McCarthy for the fifth and final season of his contract for the 2024 season, he has the ability to adjust and reconfigure the coaching staff of what he calls “a championship program.”

The first domino to fall in that process is whether or not defensive coordinator Dan Quinn returns to Dallas. His unit leads the league in quarterback pressure rate (41.4%), interceptions (59), takeaways (93) and defensive touchdowns (15) since he joined McCarthy’s staff 2021, and because of that success, 2023 may have been his last ride with the Cowboys.

Quinn has been requested to interview for the following NFL head-coaching vacancies: PanthersChargersSeahawksTitans and Commanders.   

Cowboys defense under Dan Quinn since 2021

NFL RANK
PPG Allowed19.95th
3rd Down Pct Allowed36.4%4th
Sacks1416th
QB Pressure Rate41.4%1st
TD-INT Allowed68-592nd
Interceptions591st
Takeaways931st
Defensive TD151st

“We’ll start that probably at the end of next week, some of those conversations will be preliminary, right now,” McCarthy said Thursday when asked about assistant coaches he will be keeping on his 2024 staff. “We’re kind of moving forward in that direction, this is the time of year when there are other opportunities and we’ll work through that. Obviously one is the Dan Quinn situation. We just continue to work through that on a day-to-day basis.”

The Cowboys head coach essentially confirmed he would welcome Quinn back to his staff with open arms if he isn’t selected for any of the head-coaching vacancies this hiring cycle despite Dallas surrendering a franchise-record 48 points in their 48-32 loss against the Green Bay Packers on Super Wild Card Weekend. Fourteen of those points can be attributed to Dak Prescott interceptions. One of those touchdowns was a 64-yard pick six by Green Bay safety Darnell Savage. The other was an interception by Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander that provided Green Bay a possession that began inside the red zone at the Cowboys’ 19. 

“Dan is a highly-valued member of our coaching staff,” McCarthy said. “We’ll go through the process here.”

One of the biggest successes of Quinn’s time running the Dallas defense is the development of All-Pro edge rusher Micah Parsons, the team’s 12th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Parsons entered the NFL as an inside linebacker, but injuries to others his rookie year led to him filling in along the defensive line, allowing to unleash his pass-rushing chops. Under Quinn’s guidance, Parsons has been named a Pro Bowler in each of this first three seasons with a third consecutive First-Team All-Pro nod likely coming soon. 

He is one of just five players to total at least 40 sacks (40.5) within his first seasons. In 2023, Parsons led the NFL in quarterback pressures (103), quarterback pressure rate (21.8%) and pass rush win rate (35.3%), which is when a defender beats his block in less than 2.5 seconds. Remarkable, considering Parsons was double-teamed on 35% of his pass rush plays in 2023, the most in the league among edge players, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats. No other edge rusher was double-teamed at 30% or higher rate. His and Quinn’s connection goes above and beyond that between a coach and his star pupil. 

“That’s like my OG, for real,” Parsons said on Jan. 11. “He means a lot to me, not only because it’s just about football. I think Q — we were talking today, because he did the college thing [served as Florida’s defensive coordinator from 2011-2012] like [Nick] Saban — he said ‘yeah’ and I said, ‘You’re just such a great mentor.’ I think he does a great job of finding ways for you to love the game and finding ways to go around the game. It doesn’t always have to be hard-nosed, ‘I’m the coach.’ It’s more of a friendship. We go through what I don’t like, what I do like. He doesn’t just treat me like a player, he treats me like a friend. He’s always there when I need him and we’re not afraid to have those hard conversations whether it’s father to son or player to coach. We have them no matter what.”

Parsons has talked at length in the past about his desire to be in the Cowboys Ring of Honor like Hall of Famers Jimmy Johnson, Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin and Charles Haley, but he joked that should another team snap Quinn up, he would be interested in a reunion. 

“Dan’s my guy and if he do leave me, it’s always love. And he might take me with him, you never know,” Parsons said with a smile and a laugh. He is extension eligible for the first time in his career this offseason after completing his third NFL season in 2023.  

One of the only knocks on Quinn’s resume is he has gone 0-6 against Kyle Shanahan (49ers), Matt LaFleur (Packers) and Mike McDaniel (Dolphins) the last three seasons after all three were assistants under him on the 2016 NFC champion Atlanta Falcons. Each of Dallas’ last three seasons were ended by either Shanahan (2021 and 2022) or LaFleur (2023).