FRISCO, Texas — “Respectfully,” Mike McCarthy says, he considers the conversation “nonsense.”
Why wouldn’t the first-year Cowboys coach, who won Super Bowl XLV with the Packers nine years ago, want to chase another Lombardi Trophy with what appears to be a talented roster?
“If you’re not trying to win a Super Bowl, I don’t know what you’re even doing in this business,” McCarthy said Friday morning before practice. “I think that’s what every team starts their offseason with. The ones that don’t talk about it are probably trying to underpromise, overachieve. But I’ve always been very upfront about it with every team I’ve ever coached: We’re in this to win a championship.
“Make no bones about it.”
The premise, of course, may seem obvious. But McCarthy’s predecessor Jason Garrett addressed the topic differently. Garrett was more apt to speak about the moment: He was focused on having a good Wednesday, preparing for the Giants, winning the turnover battle through the first quarter. Control what you can control. Garrett preferred his actions speak louder than his words. Chase the small goals, he believed, and the big are more likely to follow.
Garrett won 55.9% of his games, 85 in total, as Cowboys coach from 2010-19. The Cowboys went to the playoffs in 2014, 2016 and 2018. But the franchise hasn’t advanced past the divisional round in 24 years.
Cowboys safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix played four-plus years for McCarthy in Green Bay, during which time the Packers earned three playoff berths and twice advanced to the NFC championship game. He echoes McCarthy’s vocabulary.
“We want to win – that’s the goal,” Clinton-Dix said in his first interview as a Cowboy. “We want to win championships, that’s why we’re here. To have veteran guys on the defensive side of the ball who have played in big games and been a part of winning cultures, man, it’s awesome to have as many vets here who are ready to win a championship.”
That doesn’t mean McCarthy is only looking ahead. Each day he’s intentional about details with his new roster. He guides them on “practice ethics” before installations, mocking games in the afternoons of training camps. Tuesday, the Cowboys engaged in a game of Jeopardy! to enhance the group dynamic. Players say McCarthy is genuine and approachable, hammering them with up-tempo workouts while also prioritizing their recovery on rest days. (Right now, players regroup on Wednesdays and Saturdays.)
Friday, McCarthy moved between coaching players and communicating with owner Jerry Jones, who was attending his first practice of training camp. The men, each wearing masks, conversed for roughly half an hour. McCarthy brought over recent acquisition Everson Griffen to meet Jones. Then front office members watched Dak Prescott and quarterbacks target receivers on routes.
Prescott said his offense is communicating better this season, realizing bigger-picture aspects of their game.
“We’re somewhat veteran guys – young guys who have played a lot of football early in their career,” Prescott said. “But I wouldn’t say that we’ve been as smart as we’ve needed to be within the game of football. I think that’s what these coaches have come and added. Just got us all speaking the same language.”
Cornerback Chidobe Awuzie, similarly, noted the complexity of coordinator Mike Nolan’s defense.
“Last year, everybody knew what we were running,” Awuzie said. “Not saying it was bad. We had great players. We wanted to execute. Now, we’re starting to be a little bit more multiple, pre-disguised looks.”
The Cowboys hope their opponents don’t know what they’re running as often this year. But other teams can be sure of at least one thing: that Dallas is hunting a championship.
“Every coach is coaching in this training camp environment,” McCarthy said. “The players are doing a great job with the COVID challenge. It’s going to be a long, long year. It’s going to be a huge challenge to get that championship. That’s the reality of it. But at the end of the day, we’re on Install 6.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein