Dallas Cowboys zero in on a big name for open vacancy

Dan Quinn, Dallas Cowboys (Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports)
Dan Quinn, Dallas Cowboys (Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports) /

In need of a new defensive coordinator, the Dallas Cowboys have quickly found one

Late last week, what seemed like a foregone conclusion became confirmation. The Dallas Cowboys chose to move on from defensive coordinator Mike Nolan after just one year of service.

That one year, however disrupted, disjointed, and full of challenges, will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the worst in franchise history.  The Dallas Cowboys allowed the most points ever in one season in their sixty-year existence. They also finished second-to-last in rushing yards allowed in 2020.

So it’s on to the next one for the Cowboys. After interviewing a few underwhelming names for the position, news broke that Dallas as agreed to hire former Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn to fill the position.

Regardless of who the next defensive coordinator would have been, there was always going to be a pretty even split between those happy with the hire and those who wanted someone else. While it is infinitely easier to be in the camp who takes the field, no one will truly know how good or bad the hire will be until things play themselves out.

At this time, all we can do is go off of Quinn’s resume, which is precisely what I intend to do here. His first job of any significance was as the San Francisco 49ers defensive line coach in 2003 and 2004. In those two seasons, the 49ers had the ninth-best defense against the run in ’03 while tying for the fifth-most sacks that season.

The following year, those numbers fell dramatically. San Francisco fell to 20th against the run while producing the fourth-fewest sacks in the league in 2004. The Niners coaching staff was removed after that season (ironically in favor of Mike Nolan) and Quinn was on his way to Miami for two years, filling the same position for the Dolphins.

In 2005, Miami’s defense went from second-to-last against the run and 21st in sacks the previous year to 17th in rush defense and second overall in sacks under Quinn. That improvement continued the next season as Miami had the eighth-best run defense in 2006 while holding its position in the top three defenses regarding sacking the quarterback.

Another coaching regime change sent Quinn from Miami to the New York Jets in 2007 and 2008 for, once again, the same role. While the 2007 season was not a feather in his cap, Quinn had the Jets defense finish seventh-best overall in both categories in 2008. Of course, Quinn was forced to move on, yet again, as the Jets front office cleared out the entire coaching staff.

From there Quinn made his debut in Seattle. For two seasons, Quinn was back at it as a defensive line coach. Even though 2009 and 2010 did not show any markedly notable improvements, Quinn was given his first shot at running an entire defense being hired by the University of Florida to be their defensive coordinator.

While in Gainesville, Quinn improved the Florida defense from 29th in points allowed before he showed up to 21st in his first year and 5th best overall in his second season as DC. Quinn also had the Gators pass defense humming, finishing fourth in the Nation in 2012.

Quinn parlayed that success back into the NFL, back in Seattle no less, as defensive coordinator of what would become known as the “Legion of Boom.” In his two years running the Seahawks defense, Seattle led the league in fewest points allowed both seasons. Their pass defense was also first overall in fewest yards allowed in 2013 and 2014. Not to be forgotten, the Seahawks were a top ten run defense as well.

After crafting arguably the best defense of the decade, Quinn was finally given his first (and only) head coaching gig for the Atlanta Falcons. Never a team known for stellar defense or success in general, Quinn helped the Falcons defense rise from dead last in 2014 to a Super Bowl appearance in just two seasons.

Fairly or not, Quinn will likely not be remembered as a winning coach in Atlanta even though his record reflects otherwise. An epic collapse on the biggest stage has a funny way of doing that to a career. From midway through the third quarter of Super Bowl LI, things never met that high again.

Now, Quinn gets a shot to find himself by going back to his roots of just manning a defense. The cupboard is not bare in Dallas. Quinn will have nice building blocks along the defensive line in DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory. Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch and cornerback Trevon Diggs are also useful contributors with high upside.

The Dallas Cowboys must invest in Quinn’s success immediately by addressing huge needs along the interior defense and back end at safety. Adding a solid veteran (Keanu Neal?) in free agency along with possibly re-signing either cornerback Chidobe Awuzie or Jourdan Lewis would also help.

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All in all, time will tell if the hiring of Dan Quinn was a good choice. His resume surely speaks volumes but it will be the product on the field that writes his next chapter.