Carano was selected by the Dallas Cowboys in the second round of the 1977 NFL Draft. During his time with the team, he was a backup to Roger Staubach, then Danny White. He is remembered for replacing the injured White in a 1981 Thanksgiving game against the Chicago Bears and bringing the Cowboys back to win, 10-9. The next game would be the only start in his NFL career, in which he completed 7 of 18 passes for 51 yards, in a 37-13 win against the Baltimore Colts. Notably, the opposing quarterback for the Colts, David Humm, was also making his first and only NFL start, the only time in NFL history two "one and done" quarterbacks have ever faced off.
Carano and Humm were the subjects of an NFL Films piece entitled "My One and Only", recounting the 1981 game. The piece noted that the two quarterbacks had been friends since high school (both played high school football in Nevada), and remain friends to this day.
Carano served on the Nevada Athletic Commission, the Reno-Sparks Convention & Visitors Authority Marketing Committee, the Board of Directors for the Airport Authority of Washoe Country, and the Board of Directors for Boys & Girls Club of Truckee Meadows. He is married to Lamise Carano and has three daughters, Kasey, Gina and Christi. Gina, is a television personality, retired mixed martial arts fighter, actress and fitness model. His father, Donald L. "Don" Carano, was a hotelier in Nevada.