After a 1-6 start, Dan Quinn finds himself in a precarious spot

Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn and owner Arthur Blank watch the team warm up before they take on the Los Angeles Rams Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

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Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn and owner Arthur Blank watch the team warm up before they take on the Los Angeles Rams Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Since purchasing the Falcons in 2002 for $545 million, Falcons owner Arthur Blank has inherited one coach and has hired four men to run the football team.

Dan Reeves was in place from the former regime. Despite being the only man at the time to guide the team to a Super Bowl appearance, Reeves was terminated Dec. 11, 2003.

Here’s what The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s then-beat writer Matt Winkeljohn wrote with regard to the firing:

Blank told Reeves on Tuesday that he would not be back as head coach next year, but urged the Georgia native to stay for the final three games of the 2003 season. Blank described it as giving the 59-year-old Reeves, who grew up in Americus, "a chance to write this last chapter however he wants."

Reeves didn't want to pen a final chapter in that fashion, and asked to be released from his contract immediately. Blank agreed, and said Wednesday that Reeves would be paid for the balance of his contract, which runs through the 2004 season.

Reeves was at the team's facility Wednesday, meeting with the news media. 

"If the decision had already been made to release me, my feelings were that I would like it to be effective immediately," Reeves said. "It's like me calling in a player and saying, 'I'm going to release you, but I want you to play three more games until I find somebody to replace you.' "

Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips served out the season as the interim head coach.

The Falcons interviewed then-Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel in Boston, Rams defensive coordinator Lovie Smith in St. Louis and 49ers defensive coordinator Jim Mora in Atlanta. Team officials met in Pittsburgh with Steelers offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey and defensive coordinator Tim Lewis.

Mora landed the job and an interview with then-LSU coach Nick Saban was canceled.

Mora was an instant hit, going 11-5 and reaching the NFC Championship game in his first season.

But things went downhill quickly for the first-time head coach, who was accused of being too buddy-buddy with the players. The Falcons were 8-8 and 7-9 in subsequent seasons.

Mora was terminated Jan. 1, 2007, the Monday after the regular season ended, which has become known as “Black Monday” around the NFL. In an earlier radio interview with his buddy Hugh Millen, Mora expressed interest in the job as head coach at the University of Washington, and that was the last straw for the franchise.

AJC columnist Mark Bradley wrote a column with a headline that read: “Mora’s failure: inability to deal with adversity.”

Arthur Blank and Rich McKay hired Mora over Lovie Smith and Tim Lewis and Romeo Crennel --- and even over the last-minute possibility of Nick Saban --- because Mora trotted out his playbook and impressed the brass with his impending choice of coordinators. (Meaning Greg Knapp, if you can believe that now.) Mora was, in the minds of Blank and McKay, simply better-prepared than the other career assistants they interviewed…..

Great coaches adjust. Mora's teams tinkered --- some games they'd throw a lot, others scarcely at all --- but never established a forceful signature. They were usually OK if they could run the ball and nurse a lead, but they were hopeless if they couldn't. The Falcons under Mora won one game (against San Diego on Oct. 17, 2004) when trailing after three quarters. This in a league built for comebacks. This with the incomparable Vick.

Mora’s teams were 27-23 and went to two playoff games.

The Falcons hired Bobby Petrino, who was intrigued about working with quarterback Michael Vick.

The dazzling quarterback would never play for Petrino because of the federal dogfighting case which led to a prison term. Petrino left after 13th game to take the head coaching job at Arkansas. Emmitt Thomas finished the season as the interim coach.

The Falcons’ coaching search led them to Mike Smith, who was Jacksonville’s defensive coordinator.

As for the coaching search, the Falcons whittled their candidate pool to Smith, Minnesota defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, former Baltimore defensive coordinator Rex Ryan and New York Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo after general manager Thomas Dimitroff was hired Jan. 13. Ryan and Smith were interviewed twice, Frazier once.

Smith went on to win the most games (66) in team history. Smith’s teams went to the playoffs four times over seven seasons and reached the NFC Championship game after the 2012 season.

After two down seasons, Smith was terminated.

The Falcons waited for Seattle to finish their Super Bowl run before hiring Quinn on Feb. 2, 2015.

So, Blank has fired one coach in-season in Reeves and Petrino simply left. Mora and Smith were allowed to finish the season.

Blank, in postgame interviews after losses in Houston on Oct. 6 and against the Rams on Sunday, has expressed support for Quinn, as the team is off to a surprising 1-6 start.

He has hired defensive coaches in Mora, Smith and Quinn and an offensive coach in Petrino.

Quinn has remained positive, and he’s trying to snap the five-game losing streak.

“I experienced (a season) like this in Kansas City when we were 1-5,” Falcons senior assistant coach Bob Sutton said. “Then we ended up winning 11 in a row (in 2015). I think you just stay the course, and you can’t blink.”

Sutton has related his experience to Quinn and the players.

“You can’t allow any of the human nature, you can let any of those other thoughts creep into your mind,” Sutton said. “Is this good? Or is this right. It usually just a matter of working hard.

“One of things you have to do when you work hard in these kind of situations, you have to have your belief. If you believe and work hard, you can get out of these situations. We have the right kind of people. Dan has a great culture here. I think that’s what you can fall back on in these situations.”

Assistant head coach/wide receivers Raheem Morris, has been a head coach and was terminated by Tampa Bay on Jan. 2, 2012.

“As a coach, you’re made for this stuff,” Morris said. “You’re going to deal with adversity. Obviously, when you go through adversity, it’s tough on everybody. It’s not just Dan. It’s my job to support him.

“It our coaches’ job to support him. It’s everybody in the building’s job to support him just like he supports us when things are going well.”

Quinn is holding up well, while the losing is gnawing at him.

“So, he’s fine,” Morris said. “We’ll go out here (against Seattle on Sunday) and we’ll fight. We’ve got to find a way to win this game.”

Seattle coach Pete Carroll, one of Quinn’s coaching mentors, got all defensive when asked if he had any advice for Quinn.

“He knows what he’s doing,” Carroll said. “He’s just trying to get his club going like we all do. It’s all week-to-week battles, and that’s all we do. That’s how we go about it. I know that he’s digging in, putting together a game plan to go win a football game. We are doing the exact same.”

Like Morris, Carroll believes Quinn can handle the current state of affairs.

“I think all of the qualities that you guys have witnessed, leadership, toughness, the will to play, the effort that the team plays with, utilizing personnel and schemes, all of the stuff he’s done so extremely well in his past,” Carroll said. “There is nothing that says it’s not going to absolutely turned in the direction that you guys have come to know and like he’s expecting.”

Quinn is batting through.

“This definitely challenges you for sure,” said Quinn, who joined Reeves in the Super Bowl club after the 2016 season. “You just want to get it right – for the players, for the fans, and for the entire organization. I say the same thing that challenges you, lights you up.”


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