Dan Quinn: A big-picture guy who’s making alternate plans

Dan Quinn might just be the right coach at … well, nobody would call this the right time. But if you’re looking for someone who can embrace enforced change and still find reasons to be cheerful, Dan’s your man.

The Falcons’ coach held a 30-minute video call via Microsoft Teams on Wednesday. He seemed in his element, and not just because he was displayed at a desk beneath a mantel lined with football helmets. He was in his element because – unlike other football coaches (Dabo Swinney, Mike Gundy) who’ve spoken recently – he sees the whole field. John Prine died Tuesday night. Boris Johnson is in ICU. Our world is reeling.

Quinn opened by conceding that there’s something going on that’s “way bigger” than football. Then he struck this grace note:

“I know there’s a lot of uncertainty outside, but I would like to start with some things that I am totally certain about. I am certain about my appreciation and gratitude and thankfulness for all the doctors and nurses and first responders; people who work in our grocery stores and pharmacies and are helping us get through this.

“I know sports personalities can be seen as heroes, and I think what this time has shown is that people are stepping up, not just here in Atlanta but all over the country and all over the world. It’s one of the coolest things to watch from afar. To know that people have that kind of grittiness and toughness and love, it’s really cool to see.”

Then: “Instead of ‘social distancing,’ I wish we had called it ‘physical distancing.’ Because socially, we so need to be connected. That’s one of the most difficult spots here, that feeling of isolation. We’ve gone for it pretty hard in terms of things we wanted to do to stay connected – through phone calls and FaceTime and video conferencing. The ability to be present with somebody – it’s a big deal. I’ve enjoyed visiting with players, coaches, draft prospects. At times, it’s felt like I’m on ‘The Jetsons’ here: I’m a football coach learning how to online-teach. There have been a lot of things over the last month that have been challenging in ways that help you grow and get better.”

He turned to football. He talked about the draft, about Dante Fowler, about Todd Gurley. He said what you’d expect. He also upbraided, gently, those reporters who hadn’t activated their cameras, meaning he couldn’t see his questioner.

“That’s like cheating. You’ve got to be on screen if you’re on a conference call. I’ve found with the players that they’re more present on a video conference call than a phone call. You can be on a phone call and writing something down or doing something else, but on these calls it’s been good to stay connected with people, especially during this time when we’re not getting as much face time as we normally do.”

Football coaches tend to hate that which they cannot control. Quinn has such a lively mind that, instead of raging against grim reality, he has taken this moment to try to make himself a better coach/communicator. (For the record, he has always been a top-shelf guy.)

“I missed the locker room like hell, seeing everybody and talking to everybody … (But) one of the silver linings in being away is that, in some cases, the relationships have gotten better. The first thing we’re talking about often times isn’t the football side. You come into the building, and it’s, ‘Hey, what’s up? All right, let’s get started – this is Cover 3; that’s what we’re playing.’ Right now it’s a deeper check-in. It’s, ‘Tell me about your family. Is everybody OK? Is your grandmother able to get the medication?’

“When you start talking about the family piece first, there’s been some connections that might’ve not normally happened had we all just met at the complex and gotten going. I definitely miss seeing everybody on a regular basis, but trying to do it this way has helped. That kind of connection – it’s been important, for sure.”

Then, asked about alternate plans that could be needed for OTAs and the like: “What we’ve really learned a lot and grown a lot on is, ‘How do we teach online?’ How do we teach when we share a screen and we watch tapes and we try a voice-over? What the coaches have been doing is practicing teaching each other. Is it best to have a call with one person, two people? How do you do it when there’s a group of O-linemen? Is it best to have smaller groups? How do you have a team meeting? Hopefully we won’t have to use much of that, but we’re planning that way. We can throw a hell of a virtual offseason, if that’s possible.

“You can get a lot done with technology. … We’re finding better ways to teach when you’re not in the same room and you don’t have the same eye contact. We’re digging into as many resources as we can – from other sports, college professors. I’ve contacted people in the military. We’ve been on with basketball people who are right in the middle of their sport: ‘How are you staying connected?’ I’ve reached out to my former roommate who’s a college professor: ‘Tell me about these online classes, man.’ Those are fun things that we’ve grown on, and that’s how we’re practicing coach-to-coach.”

At the end, someone wondered what exactly would have to happen for there to be a football season. Said Quinn: “It feels a little tricky even to have this conversation. I would say the medical people I would trust more than anything else. The safety part of it, for me, is where it’s at. If we had ways of establishing safety for fans and players, that would be some part of the discussion. Fortunately for me, I don’t have to (decide); I follow along like everyone else. There are so many different things out there, I just don’t have a good answer for you – other than player and fan safety. That would be at the top.”

That’s really the only answer there is. Dan Quinn nailed that, too. Nobody could possibly have seen this coming, but the Falcons should be glad they’ve got this guy to guide them through it.