Firing a head coach five games into the season is the type of card typically played by franchises cauterizing an emergency situation that needs to immediately be rectified. Maybe, like in Houston, a power grab has gone awry. Maybe, like in Cleveland two years ago, the environment has become so toxic and clamorous that you have no other choice. Sometimes, as an owner, you feel time is running out on the season and you’d like to evaluate another coach on the staff. Sometimes, like the Eagles did with Chip Kelly, you make the move a couple weeks early in order to get an unvarnished look at the locker room and interview your players about who they’d like as a replacement.
Yes, the Falcons are 0–5, but firing Dan Quinn, as The Athletic first reported as an inevitability on Sunday (later confirmed by the team, along with the firing of GM Thomas Dimitroff), wouldn’t seem to solve a problem like any of the situations above. By all accounts, this was the same coach for which the team went on a frantic 6–2 run to save at the end of last season. This was the coach who brought the franchise to one of its two Super Bowls. This was a person who was willing to put the work in every day to satisfy the Sisyphean task of recovering from that infamous Super Bowl loss to the Patriots.
Simply put: Quinn was a good man and a good coach who deserved to see this to the end, no matter how gloomy that ending was. The Falcons aren’t catching anyone in the NFC South, even with a healthy Julio Jones. There is no salvaging 2020. What good comes from dumping Quinn now, outside of endless speculation about his replacement and, if the losing streak continues, whether or not they’ll move on from Matt Ryan and pick his successor at the top of the draft?
Quinn epitomized the best of the Pete Carroll coaching tree, as if he managed to somehow bottle contagious pep and dole it out to anyone and everyone around him. He was tireless in his efforts to both create an amenable culture and sustain the sort of egalitarianism that other coaches simply spout off about at their introductory press conferences. Every item and knickknack strewn throughout the facility had a purpose. He was one of the few coaches who put the team before himself. He treated everyone around him with respect.
While his dismissal was inevitable, especially if the Falcons did not rebound in 2020, that kind of service deserved an extended farewell. Seeing Quinn tossed aside like other unsuccessful NFL coaches pocked by politicking, bad schemes, stubbornness or an ultimate lack of self-awareness doesn’t feel right. There’s a good chance it doesn’t feel right to his players, either.
It will be interesting to see how, exactly, Atlanta weathers the remainder of the season. This was a team weighed down by the strange psychological burden of a modern sports curse: the idea that it couldn’t hold a lead. To say that it didn’t follow the team from the locker room at the end of Super Bowl LI would be shortsighted. Sometimes, there are simply ideas that a team cannot shake no matter how hard it tries. Quinn did his best, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see in his absence just how much he may have been holding things together.