The bond that Falcons defensive end Dante Fowler developed with Dan Quinn in 2011 has remained strong over the years.
Quinn, now the Falcons coach but then the defensive coordinator at Florida, recruited Fowler, met his family and helped sign him for the Gators.
When it was time for a reunion, Fowler couldn’t wait to sign a three-year, $48 million deal with the Falcons.
“He definitely played a huge factor in it,” Fowler said. “Just the city of Atlanta. I heard a lot of good things about the front office and stuff like that.”
After Urban Meyer left Florida, Will Muschamp took over as coach and Quinn was on his staff.
“We just built a relationship at that time,” Fowler said. “He used to always come and see me, talk to me. Everything was genuine. He talked to me about a lot of things as a man. Just over that one-year span of me being there with with him at UF, I went to his house. I met his wife. I had Thanksgiving with them.”
Quinn remembers the dinner fondly.
“Sharrif Floyd, Dominique Easley, Ronald Powell, Dante Fowler and Jon Bullard came over for Thursday Thanksgiving dinner,” Quinn said. “What was fun about that week is that it’s the Florida State-Florida weekend. It’s a cool environment. Thanksgiving and football have always been kind of hand-in-hand in my life.”
Quinn enjoyed Fowler and his defensive mates.
“That year there were definitely some good defensive linemen that are still playing in the NFL, a bunch of them,” Quinn said. “There are a lot of good memories around that dinner for sure.”
When Quinn left to become Seattle’s defensive coordinator after one season at Florida, Fowler was distraught.
“I almost wanted to transfer because he left,” Fowler said. “He definitely played a huge part.”
Fowler was hoping the Falcons, who had the eighth overall pick, would draft him in 2015. He went third to Jacksonville, and the Falcons selected Vic Beasley with their pick.
“I definitely wanted to go either to the Falcons or the Jaguars,” said Fowler, who’s from St. Petersburg, Fla. “It just played out in a good way now. It’s really cool.”
Fowler and Quinn stayed in contact during his time in the NFL. The Falcons regularly play the Jaguars during the exhibition season.
“I would always get to chat with him and talk to him,” Fowler said. “It is just really cool for him to be my coach again.”
Quinn makes it a point to stay in contact with his former players.
“More often than not, the guys from college need your help more off the field than on the field,” Quinn said. “Through the years, it’s been great to stay connected to players that I coached at Florida. That relationship and that bond really grows strong.”
Quinn has been able to try to help Fowler, who had a bumpy start to his career in Jacksonville and was traded to the Rams in his third season in the league.
“You’re trying to help a young guy in his football life where it is just beginning in the college years,” Quinn said. “You get to see that relationship continue to progress when they get into the NFL. I’ve certainly kept up with him and others throughout the years.”
Fowler had a highly publicized incident with two women where he appeared to be officiating a fight, and he had a brush with the law involving a dispute with a 55-year-old man.
“I just feel that a lot of my issues were super misunderstood, like the situation with the women,” Fowler said. “That will eventually will get out, the real reason why. … I just refused to keep having my name slandered like that. So, I’m definitely coming out about that. I don’t like that.”
Fowler admitted that he handled the situation with the man poorly.
“I apologized for that,” Fowler said. “I take full responsibility for that. At the end of the day. I was trying, I thought I was defending my child because at that time, he was by my child’s door, and that’s how it happened.”
Fowler pointed out that he hasn’t gotten into any trouble since he’s been in the NFL.
“My dad taught me, whatever you do, don’t disrespect the family’s name,” Fowler said. “I take huge pride in that. That’s always been me, I’m a respectful guy.”
The Falcons signed Fowler to help with their anemic pass rush. He recorded 11.5 sacks with the Los Angeles Rams last season and has 27.5 sacks over 63 career games.
Fowler, 25, is a replacement for Beasley, who signed with Tennessee in free agency.
The Falcons finished with 28 sacks last season, which ranked tied for 31st (of 32 teams) in the league. Only Miami (23) had fewer sacks. Pittsburgh led the league with 54.
Fowler, who’s 6-foot-3 and 255 pounds, will be with his third NFL team.
Fowler missed his first season after suffering a season-ending injury shortly after the draft. He has improved since the bumpy start to his career in Jacksonville, which included getting suspended after fighting a teammate.
He played in the AFC Championship game after the 2017 season with the Jaguars. He helped the Rams reach Super Bowl 53 after the 2018 season.
In a 37-10 win over the Falcons in October, he terrorized the Falcons’ offensive tackles. Fowler finished with seven tackles, three sacks, three tackles for losses and four quarterback hits.
“Rushing the passer is a privilege,” said Fowler, who wants to be a double-digit sacker and chase Michael Strahan’s NFL single-season sack mark of 22.5 sacks. “In order to do that, you’ve got to be able to stop the run on first and second down.”
The Falcons tried to drop Beasley into coverage and make him a hybrid defensive end/linebacker because he was a liability to the run defense at 244 pounds.
“I am a whole player,” Fowler said. “I like to play the run as well. I like to get tackles, and I also like to sack the quarterback when the opportunity is there.”
Fowler contends that he’s no one-year wonder.
“I blew my knee out my first year, so when I came back I was just super excited,” Fowler said. “Everybody knows that I’m a street fighter, as you would say. I’m super aggressive. I just had to learn how to play in the NFL. Just had to be a little bit more disciplined on that part.”
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