Goober Pyle

How Dan Quinn shapes Falcons: ‘I have to be a better person so I don’t disappoint Q’

62 posts in this topic

https://theathletic.com/1024180/2019/06/12/how-dan-quinn-shapes-falcons-i-have-to-be-a-better-person-so-i-dont-disappoint-q/

 

It was toward the tail end of an hour-long interview in his office, at a round table next to a window overlooking the Falcons’ practice fields, when Dan Quinn offered a brief glimpse as to how he handles the turbulent times an NFL head coach can endure. Those who see Quinn in front of the cameras see an upbeat, positive and reaffirming head coach. They see someone who preaches the importance of the “ball,” the significance of the “battle” and the strength of the “brotherhood” — the three pillars he brought to the Falcons’ organization in 2015.

When times are great, these are the talking points fans expect — and want — out of their head coach. When losses accrue, this kind of positivity may grow stale from the public’s point of view. Oftentimes, what’s projected in front of a camera or through a soundbite can be interpreted as an accurate depiction of what’s happening inside the halls of the Falcons’ headquarters in Flowery Branch.

For Quinn, the goal is to keep what he describes as “family business” away from the public arena. Of course, losing five games in a row to fall to 4-9 in 2018 was an agonizing situation to handle. Of course, seeing the middle of his defense sidelined during a three-week span was tough to stomach. Of course, dismissing three coordinators was difficult but necessary. But having to deal with these circumstances and make these decisions comes with being one of only 32 NFL head coaches. In Quinn’s mind, it’s best to keep things upbeat when the cameras are rolling. No one needs to know what goes on behind closed doors.

“I think I want to make sure that the same conversations I have with you, I don’t have with (the players),” Quinn told The Athletic. “With them, I want to make sure I’m telling the truth.”

Does this mean he’ll lie to a reporter, including this one?

“Yes,” he said with a smile.

Quinn and his players have not shied away from the fact that the 2018 season was a disappointment. The year opened with Atlanta being considered a Super Bowl contender. It ended with a 7-9 record, which began with a 1-4 start and included the mid-year five-game losing streak.

That forced Quinn to let go coordinators Steve Sarkisian, Marquand Manuel and Keith Armstrong, as well as tight ends coach Wade Harman. Other assistants were shifted to different roles. Quinn said he met with his players to explain the reasoning, considering many of them developed close relationships with the coaches who were let go.

“No, I don’t share everything (externally),” Quinn said. “But I did have to share the lessons with them why changes were made with the new coaches. I wanted them to know this is where I felt like we missed the mark. Obviously, I have the responsibility to make sure we don’t miss the mark. When we do, I don’t want to make a mistake happen again.”

Quinn also had his players and assistant coaches evaluate him, so he can see how he can correct the things that went wrong that he’s responsible for.

In his mind, no stone will go unturned so that the 2018 season doesn’t replicate itself.

“It’s my way to check myself because the NFL will check you if you don’t,” Quinn said. “That part I know for sure. I’ve been checked. You don’t want to make sure you keep getting checked. You will, but you want to make sure you are able to bounce back with some toughness and some resiliency about you and say, ‘All right, that ****** me up, but that ain’t about to happen again.’”

He’s not mad; he’s disappointed

Much of Quinn’s public persona is a true depiction of who he is at all hours. He is super positive and upbeat — most of the time at least. He’s only sometimes a screamer. As long as the effort is there, he’s not going to berate an assistant or a player. As offensive line coach Chris Morgan said, Quinn’s style had him rethink his own approach.

“He’s not going to focus or dwell on a negative. And he’s not going to ignore it,” Morgan said. “You know what I mean? He’s going to look at it — a player, for example, it’s not like this guy is not very good at this, or this guy needs to work on this, etc. It’s, ‘What can this guy do? How far can we take him?’ That kind of stuff. I know that rubbed off on me. I’ve been around a certain way forever, and then you see a new way and start looking at it through a different lens. You can’t help but be more positive and not be as negative.”

This kind of positivity doesn’t mean the coaching staff sits by the campfire singing “Kumbaya” every night after practice. Quinn just has his own methods of ensuring he’s communicating when he doesn’t feel something is up to par.

Linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich noted that Quinn’s method of expressing displeasure can still cut someone’s core.

“He doesn’t ever think he’s got all the answers. He’s constantly trying to evolve and grow,” Ulbrich said. “But don’t get it twisted. I think sometimes the perception is that it’s all butterflies and rainbows. It’s not that at all. There’s a deep level of transparency and honesty in the building, too. When **** isn’t right, it is absolutely addressed. It is not swept under the rug.”

So how exactly does Quinn express the need to improve while still fostering this kind of work environment?

Part of it has to do with what his assistants describe as a work ethic that’s almost impossible to match. Assistant to the head coach Steven Scarnecchia said Quinn will “go on vacation and will read 30 books about how to be better.” There’s also a level of sincerity that Quinn repeatedly has displayed, including to employees outside of the football staff.

Quinn recently had a chat with one of the Falcons’ digital media team members, who happened to bring up his affinity for table tennis. A week later Quinn had a table tennis board delivered to his office.

“It’s something that’s refreshing in this line of work,” Scarnecchia said. “The thing I’ve taken from working for him for four seasons is that in my past experiences before this, working in this league can be really hard. It can also be really miserable if you allow it to be. This is one of the first places where I opened my eyes where this is really hard, but we also have a really good time. We enjoy being around each other, and that’s OK.”

Said receivers coach Raheem Morris: “I think I work harder for him because of what I see him do for other people. Like he genuinely cares about other people, whether it’s a coach or whoever it is in the building. When you see him reach out, you just don’t want to disappoint him. I almost have that feeling every day to where I have to be a better person so I don’t disappoint Q. I think that’s what makes our work environment better.”

Therefore, when Quinn is angry, it’s easy to communicate. In just a few words, in a stern tone, Quinn can show how unhappy he is if something isn’t right. Morris recalled a moment in practice when he felt he was doing the right thing by offering extra instruction to his receivers. Atlanta’s practices move quickly, however, and the previous period was over. Morris continued his teaching, which held up a few of his players who needed to participate in a special teams drill.

Upset, Quinn stared at Morris, a longtime friend he actually coached at Hofstra and delivered two words that felt like daggers to the midsection.

“Not cool,” Quinn told Morris.

“It took him days to come out of that one,” Scarnecchia said. “It cut him deep.”

Coaches get both sides of it from Quinn. He’ll heap praise upon them, such as when Quinn told reporters that Ulbrich was “the best linebackers coach on the planet” during rookie minicamp. Ulbrich later said that Quinn has also told him, “You’ve absolutely let me down.”

“He doesn’t do it like he’s shaming,” Ulbrich said. “It’s like, ‘You left me drowning.’”

Said Morris: “That is the worst feeling you can ever get!”

Essentially, it’s this: Quinn isn’t mad. He’s disappointed.

One tactic Quinn uses to help build a better team rapport is to have the position coaches meet with players on the other side of the ball. It was something he did himself back as a defensive coordinator with the Seattle Seahawks. In addition to becoming close with players like Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas, he reached across to foster relationships with Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson.

Morgan, who was an assistant offensive line coach with the Seahawks when Quinn was with Seattle in 2014, said he never saw a coach connect with players and staffers he wasn’t directly involved with as deeply as he did. Quinn also would ask Morgan for his take on certain items, which struck him as a significant gesture considering the two coaches’ roles. Quinn, Morgan said, would create time to seek other opinions from offensive players and coaches who potentially could help.

“You still gotta win, and you still gotta grind, and you’re still going to do it all,” Morgan said. “There’s just a different mindset with him. The toughness part of it, and the grind and grit part of it, he’s as good as there is. But there’s also this positivity, and it goes deeper. He cares about the guys he works with at a different level that I don’t know if I’ve seen, for everybody.”

‘Yeah, he’s like that’

There’s a story Todd Wofford likes to tell about Quinn.

Back when Quinn was the defensive coordinator at Florida, he and former Gators head coach Will Muschamp traveled to Central Gwinnett High School near Atlanta for a recruiting visit. Wofford, Central Gwinnett’s head coach, invited the coaches into his office, which is located next to the school’s weight room.

Muschamp sat down to chat. Quinn ventured into the weight room. At some point during Wofford and Muschamp’s conversation, Wofford peered into the weight room to see what was going on.

“I look around and Coach Quinn is in the middle of the guys doing crunches and planks and everything else,” Wofford said.

He turned to Muschamp with a surprised look.

“Yeah, he’s like that,” Wofford recalled Muschamp saying.

Only a few years later, after his stint as Seattle’s defensive coordinator, the Falcons hired Quinn to be their head coach. Wofford thought back to that moment in his office and how the Falcons’ players would respond to him.

“When they hired him I thought, ‘Oh man, they’re going to love him because that dude gets in the mix with them,’” Wofford said.

Quinn certainly has come across as a players coach during his first four-and-a-half years with the Falcons. His reputation as a straight-shooter has been a tremendous asset. Cornerback Isaiah Oliver said Quinn is able to navigate the fine line of critiquing a player without coming across as disrespectful.

“What I think Coach Q does really well is he challenges guys,” Oliver said. “He talks to you straight up. He tells you what you’ve been doing that isn’t good enough. He challenges you to do better. As athletes, as competitors — I think definitely on this team, from everyone I’ve seen — that’s a level we’re going to respond to, regardless. A lot of guys may or may not respond to screaming and yelling. But I think every professional athlete who gets challenged wants to respond to that challenge.”

Ulbrich and Morris agreed that a great example of this level of respect came last year when the team was 4-9 and on the brink of being mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Not only did the team not quit during the final three weeks of the season — which Morris admitted is easy to do in that situation — but there wasn’t any internal drama leaking out of the building.

“In those times, 4-9 or whatever, in the current landscape of the NFL, how much **** comes out of those locker rooms?” Ulbrich said. “I’d be hard-pressed to find one here. Even at 4-9, because of the connection and because of what he’s created, guys still believed.”

Ulbrich acknowledged how someone might consider grown men speaking about a “brotherhood” as hokey. But somehow, Quinn, as Ulbrich sees it, has created an atmosphere akin to a high school team, where the game itself takes precedence over the business side of things.

“He’s created an environment that we’re searching for success. We’re not avoiding failure,” Ulbrich said. “That’s a different way to think about things. We’re grinding our *** off to go kick ***, not to not **** it up.”

In the end, Quinn’s power of positivity doesn’t mean everything is hunky-dory all the time inside the building. Sandwiched around a Super Bowl trip and a divisional round playoff appearance were 8-8 and 7-9 seasons. When those kinds of seasons occur, tough decisions to the coaching staff and roster will occur. The Falcons are no different.

But everything Quinn does, and says, has a purpose. From morning until nightfall, there is generally one thought on his mind.

“I always come back to the team,” he said. “As hard as it is, I say, ‘What’s best for the team?’”

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Interesting insights.  Quinn is obviously driven, motivational and positive. 

But this is Year Five and the only thing that matters to me is results. 

With this roster, hopefully much more healthy than 2018, this season will tell us whether he's really that good...or just a hairless Jim Mora.  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 minutes ago, octoslash said:

Interesting insights.  Quinn is obviously driven, motivational and positive. 

But this is Year Five and the only thing that matters to me is results. 

With this roster, hopefully much more healthy than 2018, this season will tell us whether he's really that good...or just a hairless Jim Mora.  

He has only had 1 down year out of 4.  Even then, with all the injuries, could have easily made the playoffs.  Quinn and Mora Jr don’t belong in the same sentence

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 minute ago, Falconsin2012 said:

He has only had 1 down year out of 4.  Even then, with all the injuries, could have easily made the playoffs.  Quinn and Mora Jr don’t belong in the same sentence

My point wasn't to compare the two.   

I'm saying that regardless of all the psychological and intellectual approaches coaches implement, even the greatest mind in the NFL isn't worthy...unless he wins games.  

If you were around for Mora, you remember that he took a quite similar approach to the team, as in 'brotherhood' and being a 'player's coach'.  He was likable, energetic, very rah-rah....and he was a failure.  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Quinn is a great head coach. I love watching him mold boys into men. He has high expectations but never gets disrespectful enough to lose the respect and confidence of players..Clayborn would have never come back to the falcons if he didnt think quinn was a good HC or a good man...look at the little things like this and the article above as evidence of a great head coach. dont let the fact that we've never won a superbowl cloud your thoughts, that is not the end all be all of a good head coach.

Atl Falcon likes this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
14 minutes ago, Atlchamp99 said:

dont let the fact that we've never won a superbowl cloud your thoughts, that is not the end all be all of a good head coach.

Understood.  But at the same time, that depends on your perspective.  

Mine is that of a fan since 1973 who spent a ton of money and time on this team, so, admittedly, I would like to see a title at least once in the hopefully twenty or so years (hopefully) before I clock out.   So just from a logic standpoint, I probably have less patience with coaches than other fans, simply because I've seen all this before, many times. 

Leeman Bennett. Great coach?  He built a powerhouse team, but failed.  

Dan Reeves. Great coach?  He built powerhouse teams too, also failed (numerous times with numerous teams).

Dan Quinn is no doubt a fine coach, but I can't call him 'great' by any stretch unless he succeeds, and my definition of 'succeed' is always the same: to win the biggest prize.  He's yet to do that, but believe me, if he does, no one will be dancing or spraying bubbly more than yours truly. 

duckhoa and Flying Falcon like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I appreciate this insight because as I suspected a long time ago (and he confirmed in this piece) is that what DQ says in front of the media is not neccesarily what he says and does behind closed doors - and I dont blame him for that approach one bit. I'm sure his players and coaches appreciate it too. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This article is why I keep saying DQ is the right guy and the last person in the building I'm worried about. It also is funny that he came out and plainly said "Yea I'll lie to you guys". A lot of fans around here want to here the coach just come out and say things that fans truly have no need to know. Trust he's telling it like it is in the building and he just told you that. Straight up. 

2 hours ago, Goober Pyle said:

“It’s my way to check myself because the NFL will check you if you don’t,” Quinn said. “That part I know for sure. I’ve been checked. You don’t want to make sure you keep getting checked. You will, but you want to make sure you are able to bounce back with some toughness and some resiliency about you and say, ‘All right, that ****** me up, but that ain’t about to happen again.’”

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, Goober Pyle said:

Ulbrich and Morris agreed that a great example of this level of respect came last year when the team was 4-9 and on the brink of being mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Not only did the team not quit during the final three weeks of the season — which Morris admitted is easy to do in that situation — but there wasn’t any internal drama leaking out of the building.

This right here^^^^^^^^

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, octoslash said:

My point wasn't to compare the two.   

I'm saying that regardless of all the psychological and intellectual approaches coaches implement, even the greatest mind in the NFL isn't worthy...unless he wins games.  

If you were around for Mora, you remember that he took a quite similar approach to the team, as in 'brotherhood' and being a 'player's coach'.  He was likable, energetic, very rah-rah....and he was a failure.  

But he wins games.  Despite last year he still has a 58% win rate.  Super bowl appearance and were the toughest out in the playoffs for Philly.  Time to take a step back and look at the big picture 

ATLSlobberKnockers likes this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

What a great artical! The writer really captured Dan Quinn the man away from the presser. I had already admired Quinn for cleaning house at the end of last season. He makes mistakes, but he doesn't quit working. When his players make mistakes, he motivates and inspires them to keep working to get better rather than chewing them out, insulting and embarrassing them.

".... He challenges you to do better. As athletes, as competitors — I think definitely on this team, from everyone I’ve seen — that’s a level we’re going to respond to, regardless. A lot of guys may or may not respond to screaming and yelling. But I think every professional athlete who gets challenged wants to respond to that challenge...”

Quinn is the right guy for this team, regardless of what happens in 2019. He has the smarts, the integrity, the confidence, the work ethic and leadership to get this team a Lombardi, even if it doesn't happen this coming season.

Would I choose Quinn over every other HC in the NFL? I might consider Belichick, yep, but that would be the only guy I'd pick over DQ. We're very fortunate to have him, even with the 28-3 SB loss.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
16 minutes ago, Falconsin2012 said:

But he wins games.  Despite last year he still has a 58% win rate.  Super bowl appearance and were the toughest out in the playoffs for Philly.  Time to take a step back and look at the big picture 

Looking at the big picture was precisely what I was trying to do.   

I think I'm being misinterpreted in this thread.  Nowhere in Quinn's tenure have I ever said he's not the right coach for this team.  I just want more wins, always.  I have gotten on him for his repetitive coach-speak, but other than that, I'm all with him.  I just can't anoint him on the level of 'great' until we win it all. 

I think that's fair, no? 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
8 minutes ago, octoslash said:

Looking at the big picture was precisely what I was trying to do.   

I think I'm being misinterpreted in this thread.  Nowhere in Quinn's tenure have I ever said he's not the right coach for this team.  I just want more wins, always.  I have gotten on him for his repetitive coach-speak, but other than that, I'm all with him.  I just can't anoint him on the level of 'great' until we win it all. 

I think that's fair, no? 

Pretty much my thoughts as well. 

 

falcons007 and Flying Falcon like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
13 minutes ago, octoslash said:

Looking at the big picture was precisely what I was trying to do.   

I think I'm being misinterpreted in this thread.  Nowhere in Quinn's tenure have I ever said he's not the right coach for this team.  I just want more wins, always.  I have gotten on him for his repetitive coach-speak, but other than that, I'm all with him.  I just can't anoint him on the level of 'great' until we win it all. 

I think that's fair, no? 

I agree about his coach speak and was disappointed in him last season.

But everything else on his resume except 4th quarter of SB and hiring Sark has been exemplary

PokerSteve likes this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
18 minutes ago, octoslash said:

Looking at the big picture was precisely what I was trying to do.   

I think I'm being misinterpreted in this thread.  Nowhere in Quinn's tenure have I ever said he's not the right coach for this team.  I just want more wins, always.  I have gotten on him for his repetitive coach-speak, but other than that, I'm all with him.  I just can't anoint him on the level of 'great' until we win it all. 

I think that's fair, no? 

Yep. I work with life coaches. DQ would make a good life coach but it should translate to success on the field. I like that DQ showed willingness to accept his shortcomings and work on them. I am cautiously optimistic for 2019.

LongLiveNito, Vandy and PokerSteve like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, vafalconfan said:

I know a lot of younger fans on here have been very critical of Quinn and he has not been perfect by any means, but he's still the best coach we've had.

I agree from coach speak and attitude wise. Results I would say not yet. That’s what older fans were saying about Dan Reeves in 2000. DQ needs to win the **** SB. 

vafalconfan likes this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
6 minutes ago, Falconsin2012 said:

I agree about his coach speak and was disappointed in him last season.

But everything else on his resume except 4th quarter of SB and hiring Sark has been exemplary

A coach is supposed to get the best out of talented players. For whatever reason(s), Quinn has not been able to do that with Vic Beasley.

Bigger picture, I thought he and TD did a poor job 2018 offseason in building team depth, and said so at the time.  And then after Neal and Debo went down, stubbornly riding with Richards and Riley as their replacements wrecked our season. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 minute ago, Vandy said:

A coach is supposed to get the best out of talented players. For whatever reason(s), Quinn has not been able to do that with Vic Beasley.

Bigger picture, I thought he and TD did a poor job 2018 offseason in building team depth, and said so at the time.  And then after Neal and Debo went down, stubbornly riding with Richards and Riley as their replacements wrecked our season. 

I know Quinn is still in your poop house for 2018.  And there is merit to it.

But let’s give him 6 months.  I suspect we will be happily surprised

PokerSteve and Vandy like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!


Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.


Sign In Now