Dan Quinn’s missteps with the Falcons offense should worry the Broncos
With Dan Quinn reportedly taking the pole position in the Broncos coaching search, a fair question to be asked: Why hire a third straight defensive-minded head coach on a team with a broken offense?
George Paton’s answer would likely echo his statements after firing Vic Fangio: “The No. 1 quality is leadership. We’re looking for someone to lead this entire organization, to lead this community, and to lead our players. That’s the No. 1 trait we’re looking for. Obviously, we want the best football coach. I’m not worried about what side of the ball, and I’m not worried about a play caller. We want leadership. That’s our No. 1 priority.”
Quinn, theoretically, fits those traits. He’s the only candidate Paton is scheduled to interview with previous head coaching experience. But that still doesn’t answer how another defensive guru is the solution to fixing an offense that hasn’t been explosive since 2014.
Well, Quinn was once the head coach of the most-explosive offense in the sport. His 2016 Falcons led the NFL in scoring with 540 points and Matt Ryan was named league MVP, all under the direction of Kyle Shanahan. But when Shanahan was hired away to become head coach in San Francisco, Quinn’s response set the offense on a course it couldn’t recover from.
When hiring a previously fired head coach, there’s hope the coach learned from their mistakes the first time around. A look back at Quinn’s time in Atlanta shows plenty that Paton can dig into during the interview process…
Upon Shanahan’s exit, Quinn decided to keep the same offensive system his team had just enjoyed amazing success with the season before. That makes a ton of sense. What didn’t make sense was declining to promote Matt LaFleur or Mike McDaniel to run it.
Instead, Quinn hired Steve Sarkisian and nearly an entirely new group of offensive coaches to run Shanahan’s system. The problem with that was none of them, namely Sarkisian, had any experience actually coaching it.
Atlanta’s offense scored 187 fewer points than the previous season. This despite returning the same talented personnel including Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman and Mohamed Sanu. One league executive said at the time, “(Sarkisian) doesn’t know what he’s doing in that offense. He’s running some of Kyle’s plays, but he’s not setting up things the way Kyle did. He’s not establishing one thing early to then trick the defense into something else late. It’s Kyle’s plays, but it’s not Kyle’s offense and they don’t have any other coach in that building who knows the scheme with LaFleur and McDaniel gone, too.”
While Quinn acknowledged the mistake, it wasn’t enough to turn things around in time to save Sarkisian’s job as Quinn fired him after two seasons.
From there, it’d appear Quinn had two logical directions to go. Remain committed to Shanahan’s scheme but this time hire a play caller and staff off the namesake’s tree to properly run it, or hire an offensive coordinator with roots in a different offense and change up Atlanta’s system. Quinn instead elected to go a third route: literally repeating the Sarkisian model all over again with Dirk Koetter. Quinn hired another offensive coordinator with no experience running Shanahan’s scheme, and asked him to run Shanahan’s scheme.
As with Sarkisian, all of the Falcons firepower wasn’t enough to overcome the square-peg, round-hole offense Quinn had created. This time, it didn’t just cost the play caller his job as Quinn was also shown the door while the prime of Ryan’s career was wasted away.
So, as Paton sits down with Quinn to discuss what his plan would be to fix the Broncos offense, here’s hoping (for Quinn’s sake) that the third time is a charm and the coach learned from his mistakes in Atlanta.
A suggestion for a follow up question Paton should ask after Quinn explains why his next offensive coordinator hire will work out better than his previous two, “Well Dan, best case scenario here. What if it all works and that guy leaves? Then what?” The answer will tell Paton how much Quinn has grown as a head coach, or how much he hasn’t.