FRISCO, Texas -- Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn will serve as the Dallas Cowboys' interim coach Thursday against the New Orleans Saints with head coach Mike McCarthy missing the game because he has tested positive for COVID-19.
Quinn served as Atlanta's head coach for parts of six seasons from 2015-20, posting a 43-42 regular-season record and taking his team to Super Bowl LI. He was fired last season and has rejuvenated a Dallas defense that was coming off a season in which it allowed a franchise record for points.
Quinn will ultimately make the final decisions, but offensive coordinator Kellen Moore and special teams coordinator John Fassel also will be heavily involved.
"I think understandably with Dan's experience, the challenge flag, the timeouts, the referee's meeting, there's just a lot of little things that go into it," McCarthy said. "You could have someone do it on a weekly basis but we'll spread that around. Kellen just needs to focus on the offense and calling the game and staying with that. John is also involved in some game management like most special teams coaches are. We have the network up top so that's something that won't change. So the biggest change is having Dan down on the field and just make sure he's getting the information he needs to make sound decisions."
McCarthy was placed on COVID protocols Monday but continued to direct the game preparation and was involved in all of the meetings virtually. He will conduct his normal pregame talk to the team Thursday morning.
McCarthy, who said his only symptom so far has been a "scratchy throat," doesn't remember ever missing a practice during his tenure in the NFL. A stomach issue kept him from coaching in the Pro Bowl in 2016. He said he has not thought about what it would be like watching his team play on television.
"I just want to make sure the team's prepared," McCarthy said. "That's the way I've always done it: there's a preparation phase and a performance phase. The preparation phase, we've got to complete it because it obviously gives us the best chance on Thursday night. Obviously I think it's going to be tough sitting there and watching your team compete. It's difficult. Obviously I had a little bit of that experience there at the end of 2018 (after his firing in Green Bay), and it was brutal to watch."
McCarthy informed his players at the end of the virtual team meeting Monday morning.
"The message was to continue on, just continue on," quarterback Dak Prescott said. "The coaches have done a great job putting us in a routine and giving us a foundation. And we got great leaders and great coaches and coordinators that are going to do a great job in stepping up. We are going to miss Coach but his health is first and foremost important. We will fight and get everything done that we need to."
The change will move Quinn from the booth to the sideline. He called defenses for two years in Atlanta as head coach.
"The most important thing decision-making and defensively is that he gets the proper information in the right time frame, which is also probably more critical than the right information," McCarthy said. "The guys in the box are going to have to pick it up a little bit up there."
The Cowboys will continue with virtual meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday before flying to New Orleans. McCarthy said the Cowboys will continue testing through gameday. So far, right tackle Terence Steele is the only player not active this week because of COVID.
In addition to McCarthy, the Cowboys will also be without offensive line coach Joe Philbin, assistant offensive line coach Jeff Blasko, strength and conditioning coordinator Harold Nash and assistant strength and conditioning coach Kendall Smith against the Saints.
Running backs coach Skip Peete missed the Nov. 14 game against the Atlanta Falcons because of COVID.
With the high number of cases among the coaches, McCarthy moved into the Omni Hotel next to The Star in order to sequester himself and keep his family safe. He said members of his family have also tested positive.
In his message to the players, McCarthy said he "just stressed it from a personal perspective that this is real. This threat is very real and please do everything you can to keep yourself and your family safe ... I told them, 'Hey, if it can get me it can get anybody.' I'd like to think that I was super cautious and careful. I just think it shows you the danger of the pandemic and the virus."
Wide receiver Amari Cooper was back in the building after he missed the last two games on the reserve/COVID-19 list but did not practice.
After minimal COVID issues last season, the Cowboys have been hit much harder by it this season. Pro Bowl right guard Zack Martin missed the season opener on the COVID list. Linebacker Keanu Neal and Cooper, who were the only two unvaccinated players on the 53-man roster, missed two games apiece on the COVID list. Defensive end Randy Gregory, kicker Greg Zuerlein, guard Brandon Knight and defensive end Bradlee Anae also missed games on the list.
McCarthy is the fourth head coach to miss a game while in COVID protocols since last season. Kevin Stefanski missed the Cleveland Browns' playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Kliff Kingsbury of the Arizona Cardinals and Matt Nagy of the Chicago Bears each missed a game this season.