For as long as Dan Quinn has a head coaching job in the NFL, a story angle will probe how much of the Pete Carroll/Seattle Seahawks system he transplanted to Atlanta when he took over coaching the Falcons.
It’s as if he’s attempting some kind of genetic splicing for football culture.
What’s going ignored is the other part of that equation: how much Quinn left of himself in Seattle, and how the Seahawks still benefit from his time with them.
Quinn has lifted the Falcons to the No. 2 seed in the NFC, giving them the right to host the Seahawks on Saturday in the divisional round of the playoffs.
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With the league’s top scoring offense, Quinn’s 11-5 record this season stretched his record to 19-13 in his two seasons as head coach.
The mark that Quinn left in Seattle, particularly as defensive coordinator in 2013 and ’14, is one that continues to influence the Seahawks defense.
Pro Bowl defensive ends Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril each have touted Quinn as one of the reasons they came to Seattle in the first place and a root cause of their improvement as pass rushers.
The affinity defenders still have for Quinn was obvious earlier in the fall when linebacker K.J. Wright was asked about Quinn. With a head-nod and a grin, Wright said, “Oh, yeah, that’s my guy.”
It wasn’t just Quinn’s head for defensive schemes that impressed, although he came up with some masterful plans. Many defenders credit him with the Richard Sherman’s interception return for a touchdown at Houston early in the 2013 season that led to an overtime victory.
Quinn called a specific safety blitz against a certain formation and told Sherman the quarterback always threw to the backside tight end in that situation. Just as Quinn drew it up, Sherman was there for the pick, and his score sent the game into overtime.
That kind of call earns players’ trust, but it was Quinn’s hands-on approach that developed the rare sense of closeness.
As a defensive line coach while also coordinating, Quinn would put on boxing mitts and work endlessly with pass rushers on their hand placement and striking capabilities.
At times, he had pads that went all the way up his arms, resembling a trainer for attack dogs.
Bennett liked that analogy, saying that’s exactly what Quinn did, trained the wild dogs and then turned them loose on game day. Quinn, Bennett said, was at once “hard-nosed” but did a “great job building trust with his players.”
Quinn chatted with Seattle-area reporters Tuesday morning, answering questions with the energy of a freestyle rapper.
As a head coach, surely he couldn’t have the time to put on the pads and go toe-to-toe with his pass rushers. Right?
“I still can,” he said. “I think that’s important. I love coaching, and not just from afar, but with the hands-on technique, the little details that can help a player improve; that’s where some of the most fun in coaching happens. … It’s an important thing for me — I love that connection with the guys.”
Wright said he most appreciated how Quinn made the assignments and responsibilities simple for the defense. He asked them to understand the basics and then just go out and play “fast and physical.”
That might have been Quinn’s favorite phrase: fast and physical. And it imprinted on the players’ minds.
Before the Super Bowl 48 victory over the Broncos, Seahawks defensive tackle Tony McDaniel talked about Quinn’s “sparring” in practice with the players.
“It builds a bond between the players and the coach, and you end up believing in what he’s saying,” McDaniel said. “Just look at the way we play, look at the way we practice. It’s all about having that attitude.”
In Quinn’s two seasons as defensive coordinator, the Hawks were plus-30 in turnover differential, with 63 forced turnovers. It was a defensive hallmark that has slipped the past two seasons (42 takeaways).
The Seahawks edged Atlanta at home in October, so it’s not the first time the Seahawks defenders have met their old coach.
The stakes are higher on Saturday, and the game is in the Falcons’ home stadium.
But it can be expected to be played at a fast and physical pace. And on both sides, that’s something of a tribute to Dan Quinn.