Mike McCarthy laughs, wonders about return to Green Bay: ‘That’s bulls***’

FRISCO, Texas — Mike McCarthy tried to say this week isn’t emotional.

The Dallas Cowboys coach tried to say that his return to Green Bay is “like everything,” four years after completing his 13-season tenure as the Packers’ head coach.

McCarthy insisted on it “You have to prepare to go win” and “I’m going in there to win.”

But slowly, during the nearly 22-minute media interview, he let his tough exterior erode. Reality and its attendant sentimentality, perhaps, have set in. And McCarthy gave a glimpse into how much the city where he built a Super Bowl-winning legacy and a family really means to him — for better and for worse.

“That’s bulls***,” McCarthy said, during a question about what he misses most about his wife and daughters’ hometown. “Try to make me cry.”

Eyes watering and voice catching, McCarthy soon did.

“What do I miss most?” asked. “The people. Only the people.”

The Cowboys travel to Lambeau Field this weekend looking to improve to 7-2. They face a Packers team that looked downright sloppy Sunday in a 15-9 loss to the Detroit Lions, a loss in which quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw three interceptions. Rodgers threw two into the end zone, his first career 215 starts to hold that unusual distinction.

Current Dallas Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy (right) spent over a decade coaching Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. On Sunday, it returns to Lambeau Field to face Rodgers and the Packers. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

McCarthy still praised the quarterback whose first 13 career years and first 11 starting years, he coached and played. With McCarthy and Rodgers at the helm, the Packers qualified for eight straight postseasons, advancing to the NFC Championship game three times. Their Super Bowl victory followed the 2010 season. Rodgers earned seven Pro Bowl berths, including two MVP honors, during that stretch.

McCarthy played down the resentment that reportedly sunk their final run together.

“We had great communication,” McCarthy said. “I have nothing but love and gratitude for him. I think like anything else in life, I think personal relationships are private and you have to remember: I was born in the 60s. I’m better at expressing myself in public. Just a lot of appreciation, not just for him but for all the players, the team we had there. We had a great time.”

McCarthy recalled his conversations with Rodgers, especially during the quarterback’s early years as a pro.

“It always ended with a hug and an ‘I love you,'” McCarthy said. “When I think about our relationship, I think it made me a much better coach. You’re talking about a man who is one of the top professional athletes of his generation.

“I can’t wait to see him.”

McCarthy’s trip down memory lane didn’t just bring smiles. He acknowledged Monday the pain of being fired in December 2018 and the embarrassment that came with living in Green Bay during the 2019 season away from coaching.

“Going out, it left a dent, to be honest, in our family,” McCarthy said. “But it’s been four years. We are much better off because of it. We had time to process it all and it’s a bit unique. I mean I don’t recommend anyone going through it to stay in town there while you are going through it. But I think back, as I had a series of surgeries on my knee, and my rehab was there at Titletown Orthopedics right next to Lambeau Field. Don’t recommend this either. Four days a week.

“But it’s all part of it, and obviously our family has strong ties back there. And always will.”

McCarthy acknowledged his Green Bay history in Monday’s team meeting after the Cowboys’ bye, believing “I don’t think I’d be doing my job if I wasn’t dealing with it.” But his message was not about his glory or his pain, nor about his sinking into the past. Instead, he showed players how his and each of their pasts affect their present.

McCarthy’s experience calling plays and navigating relationships shaped the coach under whom the Cowboys improved from a .375 winning percentage in Year 1 to a .706 in Year 2 and now a .750 in Year 3. Playoff success remains elusive, but in McCarthy likes the arrow is trending — and credits the lessons learned in Green Bay with creating the foundation.

“A lot of times along your journey, a lot of places bring you back to show you how much you’ve grown,” veteran safety Malik Hooker recalled of McCarthy’s pattern. “Obviously we all feel like this is a must win at this point in the season. It probably means a little bit more to him because it’s, at one point, a place where his heart was.”

Rookie left tackle Tyler Smith said he thought the return to Lambeau “definitely has a lot of emotion tied up” for McCarthy.

“I always want to win, period,” Smith said. “But certainly just with the history he has there, the great things he’s done there, that means a lot. I know this win would mean a lot to him among others. The whole team, the whole vibe here is one that we’re going to have to hit hard, break them down, to get the dub.

“It’s a big game as an organization.”

The Cowboys opened as 5.5-point favorites on the road after the Packers fell to 3-6, four games behind the Vikings in the NFC North. Dallas owns the third-best conference record, even though undefeated Philadelphia remains clutch in the NFC East.

So come start at 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday, McCarthy will put aside thoughts of friends and family and trophies and old colleagues. He will aim to use his intricate knowledge of Rodgers and several other former players to guide the Cowboys to victory in a special defensive season.

Will McCarthy dare to take a look at the street across from the stadium and next to the Packers field — the road that was renamed in 2014 from Potts Avenue to “Mike McCarthy Way”?

“I just drop by once in a while,” McCarthy smiled, “to make sure the sign is still up.”

Follow Yahoo Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein

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