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Falcons Made the Right Choice in Keeping Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff

Atlanta’s 1–7 start to this season was a bad look for the head coach and general manager, but the turnaround in the back half was enough for owner Arthur Blank to stand pat with his coaching and personnel leadership for 2020.
Thomas Dimitroff, Dan Quinn

Dan Quinn (right) is 42-37 as the Falcons’ head coach.

Because most NFL head-coaching searches are shotgun weddings conducted by semi-interested billionaires with far more luxurious activities and lucrative businesses to tend to, there is an overwhelmingly large chance that the relationship fails and, a few years later, they’re back in a board room passively listening to a candidate tell them exactly what they want to hear.

When a coach actually delivers on promises, reaches a Super Bowl and makes the playoffs on a semi-regular basis, that should be an inclination to keep that person.

Because most NFL coaches are hired due to their specific expertise on one side of the ball (in Dan Quinn’s case, the defensive side), they fail to create something all-encompassing early in their careers. One of the biggest regrets of first-time head coaches seems to be an inability to leave the quarterback room or the defensive meeting room, leaving the other side of the roster feeling chided and left out.

When a coach manages to create a situation where even a few notable players on the opposite side of the ball seem to buy in, that should be an inclination to keep that person.

Because most NFL seasons are an emotional landslide that tends to spiral out of control during a losing season, leaving the coach and their staff to privately assign proper blame and find an escape hatch, the end of a disappointing campaign can be ugly. Players fight on the sidelines. They snipe in the press.

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When a coach manages to stack quality wins despite being out of playoff contention, when his core leaders stage a halftime intervention to help save his job, when they want to play meaningless games despite lingering injuries, that should be an inclination to keep that person.

This is not scientifically infallible, of course. There are bad coaches who are really good at convincing owners that the difficult parts of a season are not their fault, and those coaches get to keep their jobs for far too long (or bad head coaches that simply convince owners that the losing is part of some perpetual, but ultimately fruitless process). Then there are good head coaches who simply go through periods of inexplicable middling and get fired when they can still bring value to a franchise. The Falcons prevented the latter mistake by announcing on Friday that Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff were coming back for the 2020 season despite missing the playoffs for a second straight season.

This is a fine line that teams walk, retaining a head coach with tenure who has cooled off. The Ravens walked down a similar road with John Harbaugh and were handsomely rewarded when the coach decided to reinvent himself and his roster. The Jets walked down a similar road with Rex Ryan and watched as the anecdotal evidence of mounting instability solidified and tossed him after it became systemic. The Cowboys are also there now, trying to separate the coach they have and the coach they have always wanted him to become.

With Quinn, the anecdotal evidence stacks in his favor. It’s a difficult decision that can significantly alter the course of the franchise. But sometimes, it’s as simple as keeping the team together, winning big games and creating an environment where players want to work.

Quinn can figure out what to do at offensive coordinator. By solidifying Raheem Morris as defensive coordinator for 2020, he’s already taken steps toward incorporating some fresh ideas. What is harder to find or replace is the coach who knows how to do everything else.

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