In 15 years as an NFL head coach, Mike McCarthy can’t remember missing a game or practice during the season.
Monday morning, as the 7-4 Cowboys looked to right the ship from a three-losses-in-four-weeks stretch, their head coach didn’t plan to.
McCarthy arrived for his standard COVID-19 test at the facility around 5:30 Monday morning.
“Hey, we’re thinking negative today,” he joked with the testing staff.
Next he headed to his office, where he dialed into his 6:30 a.m. local radio show and then turned preparing for a day of virtual meetings. Sure, in retrospect, McCarthy realizes his throat was scratchy; but it always is after a game, he said. It was shortly after 7 a.m. that head athletic trainer Jim Maurer called: McCarthy had tested positive for COVID-19. He is fully vaccinated, he has confirmed.
Along with at least four assistant coaches, McCarthy will be unavailable to attend the Cowboys’ Thursday Night game at New Orleans. Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn will move from the booth to the field and oversee in-game decision making.
“He has the head coaching experience of being on the field and has also called the defense and managed the game,” McCarthy said. “(Offensive coordinator) Kellen (Moore) just needs to focus on the offense and calling the game and staying with that. (Special teams coordinator) John (Fassel) 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.
“The biggest change is having Dan down on the field and you know, just make sure he's getting the information he needs to make sound decisions.”
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McCarthy has remained and will continue to remain engaged in meetings and game plan coordination throughout the week. He will still address the team Thursday morning as players and coaches await kickoff in New Orleans. He will still direct the coaching staff on details ranging from how aggressively they want to orchestrate their game plan to which philosophies staff will activate in red-zone, short-yardage and four-minute scenarios.
McCarthy felt well enough to oversee his head coaching responsibilities Monday when not in conversation with medical professionals. He said he knows, though, that he must guard against his tendency to work without regard for his health.
“I got to kick myself in the ass and make sure I don’t let everything else outside of my health be the focal point because that’s frankly how I’ve lived my whole professional life,” McCarthy said. “I think it’s time to keep priorities and perspective in order and our healthy football team will be out there and they’ll be ready to go. I do have great confidence in that.”
The Cowboys will continue testing daily leading up to the Saints game and remain in virtual meeting formats. Secondary/pass game coordinator Joe Whitt Jr. will help with Quinn’s typical booth view as Quinn moves to the sideline. At offensive line, with coach Joe Philbin and assistant OL coach Jeff Blasko in COVID-19 protocol, tight ends coach Lunda Wells has stepped in. Offensive quality control coach Chase Haslett has pitched in to help tight ends. The Cowboys’ three strength and conditioning coaches also tested positive; the team eliminated visits to the facility weight room this week and directed players to find off-site options for massage, physical therapy and maintenance.
Quarterback Dak Prescott said he’s increased his mask strictness and scheduled physical therapy visits at home rather than in the physical therapy office.
Quinn broke down the Cowboys huddle after a light practice Monday at the Star. McCarthy’s absence was noted and his presence missed, Prescott said, but “his health is first and foremost.”
“COVID is for real,” Prescott said. “I see people constantly getting it and contracting it whether they got the vaccine or not. Obviously this isn't something that we can take light or we can let up on. It's very real. But we've got to do our best to protect ourselves and protecting others around us, obviously washing our hands and doing whatever we can to reduce the chances for us and the people around us from getting it."
Prescott acknowledged the urgency for the Cowboys to break their first losing streak of the season after losses last week to Kansas City and Las Vegas. They remain in a 2.5-game lead atop the NFC East but have struggled to establish the offensive rhythm they showed earlier in the season.
“It’s very urgent,” Prescott said. “This is a team that’s hungry and pissed off simply about the way we’ve executed and played.”
McCarthy expressed confidence in his player and staff’s ability to execute and win Thursday at New Orleans.
“We’ll be prepared for the game,” he said. “I can promise you that.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Dallas Cowboys: Mike McCarthy tests positive for COVID, out vs. Saints