Quinn: ‘Making changes was what was best for the team’

It was a strange first meeting for former in-division rivals in the inner sanctum of the Falcons’ offices.

Coach Dan Quinn and former Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter were meeting in his office only four days after waging battle in the regular-season finale at Raymond James Stadium.

The Falcons won that game 34-32 to finish 7-9, but that didn’t preclude Quinn from terminating all three of his coordinators.

Quinn and Koetter were not coaching pals, so they needed to find out if they could work together. Quinn needed to spruce up the offense, and Koetter had just been fired by the Bucs.

“We had not been rubbing elbows and acting buddy-buddy at league meetings or anything,” Quinn said Wednesday. “They are playing on the other team, so we’re generally trying to kick their ass. So, we were not going to be best buddies.”

They talked philosophy and background, looking to see if they could align their visions for the team.

“We put on the game that we’d just coached against each other four days earlier,” Quinn said. “It was funny to hear what they were thinking.”

Quinn also shared what the Falcons were trying to accomplish.

He was fully aware of Koetter’s reputation as a dynamic play-caller.

“In the past, going against him has been challenging,” Quinn said. “For a long time, they’ve been a very explosive offense, whether it was through Jacksonville, here in Atlanta or in Tampa. The ability for them to explode and get big plays, that’s been there.”

Quinn said that the widespread changes were necessary.

He said the team’s compass was off. The offense was not balanced, the defense needed to be more physical and the special teams needed to be the flagship for the team and it’s long-term development.

Replacing coordinators Steve Sarkisian (offense), Marquand Manuel (defense) and Keith Armstrong (special teams) was tough on Quinn.

“I love football,” Quinn said. “My whole life’s work is there, but as much as I love football, I love the players and the coaches even more.”

Quinn and Manuel had been together since their Seattle days. Armstrong and Quinn had coached together on Nick Saban’s staff with the Dolphins.

Quinn gave Sarkisian a shot when he was going through a difficult personal time.

“So, it’s those relationships when you have to move on from people that you love and care about, it’s hard,” Quinn said. “But you do what’s best for the team. I thought for us making changes was what was best for the team.”

Sarkisian has landed as the offensive coordinator at Alabama. Armstrong joined his former college coach Bruce Arians in Tampa Bay. Manuel is still looking for a job.

“I certainly appreciated every coach that’s been here and had a chance to work with,” Quinn said. “Past that, you get a real appreciation in this moment to reset and say what does this team need right now.”

Quinn noted that Koetter was a head coach in college (Boise State and Arizona State) and in the NFL (Tampa Bay).

“A long-time play-caller,” Quinn said.

Ben Kotwica was hired as the new special-teams coordinator.

“A decorated veteran who’s got a lot of leadership ability as a coordinator (on) special teams,” Quinn said.

Quinn will call the defense and added former Kansas City coordinator Bob Sutton to help with in-game management. The staff hasn’t worked out their game-day logistics yet.

“We are fortunate to have some assistant coaches with head coaching experience,” Quinn said. “That helps as well. Bob Sutton is somebody that would help. His primary role would be on game-day to assist me in some of the decisions that go along with that. Secondarily, would be his assistance on the defensive side.

“That’s how we are choosing to go and attack that. That’s one where we are looking forward to doing it.”

The Falcons also added Mike Mularkey as tight ends coach. He’s been a head coach for Buffalo, Jacksonville and Tennessee.

“Those guys (Koetter and Mularkey) will also have a strong opinion on some things,” Quinn said. “We’ll do what’s best for the team.”

Quinn isn’t sure how the flow of information will work.

“All spring, we’ve got plenty of examples of how we are going to go through that process to get ready,” Quinn said.

Changing the staff was a major undertaking.

“It took a long time,” Quinn said. “Finding the right fits for the team, it took a while almost (from) the end of the season to just recently, that portion is done. It took a long time, but I thought it was important to get the right fits.”

Quinn is also preparing for his added responsibilities of calling the defense.

“What’s really been effective and what needs to change,” Quinn said. “What do we need to start doing? What do we need to stop doing? What do we need to do differently? If we put them into those three buckets, we can come to some resolution.”

Quinn has been spending his days on football before moving over to he personnel side as he gets ready for the NFL scouting combine, which is next week.

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