By Cody Royle
In one of the NFL’s worst kept secrets Dan Quinn was announced as the new Head Coach of the Atlanta Falcons just two days after Seattle’s Super Bowl XLIX loss to the New England Patriots. Quinn’s hiring continued a rare weeks-long microscope on coaches in the league, from Jim Harbaugh ‘mutually’ parting ways with the 49ers, Pete Carroll almost breaking the internet and Rex Ryan landing in Buffalo — it’s rare for the men with the headsets to hold sway with the talking heads for such a prolonged period.
Now that the dust has settled and we can take deeper look at what’s transpired, TheFootballEducator.com will launch into a series of articles assessing the annual coaching carousel, starting with Quinn who assumes his first head coaching role as well as usurping GM Thomas Dimitroff in having final say on the 53-man playing roster.
Let’s take a deeper look.
Is it just me, or when Dan Quinn speaks in interviews does he sound a hell of a lot like Pete Carroll? Quinn’s sentence structure, annunciation and engagement level mirror Carroll’s to the point of being almost scary, though it does speak to the latters ability to influence people and have them not only buy in to his cause, but also mimic his style.
The reason this is important is that coaching influences are tantamount to building a winner. Most young, up and coming coaches have grand ideas for how they’d do it, but living those dreams through the experienced coaches, watching first-hand as they make mistakes, helps filter out the bad ideas. In short, those who can take what they’ve learned, replicate what they like and add on their own improvements are the ones that tend to be the most well-rounded Head Coaches. Quinn certainly draws from a stellar coaching tree in this regard and can draw upon a variety of coaching perspectives (with varying levels of success) to formulate his ideas.
Aside from Carroll, HCs who Dan Quinn has coached under: Nick Saban, Steve Mariucci, Jim Mora, Eric Mangini, Dennis Erickson, Will Muschamp.
— Steve (@SteveInBrooklyn) January 16, 2015
What’s most compelling about Quinn’s coaching tree is the sheer variety of the coaches he’s been exposed to. From the staunch defenses of Nick Saban to the offensive juggernaut of Steve Mariucci’s 01-02 San Francisco 49ers, Quinn has been able to sit back and absorb the nuances of team building, strategy and dealing with the inevitable adversity that the NFL brings. Speaking of adversity, the impression that Quinn is just some defensive wunderkid that runs the vaunted Seahawks defense just isn’t true. What you’re seeing is a guy who’s seen the full NFL lifecycle, sure he’s won Super Bowls but he also coached on the 2-14 San Francisco team that were so bad they earned the first overall pick at the 2005 NFL Draft.
State of the Franchise
Coaching is only one piece of a very complex puzzle and one of the bigger misconceptions with high profile coaching failures is that they’re bad coaches. In hindsight, it becomes pretty obvious that the franchise was a mess and didn’t set the coach up to succeed, a symptom of poor management, scouting, cap management and many other factors. As Ted Sundquist puts it in his summary of building a winning front office:
Arthur Blank’s hiring of Dan Quinn as head coach (Quinn’s first experience at that level after only 2 seasons as an NFL DC) and giving him “full control” over the Falcons’ roster will not in itself turnaround Atlanta’s two year skid. It will be how quickly Quinn figures out the effective TEAM oriented process of forecasting NFL talent that determines if Blank’s Falcons return to playoff contention.
What’s encouraging for Falcons fans is that Quinn mentioned numerous times during his introductory press conferences that it was meeting Thomas Dimitroff that swayed him to pick the Falcons over other potential opportunities. By default any mention of Dimitroff also includes Scott Pioli, Dimitroff’s assistant and long-time head of player personnel for the Patriots — essentially two guys who helped write the book on modern scouting.”It’s about working together. It’s about nice equal footing and a partnership” says Dimitroff in a discussion with PFT Live, and it’s hard not to believe him. While the media conjour up a faux-feud over the decision to give Quinn control over the final 53 players on the roster, the hierarchy Atlanta has chosen actually mirrors the New England and Seattle scouting systems that Pioli, Dimitroff and Quinn came from.
Not many coaches have final-say authority over the 53. Quinn joins Bill Belichick, Chip Kelly, Lovie Smith, Pete Carroll, Bill O'Brien, etc.
— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) February 3, 2015
One of the hallmarks of the way Seattle and New England have scouted is the clear guidelines between the coaching and scouting methodologies and ideals. It should feel like enterprise-wide software, not a mish mash of systems that suit different areas of the business. “I think we need to spend a lot of time together talking about the specifics about system and the specifics about the football players that we are looking for” says Dimitroff. Falcons owner Arthur Blank also added that “ten of the clubs work this way, including eight that have hired new head coaches since 2010, so it is a current trend. More importantly, this is about maximizing the capabilities of Thomas and Scott while adding Dan’s unique [perspective].”
That is to say that everyone’s job is to identify players that play The Patriot Way, The Seahawk Way…The Falcon Way.
Since Mike Smith’s departure the Atlanta job has been seen as one of the most ripe. Enough key pieces are in place – franchise quarterback, elite receivers and an up-and-coming stud in the defensive secondary – that the turnaround time could be shorter than Oakland, for instance.
@RealMattlanta Dan Quinn goes from the Legion of boom to the Legion of whom.
— Badmoon (@Badmoon04) February 3, 2015
After leading the league’s best defense for two straight seasons, Quinn now takes the helm of one of its worst and is tasked with re-building from close enough to scratch. You are mistaken if you think that Quinn will merely come in and look to replicate exactly what Seattle had, it just doesn’t work that way and the coach looks to have his head screwed on well enough to know that the strategy and culture he creates in Atlanta will largely depend on the personnel. This is a view shared by Seattle DE Michael Bennett who told MMQB.com “he’s not married to a scheme; he wants you to grow, he changes with the players.”
A clear-as-day example of this is the Legion of Boom, Seattle’s secondary group that was drafted prior to Quinn’s arrival and was taken to the elite level once Quinn re-joined the Seahawks. The group is based on big, hard-hitting defenders; an undervalued commodity at the time to the point where Kam Chancellor was considered ‘oversized’. In a copycat league like the NFL, the success of the ‘LOB’ has driven up the free agent price and draft value for the fast, big hitting type of player, so Atlanta may choose to innovate rather than replicate. As you can see, their DB group is about as far from the Legion of Boom as it gets in terms of raw measurables, and on-field success.
|Seattle DBs||H||W||Atlanta DBs||H||W|
|Kam Chancellor||6’3″||232||Robert McClain||5’9″||195|
|Richard Sherman||6’3″||195||Josh Wilson||5’9″||188|
|Earl Thomas||5’10”||202||Javier Arenas||5’9″||197|
|Byron Maxwell||6’1″||207||Desmond Trufant||6’0″||190|
|Tharold Simon||6’3″||202||Kemal Ishmael||6’0″||206|
|Jeremy Lane||6’0″||190||Dwight Lowery||5’11”||212|
The biggest indicator as to how the Falcons are planning to re-build after just ten wins in the last two seasons, will come when Free Agency opens on March 10, a month from today. Further, I cannot wait until the NFL Draft to see what the Falcons do.
The NFC South is the worst division in football, though it was not so long ago that the title well and truly belonged to the NFC West, a division which has now been represented in three straight Super Bowls.
The division is seemingly in a defensive arms race with Lovie Smith, Ron Rivera and Rob Ryan already in place in key defensive roles, culminating in Quinn’s hiring in Atlanta. In this scenario the carpet doesn’t necessarily match the drapes, despite the defensive genius on offer in the South, division champion Carolina was the only top 10 defense last season with Tampa Bay 25th, New Orleans 31st and Atlanta 32nd. Plenty of work to do for everyone.
Bottom line for Atlanta is that the division stinks, a luxury that our other subjects (coming soon!) like Buffalo and Chicago do not have. The Falcons have an opportunity to build a solid roster and potentially give their young core additional playoff experience without having the huge expectations that came with being the NFC’s number 1 seed like in 2012.
Arthur Blank and the Falcons are committed to building a winner. They are clearly an attractive proposition as the league’s number one coaching prospect (Quinn) held off on other opportunities to take this one. Better yet, Coach Quinn enters with a young yet experienced core, a high pick Left Tackle already in the mix and what are relatively minor problems in the modern game — running back, tight end, defensive line.
For me, this is an attractive proposition. A highly regarded coach who has seen the full cycle of the NFL’s highs and lows and a guy who comes from one of the more emphatic coaching trees in recent memory. Add to that solid, fair ownership and a headspinning front office that has shown repeatedly that it can turn the personnel group around in a short timeframe.
What do you think about Dan Quinn’s fit with the Atlanta Falcons? Tweet us and include the hashtag #TFEquinn to let us know your thoughts.