Dan Quinn Got a 360-Degree View of Himself, and His Best May Be Yet to Come

The Washington Commanders head coach is getting a second chance to prove himself with one of the biggest decisions in his career coming up in the NFL draft.
Quinn is in his first season as the head coach of the Commanders.
Quinn is in his first season as the head coach of the Commanders. / Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports
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Dan Quinn took the extra two weeks the NFL affords to new coaches at the start of the offseason program, kicking off his first one in Washington on April 2. Over the years, those have generally been used to get a jump on players lifting together, meeting with new coaches, and getting a jumpstart on installing new schemes.

 

And all of that has been mixed into the Washington Commanders’ past two weeks in Ashburn.

 

But the more important stuff, as Quinn sees it, had nothing to do with X’s and O’s.

 

To kick off the offseason program, he gave his assistant coaches and players a homework assignment, asking them to put together their version of “My Story.” Each would be a PowerPoint presentation, with pictures, to show teammates and colleagues their why.

 

“In the first couple weeks, I really just want the connection—player to player, coaches with players,” Quinn says. “That’s at the top of the pile. I’ve always felt like you can coach people to the depth of that relationship. The better you know somebody, the harder and deeper that coaching can go. If it’s just surface level, it’ll be surface-level coaching. As we’re building these relationships from coaches to coaches and players to players, and there's a lot of new players in the locker room, we’ll get good, but we have to get good in the locker rooms and the meeting rooms first.

 

“That connection and the way we talk, and past that, the spirit of competition, whether it’s in the weight room, doing workouts, talking s--t, having fun, pushing each other to see where it can get to, that’s where the real competition is. It’s you and me going out to train or run and pushing one another to see how good we can get.”

 

That ties the two baseline tentpoles of Quinn’s new program—connection and competition.

 

Truth is that’s not much different than what he’d emphasized in Atlanta over five-plus seasons, including three trips to the playoffs and a Super Bowl appearance. The competition piece is, in part, borrowed from the Pete Carroll program that Quinn worked in twice. The connection element is something that’s always been Quinn’s own. So, the Commanders aren’t getting a totally different guy that the Falcons got nine years ago.

 

That said, if the bones are the same, the body around them has changed. Quinn was fired about a month after his 50th birthday—back in October 2020—and rather than wallow, the ever-positive coach took the spot he was in and turned it into a pivot point. He learned more about himself, and what he did well and didn’t in his first shot at being an NFL head coach, to prepare himself to be better, and especially if a second chance came along.

 

That second chance is here. He’s arrived with a new owner, and, alongside new GM Adam Peters, has been armed with the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft to address his new franchise’s decades-long quarterback need. As such, he’ll attack this one a bit differently—and with lessons learned informing the differences in who he is now as a coach.


We’re down to 10 days before the draft, and I’m on my last little break before the storm. Here’s what we have coming your way in this week’s takeaways …

• A look into the financial challenges three teams face at quarterback.

• Why franchise-tagged guys are getting paid now, at a rate unlike ever before.

• Georgia’s makeup pro day was a mixed bag for two prospective first-rounders.


Falcons owner Arthur Blank and former head coach Dan Quinn
Blank and Quinn almost won a Super Bowl when Quinn was the head coach for five seasons with the Falcons. / Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

First, though, we’re, focusing on one very busy coach preparing for new beginnings, with one of the biggest decisions he’s ever made on tap.

Quinn was dismissed by Arthur Blank on Oct. 11, 2020, in the midst of the NFL’s COVID-19 season.

Some coaches, understandably, unplug, and try to get away in a spot like that.

Quinn did the opposite.

Through working for Blank in Atlanta, and having a peek inside the Home Depot founder’s world, he’d heard of businessmen doing what’s called a 360 review, where they’d hire a consultant to do a full assessment of their acumen by talking to dozens of people who they’d crossed paths. The goal is to gather data about the employee's effectiveness and performance that lead to employee development.

“Basically, it’s a point of view of the people, of your direct reports,” Quinn says. “What would that look like? How would that go? Everybody around you giving you feedback on you. … I liked [the idea], so I applied it to football to say, What if I hired somebody to have discussions with current Falcons players and also former Falcon players, former Falcon coaches, some that it went really well with, but also some that it didn’t go as well with?

“If there were blind spots, I wanted to know them, so I could work on them.”


Lucky for Quinn, he had a friend who’d already started such a practice for NFL folks. Fox sideline reporter Laura Okmin was, at the time, building one out. Therein, she’d worked with him on some of these things during his time as Falcons coach, but really diving in would bring about another level of detail and, yes, harsh scrutiny.

Her first instinct, when they started discussing how she’d go about it (she’d done it already for one fired coach) was to allow Quinn some time to digest his dismissal. But Quinn wasn’t having any of that. One of his first texts read, “let’s do it.” As in, now.

“It was really quick,” she says. “He was ready to go.”

She asked him for a cross-section of folks to talk to—some who were in his corner, and others who he might have fired or cut, or had a tough ending with, that’d have less flattering things to say. Okmin got the list of 30–40 people, then told Quinn to text them, to tell them she was doing this, and was going to reach out, and to be honest with her. It was done on the condition that Okmin wouldn’t tell Quinn who said what, instead of compiling an extensive written report summarizing the results of her work.

A couple of months later, Okmin sent Quinn the report, and told him to take some time to go over it, and then they could Zoom to go through her findings. Quinn responded that he didn’t need the buffer. He wanted to jump on a Zoom with her and have her go through it with him. They zipped through the positives, and then, intensely, drilled down on the negatives.

“He listened to what all these people said he could do better,” Okmin says. “If someone said to you, here’s 20 people, and what they said you could do better, you or I’d probably say, I’ll pick five of those and work on those things. He didn’t do that. He absorbed every single one.”

He didn’t wait to put those lessons to work, either.

Three months to the day of his firing, Dallas Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy brought Quinn aboard to run the Cowboys defense. And two of his blind spots from what Okmin calls her “Blind Spot Report” (she doesn’t like the term 360 as much) would immediately serve the freshly minted Dallas DC—he’d manage his time better, and delegate more effectively.

"On a micro level to say, How can I delegate this?” Quinn says. “In the past, I’d go, Yeah, I’ll work on that with you. I wanted to make sure in the next space I could delegate, make sure, Hey I want to go through this with you. Let’s review it Thursday at 3. If you need my help, come see me. Otherwise, I’ll see you at 3. As opposed to, I can help with that. That looks like a good project. I can help with this. I was working harder than ever with less results.

“[Delegating] also develops the staff, in things that are super important to me.”

So that was the negative. The positive? It came up with the one guy on Quinn’s list that he’d circled for Okmin—saying, definitively, that this particular person would be toughest on him. As a result, Okmin couldn’t wait to talk to him and, as Quinn expected, he couldn’t wait to talk to her.

The strongest point from this particular coach, though, was less expected.

“He goes, I need to make sure I say this, and make sure you put my name on it,” Okmin says. “You tell him this—don’t change a f---king thing about who you are.


Former Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn
Quinn enjoys the teaching part of being an NFL coach. / Jason Parkhurst-USA TODAY Sports

What Quinn didn’t change is, of course, very visible in Ashburn.

What he did change, though, has been vital.

The decision he and Peters have in front of them on April 25 will go a long way in determining how long rookie owner Josh Harris hangs on to his first GM and coach hires. That’s regardless of how many other things the two of them do right, and it’s reflected in the amount of time Quinn and his staff have invested in the decision.

It’s also why those lessons he took from the 360 he did with Okmin have proven to be so valuable over the past three months—because if he couldn’t delegate or manage time effectively, he’d either be neglecting the looming decision on which quarterback to take with the second pick, or he’d be giving other areas of he and Peters’s build short shrift, neither of which he could afford to do.

 

In this hectic window, with most of the players just getting to know him, and each other, on a remade roster, and the draft just days away, he’s typically getting to the facility around 5:30 a.m. every day, and leaving between 8:30 and 9 p.m. The players are in from 9–1, with the offensive and defensive linemen usually lifting over the first two hours and meeting for the next two, with the offensive skill guys, and defensive back seven, doing the reverse.

 

It’s done intentionally that way so offensive and defensive players mix together in a way they might not have in the past, and part of a larger effort to accelerate the connection between all members of the operation. Everyone’s in a different locker than they were last year. Everyone has a different seat in meetings. Everyone’s getting a fresh view of everything and, just as important, everyone in the building.

 

And that doesn’t stop with the players—it’s also been between he and his coaches, and Peters’s scouting staff, and Quinn and Peters themselves.

 

“Adam’s superpower is finding what the team needs,” Quinn says. “It’s not always the same, no matter where you’re at. He’s scouted at New England, which is different than Denver, which was different than San Francisco. Getting everybody together to know exactly what we’re looking for and how we want to play, that’s really important. This time right now between coaches and scouts is good to have discussions.

 

I see it like this: Did you watch this game? These are some of the traits I saw. Think of all that like you and me and Adam, we’d all be around a table just discussing one player. Then on to the next player and the next player.”

 

At a baseline, it started with profile tapes Peters and Quinn made to show each other what they’d look for in each position. Coordinators Kliff Kingsbury, Joe Whitt Jr. and Larry Izzo then worked on more with their position coaches. They did it for free agency, went through the process again for the draft, and now they’re into draft meetings.

 

Which, again, is where delegating and time management has become key.

 

On Wednesday, the line coaches were in on draft meetings during the early part of the 9–1 window, while their players were lifting, then went off to meet with their guys at 11 a.m. Quinn, for his part, used a break he got, while the scouts were in draft meetings, to pop into an offensive line meeting, as he puts it, “just to meet guys and get around them.”

 

“It’s just knowing where to apply your attention,” he says.

 

And then, there’s the one area where a lot of it, of late, has had to go.


Daniels could be the Commanders' pick at No. 2 in the NFL draft.
Daniels could be the Commanders' pick at No. 2 in the NFL draft. / SCOTT CLAUSE/USA TODAY Network / USA

Quinn’s a defensive coach, but over the years has tried to keep notes on quarterback evaluation for obvious reasons. He’d invited legendary ex-Packers GM Ron Wolf to training camp a few years in a row in Atlanta, and would ask, on that position in partciular, Hey, would you teach me this? Or, What were you looking for there? Or, How did you find that?

 

He did the same with McCarthy and scouting czar Will McClay in Dallas. And he intently would drill down, every spring, on quarterbacks in the draft, as his own side project.

 

“I always wanted to watch the high-level QBs in the draft because we were likely going to have to play against them, if the guy was a first-round pick,” Quinn says. “It was a little bit of a jump start.”

 

In turn, he’s been a major part of Peters’s process in identifying the quarterback to which both will hitch their job security.

 

The Commanders are being relatively quiet about their process, but the extent of their work is clear. The plan is to have some in for 30 visits—LSU’s Jayden Daniels, North Carolina’s Drake Maye and Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy are expected in the coming days. These, as Quinn sees it, are the last of four touchpoints they’ll have with the players.

 

The first came at the combine, where the Commanders got 15 minutes with each of the QBs, something they used to gather background. The second was the three Zoom calls that teams are allowed with each. That’s where they started on the football stuff. It was, as Quinn described it, relaxed—“Tell me about why you like this concept, tell me about what this is, where’s your read?” Then, came the pro days, and Peters, Quinn and Kingsbury were in Baton Rouge, Chapel Hill and Ann Arbor for those.

 

“Mainly, you just want to see them compete there.” Quinn says. “What are the things you’ve been working on? Let me see if I see that today. I usually ask that as a question—what was the No. 1 thing, when you went away to train for these X amount of days or months, that you wanted to get to? Everybody’s got a little bit of something. If you and I went away to go to quarterback school, we’d both go into there with different things and hopefully leave there netting some of those goals. I would check in on that.”

 

And the 30 visits and private workouts are the final pieces to a puzzle that’s now reaching its final stages.

 

It’s a lot of information for everyone to process, and Quinn’s place is helping boil all of it down to a place where he and Peters are 100% comfortable with the card they turn in on April 25. This really is a first for him. He wasn’t in Seattle, Atlanta or Dallas for the beginning of Russell Wilson, Matt Ryan or Dak Prescott’s careers. He also doesn’t coach their side of the ball, and it’ll be Kingsbury’s offense that the new kid is integrated into.

 

But, therein, he can offer something different.

 

To start, there are the differences between the three. Ryan’s ability to play with timing, his back to the ball, rip throws off play-action and excel in the keeper game is in Quinn’s mental library. So, too, is Prescott’s ability to use his legs to threaten the defense and lead, as is Wilson’s ability to play off-schedule and hit the deep ball. All of which has made Quinn stylistically open-minded, something you can see in how he’s coached defense, too.

 

“The example I would give is in 2021 when I went to Dallas. We put a big playbook in during the spring leading up to the draft, and we thought we were going to draft a corner,” Quinn says. “Two of the corners went and we were fortunate enough to draft Micah Parsons. I didn’t have enough linebacker blitzes in. That night, I’m drawing a blitz for a linebacker to rush that he didn’t know we currently had. It’s not one size fits all.

 

“Yes, you have a system. But within the system, how do you call plays and feature guys in things that they’re really f---ing good at?"

 

And when he’s watching Daniels, Maye and McCarthy, he’s seeing them in a different way than Peters and Kingsbury might.

 

“I’m looking at what happens when a play breaks down,” Quinn says. “What happens when a pressure happens? What about in man-to-man? Where is the leverage that he’s throwing to? I almost look at it just like I was playing the guy, to say what gives him trouble, and what he absolutely excels at. That way, I can hit those guys and say, Here’s something that I saw. Do you feel that as well?

 

“Then I look for, if a moment’s there, say single-high, are they able to go deliver and make the play? It’s a blitz. Are they putting it in the right spot? Those were the things I looked at more. What happens when the play breaks down? What happens on the most important third down of the game. Those were the things I was looking at." 

 

Which gives Peters, as he sorts through the quarterbacks, a 360 view of each player from his coaches. And, they hope, a better shot to make the right call.


Quinn and Peters will draft their franchise quarterback in the first round of the NFL draft on April 25.
Quinn and Peters will draft their franchise quarterback in the first round of the NFL draft on April 25. / Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

On this Wednesday, Quinn was able to give himself a second to look forward just a few weeks to when the draft will be over, and the players will hit the grass.

 

“In three more weeks, it will be a more normal spot,” he says. “I anticipated it to be a hustle from the time I got here to the time the draft was done.”

 

The difference is this time around, for Quinn, things are less chaotic than they were in the past. As much as there is to do, it hasn’t seemed, really at any point, to be too much, and that’s largely because of Quinn’s willingness to reassess everything that he did, good and bad, in his first shot at being a head coach nine years ago. And his willingness to do so aggressively and without a hint of insecurity or defensiveness.

 

“It added an extra layer to what I already knew and loved about this man,” Okmin says. “To watch the way he attacked this was incredible. I’ve had owners and team presidents and GMs call me about it. What the whole process of it really made me see, during a cycle in which there were so many first-time head coaches, if I was an owner, based on what he went through, there’s no doubt I’d be hiring Dan Quinn—because Dan learned from all his mistakes and then went and worked on them.

 

“I don’t know many 50-year-old men with the amount of success he's had that go, I can be so much better.”

 

And the beauty of how he’s accomplished it is in the simplicity of the changes.

 

On the day we talked, he’d carved out a certain amount of time, before 1:30 p.m. ET—when the team’s pro day for local college prospects started. He spoke with energy and passion, and when it was time to go, it was time to go, and he said he and I could follow up, and we did, with anything else I had for him. Point is, he was where he was for our time, and now that really goes for all of his time.

 

"Fortunately, for me, I’ve got a good teammate with Adam,” he says. “Might be, How are we going to change the facility? O.K., that’s good. We’re going to do quarterbacks today. We’ll talk about that tomorrow. It’s kind of like coaching. You go into this meeting. You’re fully intent and present for this part. Then I go to the next one. I just try to stay in the moment of where I’m at. If I’m in draft meetings, I just make sure I’m just discussing draft and not thinking about other s--t that I have to do.

 

The better I can lay out, O.K. for three hours, I’m going to do draft, another hour I’m doing player meetings, the better I’ll be. … . It can be daunting if you say there’s so much to take on. I just try to say, Alright, I’m going to delegate this, and in the meantime, I’m just going to focus on this one thing.”

 

The best part is it doesn’t impact who Quinn is in the least—because, as Okmin’s study found, even those who had the worst experience with him didn’t want that.

 

In fact, if everything goes to plan, it should only make the old version of Quinn, the version that got the Falcons to within grabbing distance of a Lombardi Trophy, better. You could argue, based on his impact in Dallas, it already has. And if they get a few more things right over the next few weeks, the best may be yet to come.

 


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Albert Breer

ALBERT BREER