For the second time in his tenure, Falcons coach Dan Quinn has decided that he’s the best person to call the team’s defense.
During the 2016 season, he took over the defense from then-coordinator Richard Smith. After firing defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel on Monday after two seasons, Quinn will again take over the defensive play calling.
Quinn feels that his background in the scheme and knowing exactly how he wants it to be played was a key factor.
“I like doing it,” Quinn said Thursday. “I’ve done it before. Both as a defensive coordinator and as a head coach some. I just felt that was the best way for us moving forward. It’s something that I’m looking forward to.”
Quinn, 48, finished his fourth season with the team and has a 36-28 (.563) record. The Falcons were 7-9 this season and had their first losing season since 2014, when they finished 6-10 and Mike Smith, the coach with the most wins (66) in team history, was fired.
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Manuel, a former player who had been with Quinn since 2013 in Seattle and Atlanta, was a first-time coordinator in the NFL. After a strong first season, the Falcons were ravaged by injuries in 2018.
Without two Pro Bowlers and three other players for long stretches of the season, the defense played poorly. They finished ranked in the bottom half of the NFL in all key categories: points allowed (25th), total yards (28th), rushing yards (25th) and passing yards (27th).
Quinn was not happy with the lack of turnovers and the defense’s inability to stop the run.
Quinn said he considered moving assistant head coach/wide receiver Raheem Morris to defensive coordinator. Morris hasn’t been a coordinator for any NFL games, but he was a defensive coordinator for one season at Kansas State and was hired by Tampa Bay as defensive coordinator in December 2008. Three weeks later the Bucs hired him to succeed Jon Gruden as head coach. He also took over calling the defense when he was the head coach in Tampa Bay.
“I decided to stick myself in to that role, but that was definitely something that I considered,” Quinn said.
Tinkering with the coaching of the wide receivers was not wise, and Quinn didn’t want to risk the development of wide receiver Calvin Ridley, who set a franchise rookie record for most touchdown catches, with 10.
Quinn’s game-day responsibilities will change with him calling the defense. He looked to the 2016 season for guidance.
“There will be some roles that will be different,” Quinn said.
With Quinn taking on more of a role on defense, he plans to re-assign some of the clock-management duties.
“It’s always through me,” Quinn said. “That’s one of the topics, how can we do that better? That’s definitely something for me that I’ll look at adding responsibility within the staff for that (clock management) role.”
While Quinn filled the defensive coordinator position, he’s searching for an offensive coordinator and a new special-teams coordinator. In addition to Manuel, Steve Sarkisian and Keith Armstrong were fired along with tight ends coach Wade Harman.
Harman and Armstrong were the last two members of Smith’s staff who were on Quinn’s staff. Harman did a nice job developing tight end Austin Hooper.
“I thought at some space, a new voice and new design can certainly help,” Quinn said of the seismic changes on his coaching staff. “I really wanted to make sure that we were rock-solid in terms of the identity that we’d like to play with in terms of the style. That’s kind of where the evaluation went for me.”
Quinn seems to believe that Manuel will get another job calling defensive plays.
“Offensively and special teams side, I thought some new voices and new direction was what was required,” Quinn said. “Both Sark and Keith are excellent coaches. At times you just need some new change, new voices and direction.”
The Falcons have interviewed two candidates, Quinn said. Mike Mularkey and Darrell Bevell are those likely candidates. Dirk Koetter is set to interview Saturday.
The are other coaches in the playoffs that Quinn wants to interview, but must wait, per league rules.
Quinn said the injuries were factored into the decision-making process.
“Everything was part of the evaluation,” Quinn said. “The injuries and such as well.”
The new offensive coordinator will be free to bring in new ideas and wrinkles, but there will not be any wholesale changes to the outside/inside zone blocking scheme.
“We had to reset,” Quinn said. “In order to do that, at some places, a new direction and new voices (were) needed. This is that time. Making changes from the coaching side is one of the toughest parts of my job.”