National Football League
New Commanders coach Dan Quinn brings 'leadership' Washington has needed for years
National Football League

New Commanders coach Dan Quinn brings 'leadership' Washington has needed for years

Published Feb. 1, 2024 2:42 p.m. ET

The trend of the NFL's coaching carousel has been the same for years — teams searching for their own version of Sean McVay, a young offensive whiz built to succeed in an offensive era. Even new Commanders GM Adam Peters saw how well that could work during his years in San Francisco with Kyle Shanahan as the 49ers head coach.

But the rise of Dan Campbell and the Detroit Lions over the last two seasons reminded everyone that there might be something more important than offensive genius.

Leadership sometimes matters even more.

That's what Peters said he wanted in a head coach, and that's what he found in Dan Quinn, the former Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator who was hired as the Commanders' new head coach on Thursday morning, according to multiple sources. Even though Peters' top choice always seemed to be Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson — a young offensive whiz — he insisted he wasn't just looking for a  dynamic playcaller. He wanted "the best leader for this team."


And that seems to be exactly what he got.

"There aren't many better leaders in the coaching ranks than Dan Quinn," an NFC general manager said in a text to FOX Sports after the Commanders decision was revealed. "It's why so many teams wanted to hire him over the last few years."

The 53-year-old Quinn has been in demand for a while, in part because of his stellar coaching resume. He had a relatively successful five-and-a-half-year run as the head coach in Atlanta (2015-20) where he went 43-42, got to the playoffs twice and even led the Falcons to their first Super Bowl in 2017. They may have famously blown a 28-3 third-quarter lead in that game before losing to the New England Patriots in overtime, but even that couldn't completely tarnish Quinn's reputation.

He's undoubtedly a defensive whiz. He was the defensive coordinator in Seattle during their Legion of Boom years, when they ranked No. 1 in the NFL and reached the Super Bowl (winning one) in each of his two seasons (2013-14). When he was hired by Mike McCarthy to coach the Cowboys defense in 2021, that unit quickly went from 28th in total yardage to seventh, and it's ranked fifth in each of the last two years.

But it's not just his schemes that got his players' attention. They always played like they were willing to run through a wall for Quinn.

Because they were.

How Dan Quinn-Commanders parallels DeMeco Ryans-<a href=

"I think he does a great job of finding ways for you to love the game and finding ways to go around the game,'' Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons told reporters just a few weeks ago. "It doesn't always have to be hard-nosed, ‘I'm the coach.' It's more of a friendship. He doesn't just treat me like a player. He treats me like a friend. 

"He's always there when I need him and we're not afraid to have those hard conversations whether it's father to son or player to coach. We have them no matter what."

Parsons' respect for Quinn ran so deep that he even joked that if Quinn did leave Dallas "He might take me with him, you never know." It's just another sign of what players often are looking for in a head coach — someone who can inspire them beyond just the Xs and Os.

That's exactly what Peters said he wanted for the Commanders, too. He insisted that the most important factor in his final decision would be "leadership".

"Leadership, great communication, being able to be honest, direct and upfront, have all those qualities, and they're all intertwined," Peters said at his introductory press conference two weeks ago. "But those are the main qualities. You have to be very smart. You have to be very driven. There's so many different qualities that make up a great head coach and a great leader, but really it's just about being a great person, a great human being that people will follow."

That certainly appears to describe Quinn. But that doesn't mean this is a risk-free choice. This is still an offensive era in the NFL, and the fate of Quinn's reign will surely hinge on the development of a young quarterback — whether it's a rookie taken with the No. 2 pick in April, last year's starter, Sam Howell or even a third option.

That's not Quinn's specialty. That's way more in the wheelhouse of Johnson or Bobby Slowik, the Texans offensive coordinator who was one of the Commanders' eight candidates. But the fact that five of those eight candidates were primarily defensive coaches proved that finding an offensive whiz wasn't the priority that it originally seemed.

And for good reason. Jared Goff revived his career, and the Lions thrived in Detroit under Campbell, who had never been an offensive coordinator. C.J. Stroud just had one of the best rookie seasons for a quarterback in NFL history and the Texans made the playoffs under DeMeco Ryans, a former NFL linebacker and defensive coordinator. John Harbaugh has been one of the NFL's most successful coaches over the last 15 seasons and his coaching background was focused on defense and special teams. Mike Tomlin was a defensive coordinator before he became the long-time head coach in Pittsburgh.

In other words, leadership matters. Managing players matters. Seeing the big picture matters. So does inspiration.

Micah Parsons' comments about Cowboys staff raise questions

That doesn't diminish the importance of offense. There's a reason some of the most successful coaches are offensive gurus — McVay, Shanahan, Andy Reid, Matt LaFleur. They have a knack for developing quarterbacks and creating unique, creative offensive schemes that can be impossible to defend. Offenses also tend to be more stable from year to year than defenses.

That's why Quinn's choice of an offensive coordinator will be his most important decision. Campbell wouldn't have been as successful in Detroit if he didn't have Johnson by his side. Slowik was surely a key to the success of Stroud and Ryans in Houston.

And don't forget, Quinn would probably never have gotten the Falcons to Super Bowl LI if Shanahan wasn't the one calling the offensive plays.

It will be Quinn‘s job to build the culture, to convince his players to change the losing attitude that has been such a part of the Commanders organization for years. Ron Rivera's primary job was to steady the ship during the turbulent Dan Snyder era, to keep the players focused on football when there was so much else swirling around. Quinn's job is to go beyond that — to turn them into believers, to inspire them and convince them they can actually become a winning team.

That's what the Commanders needed most; far more than just a coach with a knack for choosing the right play off his colorful play sheet. They needed a coach who could make the players in his locker room really believe that better days are finally coming.

And in Dan Quinn, that's exactly the kind of coach the Commanders believe they got.

Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.


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