'A better version of me': What Dan Quinn says he will change in second stint as NFL head coach

ASHBURN, Va. – Before Dan Quinn could consider head-coaching job No. 2 in the NFL, he had to address a different number – 360. As in, 360 degrees, an exemplification of the complete self-evaluation he conducted following his firing as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons five games into the 2020 season.

“I wanted to make sure I did a 360 to find what would be some potential blind spots that I did have and – in a good way, of trying to take on too much at times,” the Washington Commanders head coach said during his introductory news conference on Feb. 5. “That's why for me, if I got another shot, there were a couple things that I wanted to find.”

One was stable ownership. Another was a like-minded executive to head up player personnel. In owner Josh Harris and general manager Adam Peters, respectively, Quinn believes he found both.

While undergoing his self-evaluation, Quinn realized he spread himself too thin in Atlanta. The various duties that come with being a NFL head coach are time-consuming. He needed to be better at delegating. Quinn hired a staff that features two former NFL head coaches in offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury and running backs coach/run game coordinator Anthony Lynn as well as a combination of assistants who have been with him for years and those who have not worked with him at all.

“If you were good enough to get the job the first time, OK, think about the second time around – learning from the failures, learning from the people,” Lynn told USA TODAY Sports last week. “Things that you know the second time around, it’s pretty exciting, where we can go with it.”

Dan Quinn ‘a better version’ of himself in 2nd NFL head-coaching job

Washington Commanders head coach Dan Quinn speaks with the media prior to an OTA workout at Commanders Park.
Washington Commanders head coach Dan Quinn speaks with the media prior to an OTA workout at Commanders Park.

The Falcons and Quinn are forever linked to the worst collapse in Super Bowl history. Quinn, after success as the defensive coordinator of the “Legion of Boom” Seattle Seahawks defenses, led Atlanta to Super Bowl 51 in the 2016 campaign, his second season as head coach. Then 28-3 and the Tom Brady-led New England Patriots comeback happened. The Falcons won a playoff game the next season but went 7-9 in back-to-back years. The bottom fell out the following fall; the Falcons lost their first five games and Quinn was fired on Oct. 11, 2020, along with former Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff.

“It's lonely, it's disappointing, it's depressing, but you don't want to just rinse and repeat,” Quinn said. “You want to make sure, ‘How do I take this, change it, and then make sure you get to prove it again?’ And so that was the silver lining in this. I'm a better version of me today than I was three and four or five years ago. And so that's why I get to prove that.”

Quinn spent the 2021-23 seasons as defensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys and overlapped with Commanders center Tyler Biadasz, one of four Cowboys players who followed Quinn to Washington. Even though there wasn’t constant dialogue between the two, and he wasn’t in meetings with the offense, Biadasz saw firsthand the type of coach Quinn is.

“He was always a very supportive coach,” Biadasz told USA TODAY Sports.

In Dallas, Quinn would occasionally eat lunch with the offensive line, Biadasz said. Biadasz became familiar with the schemes of Quinn and Joe Whitt Jr. – who was the defensive pass game coordinator and secondary coach in Dallas before taking the Commanders' defensive coordinator role this offseason – thanks to constant practice repetitions. During their many one-on-one side conversations, Quinn asked Biadasz about how he prepared to block certain rushes and how he dealt with going up against the premier interior defensive linemen within the NFC East, such as the New York Giants’ Dexter Lawrence or Washington’s Daron Payne.

“To really see him control a team and express himself even more and open up, it’s been great, just him really showing who he is as a person,” Biadasz said. “And he’s real. The biggest thing about him is that he’s real. I think the energy speaks for itself that we have right now, for sure.”

Lynn called Quinn a “relational head coach” who recommended his assistants take the first day they spent with their position rooms to not focus on Xs and Os and instead familiarize themselves with the players.

“His coaching style, I can see the chemistry of this team, I can see the culture starting to take shape – we’re not there yet,” Lynn said, noting they have a long way to go before the Week 1 matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sept. 8.

‘Positive inertia’ and proving he deserved a second chance

Quinn’s Commanders tenure suffered its first public relations snafu during rookie minicamp in late April when he wore an unlicensed shirt that referenced the team’s former name by featuring its newer logo along with Native American headdress feathers from previous branding. Although past Washington players viewed it as an embrace of the former nickname, Quinn chalked it up to a “learning” experience.

In April, the Commanders selected Jayden Daniels with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2024 draft. The obvious hope, for Quinn, is that the reigning Heisman Trophy winner will be the franchise quarterback. No team had more cap space (approximately $90 million) entering the offseason, and Peters and his lieutenants in the revamped front-office signed 20 players.

With his first offseason ending this week at the conclusion of mandatory minicamp, Quinn said one thing he has noticed his second time is the work of the players.

“We asked a lot early on to create some standards together,” Quinn said. “I have really been impressed by the skill work they have put in.”

From a coaching staff standpoint, Quinn was pleased to hear from an intern in the Bill Walsh Coaching Fellowship who said that an outsider would have never known that they came together a few months ago.

“That made me feel good knowing that these guys are connected on the field and off because the players see that as well,” Quinn said. “They see a coaching staff that is connected, they’ll feel that same example that applies to the locker room.”

Having those responsibilities and knowing that Quinn is intentionally delegating to his staff has given his assistants a sense of empowerment, tight ends coach David Raih said.

“It brings great energy to all of us because we’re all involved,” Raih told USA TODAY Sports. “He involves everyone, and I’m talking about DQ and (Peters). They involve everyone. So when you walk in the door, you know you’re involved, it’s all hands on deck – and that has such a positive inertia for all of the coaches.”

A former NFL head coach receiving a second chance to lead a team again is fortuitous. A third try is practically unheard of. Quinn knows that applying the wisdom he gained prior to his second go-round can only take him so far.

“You want to run with those lessons,” he said, “and go prove it.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Commanders head coach Dan Quinn 'a better version' in 2nd NFL HC job