One year in as Cowboys' coach, Mike McCarthy says 'we have a lot of work to do'

Stephen A.: Cowboys are good at everything but winning football games (2:34)

Stephen A. Smith details the "ineptitude" of the Dallas Cowboys and why they should give Dak Prescott a contract extension. (2:34)

FRISCO, Texas -- One year and two days ago, Mike McCarthy was introduced as the eighth coach of the Dallas Cowboys, sitting next to Jerry and Stephen Jones inside Ford Center on a beautiful January day without a cloud in the sky.

At the news conference, Jerry Jones spun a folksy tale regarding how he came to believe McCarthy was the right hire.

"My sister explained to my dad one time why she wanted to divorce," Jones said. "Dad loved her husband and he said, 'What's gotten into you?' And she said, 'I don't hear bells.' He said, 'Bells? Bells? I haven't heard bells for the last 30 years.' The bottom line is that is a dad trying to advise his daughter on the right move.

"But the bottom line is, I heard bells."

To some among the Cowboys' faithful, those bells might have turned into alarms. The Cowboys went 6-10 in McCarthy's first season, and only the sad state of the NFC East kept Dallas in the playoff race until Week 17.

The reasons the Cowboys tied for the fourth-worst record of Jones' 31-year tenure as franchise owner are plenty:

-- Injuries. The 2020 season took a turn when the Cowboys lost quarterback Dak Prescott to a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle in Week 5. The Cowboys lost six of their next seven games after Prescott went down.

-- Lack of offseason. Whatever McCarthy wanted to implement in his first spring and summer, he couldn't because of the coronavirus pandemic. Coaches installed schemes and techniques virtually. At the time, they felt they had it covered. When the season began, it was clear the Cowboys were behind, especially on defense.

-- Changing defensive schemes. Jones thought the Cowboys had a defense that was too easy to read and liked the change that McCarthy's choice of defensive coordinator, Mike Nolan, would bring with a hybrid scheme. But on multiple occasions, Jones said he lamented the wholesale change because of the lack of practice time.

-- Tragic loss of Markus Paul. The strength and conditioning coordinator collapsed in his office Nov. 24 and was pronounced dead the next day, less than 24 hours before the Cowboys played the Washington Football Team on Thanksgiving. Emotions were raw for the Cowboys and stayed with them for the rest of the season.

McCarthy called this season "uniquely challenging."

"You just never totally had your hands around the changing environment of your workplace. I think like all of us, especially in this industry, you really put your time and energy and you bite into the things you can control. Really to have one of the primary components that helps you prepare for success be a moving target, it was definitely something that none of us have experienced," McCarthy said.

"I don't like the word 'overwhelming' because it puts you in a mode where you didn't think you could handle it. I think we did more than handled it. I do admire and respect, particularly our players, but really our staff for everything that they've done to make this season get to this point. It's about winning. Don't get me wrong. I clearly understand our record and everything. But there was a lot of things that we didn't see coming."

What drew the Joneses to McCarthy was his résumé; he went to the playoffs in nine of his 13 seasons with the Green Bay Packers. He went to the NFC Championship Game four times. He won a Super Bowl at AT&T Stadium.

But in his past three seasons on the sideline, McCarthy has a 17-26-1 record.

In his first year in Green Bay, the Packers finished 8-8 after a 4-8 start. He believes the four-game winning streak helped catapult them to their 13-3 finish in 2007, even if the competition was not the stoutest. The Cowboys won three straight in Weeks 14-16 before losing their final game against the New York Giants, but none of the three wins was against a winning team.

McCarthy acknowledged the Cowboys have to start over in 2021.

"Every year is different. Every team is different," McCarthy said on Monday. "Having the opportunity to meet with our veterans, four years or more today, the positive energy and vibe that these men have towards what we are and how we are doing it. To a man, they are looking forward to the next challenge. But we need to go back and start on Page 1. That is the way I have always done it. When you take things for granted, you are really setting yourself up for failure.

"We have a lot of work to do."

That work -- Prescott's future, fixing the defense, upgrading the personnel, the No. 10 pick in the 2021 NFL draft -- has already begun, but McCarthy said the goal is to win a championship.

"I don't know why you would be in this business if you couldn't win a championship," McCarthy said. "That's just the way I've always approached it. That's the way I learned from Marty Schottenheimer back in 1993."

The Cowboys' Super Bowl drought is now 25 years. They have won four playoff games since then. Having come from Green Bay, which last won a Super Bowl in 1996 before his arrival, McCarthy is fully aware of the organization's and the fans' expectations.

"I can just assure you that we're doing everything the right way. We're being diligent in our process to be a championship team. And I get the disappointment. This is clearly not the way any of us anticipated the outcome of this season," McCarthy said. "But I think we have to recognize -- and it's just the facts -- this was a uniquely challenging season like hopefully we never experience again."

And in 2021, McCarthy must find a way to make Jerry Jones hear those bells again.