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  1. Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports Quinn’s 24 hours leading into our talk were, for the most part, pretty packed. On Tuesday night, he and GM Thomas Dimitroff did three draft calls with prospects. After that, he went to bed, and woke up Wednesday morning for a four-hour draft meeting with Dimitroff. At noon, he had his staff meeting. That started with about 20 minutes from Moawad, then Quinn updated the coaches on the news of the day, discussed a few draft prospects, and opened the floor for some conversation. After that, he had a call with his old college roommate (more on that in a minute) in the afternoon, and after we talked he was set to touch base again with Dimitroff on the next round of prospect interviews. In between all these things, he’s tried to keep connected to players as best he can—whether it’s to help them with a workout plan with gyms across the country and team facilities closed, answer football questions, or just see how they’re doing. All of it is aimed in one direction, which is one reason why it was important for Quinn to squeeze Moawad into the schedule: His message really encapsulated what they’re doing. “I’m trying to stay in the here and now,” Quinn said. “It’s not, ‘Will we have an offseason, won’t we have an offseason?’ Let’s control what we can. Which is totally, ‘Hey, if we have to start some of it virtually, then let’s start one kick-*** virtual program.’ I told them at one point our goal was to be the best stay-at-home football coaches, finding fun ways to go after it, it’s been a good challenge. You’re always up for a good challenge. “As opposed to *****ing about it, it gives you some juice. There’s a lot of negative reports out there, if you listen to them all, it can bring you down. So we’re choosing the other way. ‘This is the information now, let’s go after whatever we can in the meantime and find ways to provide great teaching and some uplifting,’ as opposed to all the negative stuff.” And finding a way to do it has required some ingenuity. That college roommate of Quinn’s? He’s a college professor now, and Quinn talked to him to try and learn from his experience teaching online classes—which could be pretty much what he’s doing in a couple weeks. He had Moawad in. He also used Clippers president Lawrence Frank and coach Doc Rivers as resources for his staff, and for himself, since the NBA has been hit way harder at this point. On the flip side, Duke lacrosse coach John Danowski—a friend of Quinn’s, going back to when the two overlapped for five years as coaches at Hofstra—brought Quinn in to talk to his players, some of whom are seniors trying to decide whether or not to return to school with the extra year of eligibility the NCAA is granting them, or go out into the work force at a very uncertain time. “We were all on a Zoom call, there were guys from Texas to North Carolina to Florida to New Jersey and New York,” Quinn said. “I just talked to them, asked them some questions, told them about our team, and what they were dealing with and battling through. And I said, ‘Eventually, you’re gonna play again and I hope that whatever time that is, that you guys go after it, working on your skills to say this part of my game, I’m gonna work so hard at it, when I get back, it’s going to be a real difference.” That, of course, reflects the message he’s sending his own players. Were this a normal year, the Falcons would be starting their offseason program two weeks from Monday. Realistically, Quinn knows that’s not happening, and that the likelihood of any part of the program being conducted this spring is very, very low. But he also knows there are plenty of other ways his team can keep taking steps forward over the next few months. That’s what consulting with Moawad and Frank and Rivers, and even Danowski and the college kids has been all about. And sure enough, he’s seeing it happen in real time in his every day work. With draft prospects, that’s meant trying to get out of meetings through Zoom, FaceTime and Microsoft Teams what he otherwise would be looking for this time of year. One specific thing he raised was how he and Dimitroff love private workouts with college kids, because there you can see their enthusiasm and energy for the game. And Quinn made the point that they can still find that, they just have to look for it differently this time around. So on Tuesday night, with the three aforementioned interviewees, Quinn and Dimitroff did just that. “First, we talked about their families and how they were doing,” Quinn said. “I want to get that out, make sure they were doing OK. Because if that was the case, if there was a player saying, ‘Man, I’m struggling,’ I’d want to get back to his agent or the NFL and say, ‘Hey, this guy needs help.’ Then, we went into, ‘Hey, talk about your routine, what’s tomorrow gonna look like?’ There was Netflix, there was this and that, it was real open and honest talk. “And there was real thought put into it, of how they do things. And most of them, I’ve said, ‘You’ve done such a good job, you’re gonna kick *** in the NFL. And I know this offseason may be different for you, but you know what? Everyone’s got the same circumstances.’ I wanted them to know it’s gonna be OK; we’re gonna play ball eventually, and when we do, do everything you can to be ready.” And in having these talks, it’s gotten Quinn excited for what’s to come. “We were saying, ‘Man, wasn’t that cool last night? Three for three,’” Quinn said. “I was saying, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if all three of those guys were on this team?’ They made that kind of impact on us.” With his current players, there’s been the same idea. First, get them what they need. Second, get them working, which has meant working creatively with strength coach Jesse Ackerman to get the guys workouts that address the gains the players want, within the constraints of what they have. “Some guys are like, “I’m really equipped at the house, I got a gym in the garage.’ And compare it to other guys who are like, ‘Man, I don’t have much,’” Quinn said. “If you were a rookie last year, you were in an apartment, you don’t have a garage yet. You’re just trying to figure it out. … It’s what do they have access to? That’s gonna be a piece for all the players in the NFL, and it might depend a little bit on where you live—you have access to certain things and certain things you don’t. “What I do know is everyone in our league is so competitive, so they’re not waiting, like, ‘Oh, I’ll just hang out till it goes through.’ Guys are to finding a way that they can do things. Those specific things, heading into the ’20 season: What’s the one thing you want to improve on, and how are you gonna do that and what’s that plan look like?” With his coaches, it’s meant a global adjustment. Quinn says his coaches have already filed their scouting reports, as assigned out by Dimitroff’s personnel department, on the draft’s prospects, and will stay involved on that front. Most scheme stuff is done, with Raheem Morris moving into the full-time role as defensive coordinator and Dirk Koetter taking on a little more responsibility, with de facto run-game coordinator Mike Mularkey gone. There’s still some work to do, of course. One piece is the deployment of individual players and resulting scheme adjustments. Featuring Calvin Ridley more, with Mohamed Sanu gone, was one example Quinn raised. But some focus has now shifted to what is expected to be a virtual offseason program. Falcons coaches are readying by taking dry runs at teaching sessions, working with each other on how they’ll work with players via video conference. “In other words, each player has what’s called a point-of-attack tape, so we’re teaching that to one another to see, how do we teach best virtually?” Quinn said. “Because you’re not in the room together, what are we gonna use with the player? How’s that going to go? And is it just best one-on-one or three in a row? How do we do that together? And as important, how do the players connect with one another using the technology too to share ideas and video? “They’ll have a big responsibility in this thing to make sure that as a team they’re pushing one another to get themselves ready.” With the overall group, Quinn says he’s already seeing benefits. At one point in our conversation, I told the Falcons coach about the talk I had with Jordan Palmer—and how Palmer had relayed how he used the 2011 lockout to bond with Bengals teammates, offensive and defensive alike, and was imploring Sam Darnold and Josh Allen to do the same. The idea, Palmer told me, was that making the effort to reach out in a challenging time would build stronger bonds, and Quinn was quick to jump on that one. “No question it does,” Quinn said. “It’s not just like, ‘Hey, bro,’ walking past his locker. It’s intentional. It’s on point. He couldn’t be more accurate. There is a silver lining in this. Right now, we have a new coach on our staff, and he was at a new team last year, and he said, ‘I’m closer to this group of guys right now than I was starting the offseason program last year, because we’re checking in, and seeing how everyone’s doing, and making sure you’re OK.’ “It wasn’t about football yet, it was about building relationships and trust together. And the football piece will be built off that, not vice versa. So often it’s, ‘Hey, Albert, how you doing? Let’s sit down and start. And hey, so you’re a rookie, or a free agent, this is how we play football here.’ What’s happening now is you’re getting to know some people.” So in all these ways, Quinn’s relentless optimism has positioned him well to lead the Falcons through this—and handle the challenge that his 31 peers are all tackling in their own unique ways. But what really gets him going is the idea of what football might be able to do once we’re out of this. Quinn told me he felt it again, right after he got off the phone with the draft prospects on Tuesday night. “Being on with them, amidst everything that’s going on, I certainly hung up feeling a great sense of gratitude, saying, ‘You know what’s gonna be really cool? Months from now, football is going to be a part of our country’s re-juicing,’” Quinn said. “That’s a cool feeling to know we’re a connector, and I think you’ll probably see that when the draft is on in a couple weeks. There’s a special spot for football in our country, I know you feel that way. “And being on the calls last night knowing these guys are about to embark on their biggest journey yet as ballplayers, they weren’t intimidated by the circumstances they were facing. They just wanted to talk football.” So they talked football. And Quinn has found, as so many of us have, that it can be a pretty decent way to keep yourself sane in a challenging time for everyone. In that way, the work getting done, for him, was almost just a bonus.
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