Will Harriger ready to assume game-management role for Falcons

Falcons coach Dan Quinn watches over NFL football training camp on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020, in Flowery Branch, Ga. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, Pool)

Credit: Curtis Compton

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Falcons coach Dan Quinn watches over NFL football training camp on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020, in Flowery Branch, Ga. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, Pool)

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

The Falcons will have a different assistant coach in charge of game-management responsibilities for the 2020 season.

Falcons coach Dan Quinn promoted Will Harriger, hired before the 2019 season as an offensive assistant, to the position of game-management coordinator during the offseason. Harriger’s role will be to handle certain in-game situations as they relate to the two-minute offense, the four-minute offense, timeouts and when to challenge rulings based on replays.

It’s a role previously held by defensive analyst Bob Sutton.

“It’ll cover all things from a game-management side,” Quinn said. “As we go into those, every practice we’ve had situations that come up to go through and to teach from. Our dialogue would be in those spaces in the games to make it clear.”

Last year, the Falcons hired Sutton specifically with this role in mind. Before joining the Falcons, Sutton spent six seasons as the Kansas City Chiefs' defensive coordinator. Sutton’s arrival marked the first time that Quinn had an assistant dedicated to these types of in-game decisions.

While Sutton was hired with the game-management role in mind, Quinn said that Sutton and Harriger shared the job. Asked if a move was made during last season or this offseason, Quinn said the latter. He added that Sutton’s role is now specific to the defense.

“(Harriger) and Bob had coordinated a lot of that together last year,” Quinn said. “They were the one-two punch. So this season, I made Bob exclusively on the defensive side along with some developmental work with the team and put Will into that (game-management) role with the team. He had done such a good year with Bob the year prior.”

Harriger’s involvement with the team’s game-management decisions never was revealed or reported during the 2019 season.

During the Falcons' tumultuous 1-7 start, Quinn began to shift some roles within the coaching staff. Having bestowed play-calling duties on himself, Quinn reassigned that duty midyear to both linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich and Raheem Morris, who began the year at receivers coach before switching to defensive backs coach. And since Morris' promotion to defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Joe Whitt Jr.'s hiring, the previous defensive backs coach, Doug Mallory, has since taken on a senior defensive assistant/defensive backs role, where he primarily works with the safeties.

In 2019, Harriger was hired from the Seattle Seahawks after spending the previous five years working with the team’s quarterbacks, which included Russell Wilson. Before his time with Seattle, Harriger was a college coach at Midwestern State (2004-05), Tennessee-Martin (2006 and 2009), Auburn (2007), Texas (2008), Texas Tech (2010-11) and Florida (2012-13).

Harriger overlapped with Quinn twice -- first with Florida as a graduate assistant and then with the Seahawks as an offensive assistant working with the quarterbacks. Quinn was Florida’s defensive coordinator in 2011 and 2012 before becoming the Seahawks' defensive coordinator for the 2013 and 2014 seasons.

“I was very impressed by Will early,” Quinn said. “He’s had background on offense, background on defense. From Florida to Seattle, we’ve always stayed connected. He was somebody who I thought was really qualified for that. He had plenty of experience in the quarterback room from his time in Seattle, so it seemed like a good fit for us to do that.”

Both Harriger and Quinn will open the 2020 season against the former team they worked for and their former boss, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. In addition, the Falcons will be looking to snap a two-year streak of losing the first game of the season.

To do so, the Falcons will hope to enjoy a much faster start to the season. A year ago, Quinn was forced to make those aforementioned coaching shifts because of the team losing seven of its first eight games. The Falcons also started 1-4 in 2018. With a strange offseason that involved zero exhibition games, quarterback Matt Ryan said the Falcons have to do everything they can to prevent the costly mistakes that hurt them early in the past two seasons.

“I think it comes down to, No. 1, taking care of the football,” Ryan said. "Making sure that the first time that we’re really getting into live contact, full-speed contact, that we’re protecting the football the way that we know how.

“Then, No. 2, stay in front of the chains. Not really putting us in too many third-and-long situations or just being positive for first and second down. Giving ourselves a chance to be successful. I think if we do those two things early – take care of the football and make sure that we’re playing in front of the chains, I think we’re going to be just fine.”