FRISCO, Texas— Mike McCarthy has pushed questions about his return to Green Bay for as long as possible.
When the Dallas Cowboys coach finally had to talk about his former coaching home, he interrupted with a curse as an X-and-O question-prone reporter went with a tricky one.
“You’re trying to make me cry,” McCarthy said, prompting hearty laughs. “Why don’t you ask me about 12 staff or something?”
Sorry, coach. Everyone wants to know what’s going through the mind of the man who led the Packers to a Super Bowl title before an unfortunate end with a mid-season layoff nearly eight years later.
“The exit left a dent, just to be honest, with our family,” McCarthy said. “But it’s been four years. We are so much better because of it. We’ve had time to process everything, and it’s a bit unique.
The same goes for a Super Bowl-winning coach in the NFL’s smallest market, for a public team, and holding an annual shareholder meeting.
Vince Lombardi and Mike Holmgren, the two other title-winning coaches whose streets are named after them near Lambeau Field, left on their terms.
He was in the midst of a second straight losing season in 2018 after reaching the playoffs nine times in 10 years, with four trips to the NFC Championship Game and the 31-25 victory over Pittsburgh to end the 2010 season in the Super Bowl. at the Cowboys’ house.
McCarthy took a year off — staying in Green Bay, which he said he wouldn’t necessarily recommend — and was ready to take over another iconic NFL franchise when Dallas owner Jerry Jones , came calling in 2020.
The Cowboys had given Jason Garrett nine full seasons to try to end what is now a 26-year streak without even reaching an NFC title game. Jones wanted someone with that track record.
Now Jones will be in the visiting owner’s suite on Sunday, with his coach on the visiting sideline as the Cowboys (6-2) take on the Packers (3-6) where McCarthy’s wife Jessica was born and raised.
“His dad is kind of the keeper, the history of Green Bay, kind of the archivist of the team,” Jones said on his radio show this week. “And so, (McCarthy) lives pretty close to that.
“Secondly, he’s got all these great memories, and he’s got some things that stick with him a bit, I’m sure,” Jones said. “You add it all together, and it’s going to be quite a personal visit for him to Green Bay.”
McCarthy, who turns 59 three days before the game, doesn’t deny any of that. He just has trouble talking about it.
Still, the coach says it’s his job to fix the problem with his players, and he’s already done that.
“He says I often know throughout the trip that many places bring you back to show you how much you’ve grown,” said security Malik Hooker. “It probably means a bit more to him because we’re at a point and a place where his heart was. I really feel it and I definitely want to get the win for him.
Aaron Nagler, co-founder of a fan website called ‘Cheesehead TV’, said he remembered a warm welcome for a beloved Holmgren with Seattle in 1999, the year after he left the Packers .
Nagler, who says he’s “fascinated” by how McCarthy will be received, is considering something between Holmgren and the vitriol aimed at quarterback Brett Favre with hated rival Minnesota in 2009.
“I think there will be people who appreciate what he’s done and there will be people who say, ‘Good riddance, tramp,'” Nagler said. “That’s the nature of fandom.”
A reception looks clear – from Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Their seemingly rocky relationship was the subject of much discussion before and after McCarthy’s firing.
“I’m going to give him a big hug, I can tell you that,” Rodgers said Tuesday during his weekly appearance on “The Pat McAfee Show” on YouTube and SiriusXM.
McCarthy said he never thought much about joining a small fraternity with Lombardi and Holmgren, and he sees many similarities between franchises that celebrate their history with strong alumni attendances.
“They’re doing a phenomenal job up there, no different than what Jerry is doing here,” McCarthy said. “To think that I was the head coach of the Green Bay Packers and now the Dallas Cowboys, frankly, I never dreamed of growing up in Pittsburgh.”
Pressed on how motivated he was to win, McCarthy smiled and said, “I really want to win the game. Is it sufficient?”
When the awkward reporter finally finished asking what McCarthy had missed about Green Bay, the coach finally bowed his head and tapped his fingers on the podium in silence, fighting back tears.
“People,” he says. “Just people.”
Dialed back minutes later after the subject finally turned to football, McCarthy knew he was down to a question in what he reported would be the only day of the week he would discuss his return.
Would he walk Mike McCarthy Way over the weekend?
“I just drop by every once in a while to make sure the sign is still on.”