The Atlanta Falcons are playing in Super Bowl LI. Much of their success comes from head coach Dan Quinn’s culture. Is he the NFL’s next great head coach?
Nobody outside of the team headquarters in Flowery Branch saw this coming. The NFL sure didn’t expect it to happen this quickly. Not even the most biased suburban diehard could have forecast it. The Atlanta Falcons are in the Super Bowl bound with second-year head coach Dan Quinn.
Article continues below ...
Quinn came to Atlanta in February 2015 to replace the winningest head coach in franchise history, Mike Smith. After five consecutive winning seasons from 2008-12, Smith’s Falcons went into free fall over his final two years. The team went 10-22, rapidly becoming irrelevant.
Smith’s last two Falcons were bad for myriad reasons. The running game cooled once Michael Turner aged. His replacement Steven Jackson should have retired in 2012. The center position became a hopeless abyss with Todd McClure retiring and Peter Konz failing miserably as his replacement.
Quarterback Matt Ryan flourished in offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter’s style of Air Coryell attack. Yet with no running game or palpable pocket integrity, Ryan spent more time on his back than he would in a mattress store. Smith and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s scheme was so verbose that it might as well have been prose from a Shakespearian sonnet.
All of this spawned a coaching search by owner Arthur Blank and general manager Thomas Dimitroff. Quinn won out, with conventional wisdom being he could lead Atlanta’s defense out of the quagmire while managing an already potent offense.
Some were skeptical of the Quinn hiring. He looked to be the next branch of a questionable Pete Carroll coaching tree, one featuring Gus Bradley and little else. The problem with the Carroll tree is that his signature trait isn’t easily repeated: energy. What sets Quinn apart from many of his contemporaries is his undeniable enthusiasm for coaching football. He’s never sluggish, getting his point across with equal parts education and passion.
Quinn’s disposition that features high-octane energy and attention to detail has engulfed the Atlanta organization. The defense is fast and aggressive, similarly styled to Seattle. Rather than being reactionary to opposing offensive play-calling, they are the on-field instigators. Many outsiders would deem this reckless abandon when running a defense. However, it works in Seattle, and now in Atlanta.
That being said, there is a major separation from Carroll and Quinn that is overlooked repeatedly. Carroll’s background before becoming a head coach was nothing special, while Quinn’s is fantastic. Before Carroll, Quinn ripened on Nick Saban’s tree, working with him in 2005-06 with the Miami Dolphins as a defensive line coach.
In Miami, Quinn learned the “Do Your Job” principles that are paramount in the Saban and Belichickian Way. It’s a system of intense accountability and a structure that demands the best out of its coaches.
Though insular in nature, keeping things tight has inspired many great coaches from this one fruitful tree. In short, it has allowed Quinn to identify the right coaches to headline his staff. Two of his coordinators, Keith Armstrong and Richard Smith, were on those Miami staffs. Opting to go with Kyle Shanahan despite never working together was a slam-dunk, with Shanahan enjoying an excellent reputation even before this season. The hiring of Shanahan led Atlanta to have the best offense in football, despite being led by a defensive-minded staff.
Atlanta dictates terms with its hyper-aggressive but ultra-tactical defensive line. Though the Falcons have lost their best defensive talent in shutdown cornerback Desmond Trufant for the season, Atlanta hasn’t had a defense this antagonistic since the 1977 Gritz Blitz.
There are also two rookies that star for this unit in strong safety Keanu Neal and inside linebacker Deion Jones. The moved were questioned by some, but both have worked out beautifully under the tutelage of this staff.
Though Quinn will likely lose Shanahan to the San Francisco 49ers head coaching vacancy, the future is largely bright in Atlanta. Quinn is well-regarded in the coaching world and should land a strong replacement for Shanahan, in-house or not.
Players will come and go in Flowery Branch, but the culture Quinn has built in two years is entrenched. It is a family atmosphere that has been cultivated. The brotherhood is strong with this flock of Dirty Birds from the South side. Pay close attention. You might see something great in Atlanta with Quinn.