Was Dan Quinn the right pick for the Dallas Cowboys?

Dan Quinn, Atlanta Falcons (Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports)
Dan Quinn, Atlanta Falcons (Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports) /

Dan Quinn is the Dallas Cowboys’ new defensive coordinator for the 2021 season

The Dallas Cowboys defense was historically bad this season, and that meant defensive coordinator Mike Nolan was on the hot seat. He was fired after only one season with the team. Replacing him is former Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn.

Many fans may be quick to praise this decision, but I want to take a closer look if he would be the right fit. While having a well-known name and former head coach as a coordinator is great, it is nothing if he doesn’t fit in.

Ironically, I want to look at Quinn the same way we looked at Nolan. Let’s start with his path to becoming the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator.

He was once a defensive lineman at Salisbury State, a Division-III football team. While here, he played very well, racking up 135 tackles from ’91-’93.

After that, he decided to explore coaching and began as a defensive line coach. He coached at the College of William and Mary in ’94; then he moved to Virginia Military Institute in ’95.

While at Virginia, he coached Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott, and longtime NFL defensive back Darren Sharper.

Tomlin won one Super Bowl as a head coach, McDermott turned around a long time struggling Bills team, and Sharper won one Super Bowl and is on the 2000’s All-Decade team. Many great disciples of Quinn’s teachings.

A sticking point to his coaching career would come in ’96 when he went to Hofstra University. Quinn was a defensive line coach from ’96-’99, but in 2000 he was promoted to be the defensive coordinator.

His eyes turned to the NFL, becoming a defensive quality control coach from 2001-2002 for the San Francisco 49ers. He later became the defensive line coach for the 2003 season. From 2004-2010 he was a defensive line coach for the Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, and Seattle Seahawks.

A two-year return to college with the University of Florida made him a defensive coordinator once again, setting up the Seahawks to hire him for that position in 2013. The defense dominated, playing in the Super Bowl in his two years there and winning one of them.

The Atlanta Falcons decided to hire Quinn as their head coach, and he would remain there for five seasons. In his sixth season, he was fired after losing the first five games.

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Is Dan Quinn the missing puzzle piece?

The Seahawks played phenomenally under Quinn as their defensive coordinator. It was in this time that the Legion of Boom came to be. It contained two All-Pro safeties and one All-Pro cornerback.

The Falcons, however, did not have much success defensively while under Quinn, and that should cause some concern. The defense ranked 20th or worse for yards and points given up in three of his five full seasons as head coach.

While the defensive performance was the opposite in Atlanta compared to Seattle, the underwhelming roster in Atlanta provided the underwhelming outcome. In Dallas, he will be working with an upgraded roster.

What should excite Cowboys fans is that he is likely to bring the teams’ scheme to a more conservative one. The team would return to a more Rod Marinelli-like scheme. Ironically, that means the team is going back on firing Marinelli only one year ago.

That is a good sign since the team couldn’t adapt to Nolan’s aggressive scheme. That will bring them back to their roots when the team was top-10 in the NFL for yards given up from 2017-2019.

With Dan Quinn focusing on the Dallas Cowboys defense, and the team’s top players remaining healthy, the 2021 season is looking exciting. I expect the team to return to at least an above-average defense.

Linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch will return to the scheme that made them one of the best linebacker duos in the NFL. This will, however, put pressure on Dallas’ defensive line. They must step up and defend the run, or they will suffer as they have the past two seasons.

Dan Quinn is looking like a great hire by owner Jerry Jones. He has all the experience you would want in a defensive coordinator and should bring the defense together.

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The team adapting to their third defensive coordinator in three seasons will be a challenge. The bright side is that it is impossible to take a step down from the 2020 season. Jerry knew the team needed a reputable coach to return the defense to a conservative scheme, and Dan Quinn fits perfectly.