Dan Quinn’s ascent to top job was years in making

Bill McPherson still has the notes more than a decade later. There were thoughts on players, thoughts on how they would be used in that week’s game, thoughts on the opponent.

“He was meticulous about everything,” McPherson, the former longtime defensive line coach and pro personnel director for the San Francisco 49ers, said by phone. “Dan would come to my office at the facility and hand me these detailed notes. There were notes about players, about the game plan for that week. He’d come in almost daily sometimes, just for me to check out his notes. It was a nice gesture. More than anything, he was as good a coach as I’ve ever been around.”

Whatever became of the notes:

“I still have them,” McPherson said. “Young coaches would ask about things and I’d pass them around and say, ‘This is the way to do it.’ I still have all that stuff from when I was coaching. My wife keeps asking me to get rid of it all but I can’t.”

Quinn was introduced as the Falcons’ head coach Tuesday. His sound bites included all of the usual buzzwords. He wants his team to play “fast and physical” (so much better than the alternative).

The room was full of energy, enthusiasm, optimism — staples for whenever the new boss is introduced. Because the new coach seems perfect. The new coach has a plan to heal a team and a wounded fan base. Second-guessing only comes when somebody misses a tackle or drops a pass or the kickoff returner on opening day loses sight of the ball and it bounces off his helmet, at which point the owner and the general manager get that Scooby Doo/rut-roh looks on their faces.

But this can work. Quinn is a solid football coach. He played a major role in the NFL’s best defenses in Seattle the last two seasons. He has worked for Pete Carroll and Nick Saban, among others. Coaches don’t ascend to the level NFL defensive coordinator and go to two Super Bowls without being pretty smart and doing a lot of things right.

There are only two questions here: 1) Is Quinn, who was a college and NFL assistant for 21 years but never a head coach, ready to be the big picture guy and set the tone for an entire organization (because that’s what head coaches do)? 2) Can he work harmoniously and successfully with others in the Falcons front office, notably owner Arthur Blank, general manager Thomas Dimitroff and assistant Scott Pioli, to rectify the problems on the team’s roster?

Quinn interviewed for openings in Cleveland and Minnesota last year. He thought he was ready to be a head coach then but didn’t get either job, returned to Seattle and soon realized it probably was for the best.

“I’m more prepared now,” he said. “You always think you’re ready. But I went back, talked to Coach Carroll, and I realized now how much another year helped, learning about staffing and things like that.”

Quinn was an assistant for seven years at William & Mary, VMI and Hofstra before being hired by San Francisco in 2001 as a defensive quality control assistant under coach Steve Mariucci and then-defensive coordinator Jim Mora. But a lot of Quinn’s philosophies and early teachings about defense came from McPherson, who coached the defensive line under Bill Walsh and later became defensive coordinator and eventually moved to the front office.

Quinn laughed when told McPherson kept his notes.

“I used to make a copy (of game plans) and slide them under his door,” he said. “I know he took an interest in me because we used to watch film together. He was the first person to really teach me in terms of what to look for as an evaluator. I thought I knew football when I left Hofstra. Then I went there and I realized I really didn’t know anything.”

Blank was so convinced about Quinn’s knowledge that he gave his new coach control over the 53-man roster. Dimitroff, assisted by Pioli, will still have final say in the draft and free agency but he will work in concert with Quinn, as he did with Mike Smith. All parties say they’re on the same page. (For what it’s worth, Quinn said he wants wide receiver Julio Jones on his team, responding to suggestions that the Falcons might want to deal him as part of their rebuilding project.)

“I believe in his ability to evaluate football players and I’m very impressed with his intelligence and his ideas about putting together a football team,” Dimitroff said.

Blank made the ultimate hiring decision. But it was clear from the outset that Quinn was a favorite of others on the search team.

“The salient point for me was that he had a plan and his plan was detailed and well thought out,” said Dimitroff. “It’s not just the idea of his defense, it was the idea of his offense, how to lead football players, lead a building. I was impressed with Dan on so many levels.”

Soon we’ll find out how his skills translate to the top job.