Falcons head coach Dan Quinn addresses moves made following 2018 season in a press conference Wednesday, Feb 20, 2019. (Video by D. Orlando Ledbetter / AJC)

Dan Quinn made mass changes. Now he has to win

The three – Kotwica, OC Dirk Koetter and HC/DC Dan Quinn — spoke one by one. Really, though, the first leg of the tripod matters. Now more than ever, this is Quinn’s team. If, a year hence, that team isn’t coming off a playoff run, someone else will be introduced as head ball coach.

In place since February 2015, Quinn has affixed his stamp to this franchise. His many bromides have become corporate slogans. His roster isn’t so much a roster as — all together now — a Brotherhood. He has been handed the players he wanted and deployed them the way he saw fit, and if you care to rehash the confounding career of Vic Beasley, feel free.

For four years, everything about the Falcons has essentially been about Quinn, which is why the New Year’s Eve firings of all three coordinators remains a tangle. If those men weren’t doing as Quinn wanted, why were they here? If those men weren’t up to their respective tasks, why did he hire and retain them? If he’s not very good at picking assistant coaches, why is he the head coach? 

What, in Quinn’s mind, had gone so wrong as to warrant a mass firing? “Towards the end of the season and throughout the season, I felt like our compass was off. That’s why I felt like it was time to make a change. I didn’t know if it would be as significant and impactful if we didn’t. Offensively (it was) our ability to have more balance in the run game; defensively our (in)ability to play at a more physical style. On the team side, that’s kind of the flagship for everything and where we develop players. At the end, I just felt like our compass was off, and the best and surest way right now was with change.”

Again we ask: If the head coach hadn’t been getting what he wanted, why is he the head coach? That’s one of those Falcon fliers that makes you go, “Hmmm,” as is the decision to have that HC become his own DC. After further review of the latter, it’s possible to think, “I get it, sort of.” Quinn took the defense from Richard Smith (long gone) in November 2016, and that team landed in the Super Bowl. If neither Smith nor the similarly jettisoned Marquand Manuel could teach Quinn’s fast-n-furious ways to his hand-picked defenders, who better than the architect himself?

The trouble with that is that Quinn isn’t just a DC or even an HC — he’s the football czar of Flowery Branch (FCOFB). He has, you’d have to admit, an awful lot to do. Toward that end, he sought to hire a game-management coach, and that went the way of many things Falcon. The chosen GMC decided he’d rather work for Nick Saban, and the newly anointed Bob Sutton was last seen in Kansas City presiding over the league’s worst defense. Also of note: Besides Koetter, the reconfigured offensive staff includes Mike Mularkey and Greg Knapp, men who haven’t just been NFL OCs but Falcons OCs. Good luck with that.

Said Quinn: “You get a real appreciation of this moment to reset and ask, ‘What does this team need at this moment?’ Leadership (is) certainly one (thing); communication amongst the staff and through the players, and the last one, the ability to attack – a proven track record. Those were three things I thought were important to our team right now. The more years in, you have a better perspective on that, and so I thought, ‘What a good opportunity for us to go ahead and address that.’ ”

Not to put too fine a point on it, but now would be a fine moment for the Falcons’ head coach to prove that he can, you know, coach. This correspondent finds no issue with Quinn as team-builder and human being, but he was the only NFL head coach to lose last season to two interim coaches; one of the few coaches ever to miss the playoffs after starting 5-0, and the one and only man to lose a Super Bowl after leading by 25 points.

To his credit, Quinn did lift the Falcons to that Super Bowl, something only Dan Reeves had done before him. On the debit side, Quinn inherited Matt Ryan and Julio Jones in their estimable primes and has gone 36-28 with two playoff appearances. Mike Smith took the rookie Ryan – Jones didn’t arrive until Year 4 – and went 43-21 with three postseason runs over his first four seasons.

There’s a part of me – the part that likes Quinn – that still thinks he can maximize a gifted roster, much of which is of his making. The pragmatic side wonders if the Falcons’ window of opportunity slammed shut in the wake of 28-3. The pragmatic side wonders if Arthur Blank, to invoke a tennis term, just ran around his backhand in the effort to give his chosen FCOFB one last chance to come good. Because that’s what this is – one last chance.

Quinn can’t blame anything on his coordinators anymore. Heck’s, he now one of them. To borrow from Ms. Martha Reeves and her Vandellas, there’s nowhere to run, baby, nowhere to hide.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

About the Author

Mark Bradley
Mark Bradley
Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has been with the AJC since 1984.

Related Stories

X