Atlanta's New Attitude
INDIANAPOLIS — Two-and-a-half weeks after Super Bowl XLIX, Dan Quinn is here at the NFL combine, working his new job, wearing his new colors. But he carries the same enthusiasm he instilled in the Seahawks’ dominant defense. That’s a big reason why the Falcons hired Quinn to be their new head coach—to bring that energy that has kept Seattle atop the NFC for two straight seasons. “He said time and again, and it was one of the massive selling points when we interviewed him, about playing free and fast, and that speaks volumes in my mind," says GM Thomas Dimitroff. Quinn filled the final coaching vacancy, the one kept open for him as he coached Seattle’s defense through its Super Bowl run, and he hasn’t had much time to catch his breath. In between a packed combine schedule of meetings and interviews, Quinn talked to The MMQB about the impact Seattle will have on the head coach he wants to be.
VRENTAS: Take us through that whirlwind 24 hours in which you coached in a Super Bowl, flew to Atlanta and then were named head coach of the Falcons.
QUINN: It was crazy. There was no sleep involved that night. As you can imagine, in the game it was incredibly fun to compete in the Super Bowl for a championship. When you lose, you don’t really know where to put it. Because the next day was when I flew out to Atlanta to meet with the Falcons, and so I didn’t really have a spot to put that loss. It was hard. I stayed up that night, staring at the ceiling. You’re bummed as you can be. You’re thinking about, what could we have done differently? And then on the next day, you have as exciting a day up ahead as you can possibly imagine, of something that you have worked really hard to do. It was really wild. The emotions in one day to the next, from bummed to elated. I was probably somewhat fortunate (compared to) some of the guys in Seattle. All they did was think about the game. I couldn’t do that. I had to get past that pretty fast.
VRENTAS: What will you take from Pete Carroll with you to Atlanta?
QUINN: We wouldn’t have enough time to talk about that. He’s been an unbelievably cool mentor for me. I think just continuing to battle to find the answers. Keep going. Keep digging. Don’t just go, ‘OK, I think I’ve got it figured out now.’ Keep battling for it. That would probably be the one thing if there were one overarching theme.
VRENTAS: You worked your way up from the bottom rung of the coaching ladder, from volunteer assistant coach to NFL head coach. What perspective has that given you?
QUINN: I’ve been so fortunate, because you take a little bit of the experiences you’ve had along the way. All these unique guys. All their different styles. And you learn from the good, and you learn from the bad, and at the end of it, you’re like, ‘OK, if I ever get my shot, I want to do it this way and in this fashion.’
VRENTAS: Biggest influence on your coaching style?
QUINN: No doubt Pete has been. I have coached with him for three years, but when I left (to be the Florida defensive coordinator 2011-12), I was really hesitant to leave just because I connected with him so well. And then I had the chance to come back, and it was such an easy transition for me.
VRENTAS: You’ve also known Mike Tomlin since the start of your coaching career, right?
QUINN: My first coaching job was as a volunteer assistant at the college of William & Mary. So Mike was a senior playing there, and that’s where we met. Then I went to Virginia Military Institute, and that was probably my first time where you have your own room, your own unit to coach, so that was exciting. My first challenge at William & Mary was just getting indoctrinated into football and coaching, and I knew right away, this is it for me. Mike is one of those guys, we are always connected. When he was playing, it was my first year coaching, and we were the same age, so in that respect, that was my guy.
VRENTAS: Your Seattle defense had such a personality and identity. How do you recreate that in Atlanta with a completely different group of players?
QUINN: You just celebrate the guys’ uniqueness as you go along. When there is a guy that has certain styles and features, how do you find ways to accent that? That was one of the messages I learned from Pete. How do we find all these unique guys and put them in the spot to allow them to do what they do best. As opposed to saying, ‘Well, he doesn’t fit the system.’ We kind of look at it the other way. What are some of his strengths? What can he do, as opposed to what he can’t do.
VRENTAS: When the players come back to start the offseason program this spring, how are you going to set the table for what you hope to achieve?
QUINN: I can’t wait. I wish it was starting tomorrow. I honestly do. I’m so fired up to get going with them. It’s going to be all about the competition. And it’s not at your position, it is me and you, going against each other every day, to see how good can we get. That’s what I’m trying to create. How far can we push each other to see how good our team can get?
VRENTAS: You talked before about wondering what you could have done differently in the Super Bowl XLIX loss. One call that’s been talked about was K.J. Wright in one-on-one coverage on Rob Gronkowski’s second-quarter touchdown. Is that one you’d like to have back?
QUINN: Oh my gosh, of course you would. When it doesn’t go well, of course you’d change it. But K.J., he had him covered other times, and he’s covered tight ends terrifically a bunch of times throughout his career. We’ve asked him to match up on all sorts of guys. We have such trust and confidence in what he did. The guy (Gronkowski) made a great play, too. You’ve got to give him credit.
VRENTAS: Favorite defensive call?
QUINN: It’s really not as exotic as what you think. It’s not what we play, it’s how we play. So when we play a regular 3-deep defense, it‘s the mindset and the attitude that we play it with. Not just the call. The calls come alive because of the players.
VRENTAS: Was there a point this offseason when you thought you might be coaching back near your hometown of Morristown, N.J.? Your name was linked to the Jets job early on.
QUINN: I think everybody probably tried to connect that one. That would have been fun, too. But at the end of it, you don’t really put that part into it, when you are going through the process. There are so many cool jobs. For me, even just to have interviewed for these head coaching spots with GMs and owners, it was a total blast. Getting to talk to everybody, I had a great time.
VRENTAS: One thing you’re looking forward to about living in Atlanta?
QUINN: How fortunate am I to go into a city that loves football. Atlanta, in that area, football is important. I love that. You know what I mean? Ball is important there. I couldn’t be more proud to be there.
VRENTAS: You will have control over the 53-man roster. That’s something that has the potential to create tension with the front office. How will you make sure that doesn’t happen?
QUINN: I hope it would never get to where we are ever disagreeing on anything. And when we do disagree on a player, let’s put the tape on and watch him until we both see him in the same way. The partnership I was looking for with a head coach and GM, I found it with Thomas, so that’s why I was so fired up to connect with him. I would hope years from now, they look back at Thomas and I, and say, man, those guys did it right in terms of their attitude, their togetherness, the way they just wanted to partner up and do it together. So that’s my vision for he and I working together.
VRENTAS: Your coaching tenure starts with the Falcons having the No. 8 pick. What do you want to get out of that pick?
QUINN: Hopefully we won’t do it (pick eighth) much. But if you’re ever going to get in on one, you might as well make it good one. We’re just looking for a bunch of guys, that competitive drive, the attitude, the mindset. The position isn’t as important yet. We’re still going to go through the evaluation process of the roster. But with all the picks, (we want) really competitive guys that just want to go for it. I’m looking for that trait. Guys who have the grit, those are the players I have connected with the most.
VRENTAS: If there’s one attribute of the Seahawks you want to bring to Atlanta, what is it?
QUINN: Attitude. Just refusing to back down from any challenge. And that’s one of the things I respect so much from the guys there—they would not back down from anything. There’s not a setback that can slow them down. I’m hurt; no, I’m playing. Something is wrong; nope that’s OK, we’re going to come back. That’s one of the things I respect so much about them.