Schultz: Quinn, Dimitroff acknowledge mistakes made on...
Once you get past the postseason reflections on injuries, a five-game losing streak that smothered playoff hopes and the recent firings of three coordinators, here’s what the Falcons’ fizzled 2018 season comes down to: Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff screwed up.
It doesn’t mean Quinn isn’t a good coach (he took an upside down team to the playoffs in two of his first three seasons, including a Super Bowl run), or that Dimitroff isn’t more than competent as a personnel man (his good decisions far outweigh the bad ones, critics notwithstanding). But as the co-builders of the Falcons’ organization, both acknowledge there’s ample evidence that their assessment of the depth on the Falcons’ roster was inaccurate.
They believed they could let go of certain veterans because some young players would evolve into leaders. That didn’t happen.
They believed they didn’t need to make moves early in the season after injuries to significant starters because their depth would rescue them. Instead, it buried them.
They believed they hired the right two men as offensive (Steve Sarkisian) and defensive (Marquand Manuel) coordinator after the 2016 Super Bowl season. Wrong again.
“I asked each of the players what are two or three of the plays or moments where you could’ve made a difference and how would that change,” Quinn said Thursday. “So for me, there must be 50 of them. I definitely feel that responsibility when we don’t hit that mark as a team.”
Dimitroff, expressing disappointment in the team’s play after Deion Jones, Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen and others were injured, said, “There are certainly people we thought stepped up, and there were people who we thought were going to step up and thrive for us but didn’t. That’s something I’m always going to be focused on.”
If the right coaches are hired, if the right players are brought in to fill the gaps, the Falcons can accomplish next season what they failed to in 2018 —compete for a Super Bowl. If the wrong decisions are made, Quinn and Dimitroff both could be out of jobs.
The realities of this season hit home for Quinn during a five-game losing streak that began in November in Cleveland. The Falcons had steadied themselves with three straight wins to get back to 4-4, then backslid.
“I thought maybe we were back on solid ground,” Quinn said. “After the five-game stretch, that was a spot where it got frustrating. When you get eliminated from the postseason conversation earlier than you would like to and having to watch January football, it sucks. Those realizations hit you right in the face. The easy thing to do is (say), ‘Well, we just have to do better.’ But it’s way deeper than that.”
There are a number of major personnel decisions the team must make, including satisfying Grady Jarrett (free agent) and Julio Jones (renegotiations) contractually and strengthening the offensive and defensive lines. But the single most important decision will be the naming of a new offensive coordinator.
The potential candidacy of Gary Kubiak rises above all others. The former Denver and Houston head coach has expressed an interest in getting back into coaching, possibly as an offensive coordinator, after two years off for health reasons. Broncos general manager John Elway would like to keep Kubiak in Denver, where he has some nebulous adviser title.
But too many have latched onto Elway’s words and not this simple fact: Kubiak has yet to say anything publicly.
Quinn acknowledged Thursday that there is at least one candidate, possibly more, he’s waiting to speak with after the playoffs. Keep an eye on Jedd Fisch, a friend of Quinn’s and a former offensive coordinator in Minnesota and Jacksonville who’s currently with the Los Angeles Rams as a “senior offensive assistant.”
As for Kubiak, I asked Quinn if he might also be waiting on a potential candidate who’s not in the playoffs now but is considering his options and is currently in the Rocky Mountain region. Hypothetically, of course.
He laughed. Then he answered.
“Hypothetically? Yeah, as we cast a wide net, you better make sure you go through the process (the best) that you can to explore all avenues,” Quinn said. “What I can say is there are a lot of people who want to be here.”
If you’re into connecting dots, here are a few other things to consider: Kubiak is the best fit for the Falcons’ scheme, which isn’t going to change. He is close with Falcons quarterback coach Greg Knapp; the two worked together in Denver and Houston.
One more thing, for conspiracy theorists: Quinn has fired four coaches to date: three coordinators (Sarkisian, Manuel, special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong) and one position coach. That assistant: tight ends coach Wade Harman. Why the rush to fire the tight ends coach now? One possibility: Brian Pariani, a tight ends coach, has been with Kubiak at every stop in his career, other than one season at Syracuse. Pariani was fired by the Broncos after Kubiak stepped down after the 2016 season and now works as a consultant.
If Quinn can’t get Kubiak or former Miami head coach Adam Gase (who is interviewing for head coaching jobs), expect the coordinator to come from a group that includes former Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, former Falcons offensive coordinator and Tampa Bay head coach Dirk Koetter, possibly Fisch and others. Alex Marvez of SiriusXM NFL Radio reported the team interviewed former offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey. I’m not sure if that was a courtesy interview or with something else in mind, but it would surprise me if Mularkey is a serious candidate to be a coordinator.
Quinn won’t put a timetable on the search, logical because of potential playoff candidates and, presumably, the decisions to be made by Kubiak and Gase. But Quinn and Dimitroff also will be kept busy trying to fix the flawed roster. The lack of physicality in the running game and against the run bothered both.
“When you have a difficult time like this, you hold the light up to it,” Quinn said. “It’s not always comfortable. You want to find where there’s a scab. You want to find where there’s something to address. You want to find where there’s something to clean up. Physicality on both sides of the line of scrimmage has to be better.”