IN THE CONFETTI-FILLED frenzy following the Seahawks' NFC championship win, a group of defensive players clustered together for a photo. "Wait, wait—" defensive end Cliff Avril interjected. "Where's DQ? We need our guy."
DQ is Dan Quinn, Seattle's beloved defensive coordinator, but he may not be Avril's guy for long. In engineering back-to-back Super Bowl runs, the 44-year-old has emerged as one of the NFL's hottest coaching candidates. "It's a copycat league," says linebacker K.J. Wright. "Who wouldn't want to have a piece of what we have?"
Quinn's paradox: He's trapped by his own success. Rules prohibit him from taking a job until after Seattle's season ends, and while he interviewed for five of the six head positions that opened up after Week 17, some teams did not have the patience to wait. Quinn's dream may have to defer another year. "When that time comes," says his boss, Pete Carroll, "we will look forward to playing against him."
And perhaps to seeing a familiar product. Quinn isn't a carbon copy of Carroll, but their philosophies are similar. Carroll's five seasons in Seattle have been defined by a versatile, overachieving D; a plucky, homegrown roster; and off-kilter tactics. Seahawks coaches promote rugby-style tackling and show Bruce Lee clips to demonstrate a six-inch punch. Carroll, the laid-back Californian, doesn't believe in molds or that all players can fit in all schemes. His system has worked so well that the Jaguars tabbed Carroll's first defensive coordinator, Gus Bradley, as their coach in 2013.
Enter Quinn, a former D-III defensive lineman. Carroll preaches the importance of a singular defensive philosophy, and Quinn has his boiled down to three words, inscribed on a blue rubber bracelet on his right wrist: fast and physical. "The reason we're so good," says safety Jeron Johnson, "is that we're doing things exactly the same [as before]. It's become even simpler." Quinn is not the type to outscheme opponents with blitzes and disguises; he mostly employs either a three-deep zone or man-to-man coverage. Without worrying about checks, Quinn believes his guys can play more instinctively and aggressively. As proof, the Seahawks have allowed the fewest points in the league three straight years (two under Quinn, one under Bradley).
"We have three, maybe four looks," says Wright. "Watch us on film and you know what we're going to look like." That simplicity makes the Seahawks' D similar to Vince Lombardi's Power Sweep or the Bears' 46 Defense: Even if you know it's coming, it is near impossible to beat.
Whichever coach-needy team buys into that system—the Falcons are rumored to be waiting—will get the most meticulous of planners. "He'd come in and watch film on his own," says Quinn's high school coach, George Bellais. "What teenager is like that?" In the down week before last year's Super Bowl, Quinn watched two years' worth of Peyton Manning's games—all 1,364 throws. That intensity is on display in the coaches' booth, where he has a tradition with Seahawks analyst Warren Moon, who sits in the adjacent unit. When Quinn is pleased, he'll bang his elbow on the wall. During a Week 12 win over Arizona, Moon's producer scolded him because the two were making enough noise to confuse listeners. "And during this game," Moon said after the NFC championship, "he was pretty loud again."
When it was all over, Quinn sprinted to an elevator and burst onto the field. Through a sea of confetti, he looked for his guys, hoping for a snapshot.