Washington Commanders Introduce Dan Quinn As New Head Coach During Press Conference
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Some people never get a second chance at being an NFL head coach after being fired from their first opportunity. New Washington Commanders head coach Dan Quinn became of one of those select few to get another chance. He went 43-42 in six seasons as the Atlanta Falcons head coach with the high-water mark being an appearance in Super Bowl LI against the New England Patriots to conclude the 2016 season. Quinn's Falcons notoriously blew a 28-3 in a 34-28 overtime defeat. 

A Super Bowl-winning defensive coordinator with the Seattle Seahawks prior to his first head-coaching tenure, Quinn gained, in his words, valuable experience by returning to the role of defensive coordinator with the Dallas Cowboys in 2021. In his three seasons in Dallas, the Cowboys led the NFL in takeaways (93), interceptions (59), defensive touchdowns (15), quarterback pressure rate (41.4%) while ranking fifth in scoring defense (19.9 points per game allowed). Quinn shifted his defense from a Cover 3-based zone scheme with the "Legion of Boom" and during his team in Atlanta to running man coverage at the third-highest rate in the NFL (34.2%) with the Cowboys the last three years. 

"Yeah, I think it was an absolutely awesome experience for me and for a number of reasons," Quinn said Tuesday, via transcript, at the NFL Combine when asked about what he learned by being McCarthy's defensive coordinator the last three seasons. "One, from a defensive standpoint to go in and say these were changes I had to make. So it was almost like a microcosm of the changes I had to make, I started on the defensive side, I started on those things that I could do better. And so I took a shot at doing that."

Coaching under a second Super Bowl-winning head coach after coming up just short of the Vince Lombardi himself as an NFL HC, Quinn appreciated the little things about Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy's approach.

"Certainly, from Mike, I learned a lot, all the way from the philosophy of a team, of a staff of a program, of a locker room and all the important markers along the way," Quinn said. "I thought the team's there, he threw a hell of a training camp like every step of you know how to do things and not missing it. He was super detailed in that process. And so having the three years with Mike was huge. Having the years with Jerry [Jones] and Stephen [Jones] and Will McClay. Like I'm a better coach for that time with them. And so those people, those players will always have a special spot in my heart because without them I wouldn't have had this opportunity here. And so I certainly appreciate it." 

The one regret Quinn has about his time in Dallas is not breaking through for the team's first Super Bowl title since the 1995 season. He generated plenty of interest to be a head coach in the prior coaching carousel, but Quinn elected to remain the Cowboys defensive coordinator for a third year because of his burning desire to get over the hump with players who viewed him as a father-like figure. 

"You know, I don't know that and I wish I did because part of the reason for going back there last year was to absolutely go for it in the biggest way," Quinn said when asked what is holding Dallas back from making a deep postseason run. "And so to come up short in that end, no doubt about that, that hurt and that left a mark. I think as a competitor you keep going back, you keep getting back in the fight and you find the small edges and the small margins to do that and I know that they will. They've got a really strong and solid locker room. And if you have that part right first, that gives you a real chance to make your mark."

Arguably the most critical component of Dallas' defensive resurgence under Quinn was the team's 2021 NFL Draft selection of edge rusher Micah Parsons with the 12th overall pick. Under Quinn's tutelage, he joined Hall of Famer Reggie White as the only players since sacks have been officially tracked as a statistic (since 1982) to have 13 or more sacks in each of their first three seasons. 

Parsons took his even higher levels of production in 2023, leading the NFL in quarterback pressures (103), quarterback pressure rate (21.8%) and pass rush win rate (35.3%), which is when a defender beats his block in less than 2.5 seconds. He remained the league's most disruptive pass-rusher despite being double-teamed on 35% of his pass rush plays in 2023, the most in the NFL among edge players, per the NFL's Next Gen Stats. No other edge rusher was double-teamed at a 30% or higher rate like Parsons.

"He was super important," Quinn said of his Cowboys star pupil. "One of the fun parts about Micah is he pushed me to think differently. I think that's when you have a rare player, [if he makes you] find unique things about them and then try to feature those in that way. A think he was probably the most rare that I was able to find. He could be off the ball on the ball, rush over a guard, move over to a tackle. And so first and foremost, you have to be a really smart person to be able to play those kinds of different positions and he is, and then you have to have the competitiveness to say, 'I can go attack him and go attack him.' Because as you know, the better you get, you get more attention. So you have to then find ways to beat a chip and beat a double team and find unique ways to do that. So it was fun to go through that process with him. I'm super proud of him, the trajectory that he's on and I think he's going to continue on in that way."

The Penn State product was predominantly utilized as a traditional inside linebacker in college, and he totaled just six-and-a-half sacks in his two seasons played in State College. Quinn moved him all around the formation over the years, according to Pro Football Focus' snap alignment data. Through three seasons, he is now more of a defensive end than he is an inside linebacker, something Quinn emphasized to maximize his pass-rush capabilities. 

Micah Parsons' career defensive snap alignment


Defensive Line








Defensive Back




*Data according to Pro Football Focus

"I think finding it out, you know, you had to explore it, you had to try it," Quinn said of moving Parsons around. "Because for him in Penn State, he wasn't as much defensive end as we utilized him into that space. So finding unique ways to do it, and we answered it more of that. Just putting a player like him in the spots they can do their thing. That's what I enjoy most about coaching is finding all these unique things that a player can do and then how do you feature 'em on offense or defense or you know, in the return game."

Quinn compared moving Parsons around to players he coached with the Falcons who were both members of the 2024 Pro Football Hall of Fame class: returner/wide receiver Devin Hester and defensive end Dwight Freeney

"So I look back even, for the guys who were in the Hall of Fame of like I was super proud of some of the class this year, whether it was [Former Colts DE Dwight] Freeney or [Former Bears WR Devin] Hester of guys who had these really unique traits and they could do that one thing better than anybody," Quinn said.  So for Dwight, he could set up a bull or a spin and the tackle didn't know which one. And for Devin, his ability to accelerate and cut and make somebody miss and break normal touchdown saving angles, those are things that they had unique stuff. And so as a coach, that's our job to try to find ways to do that. And those are examples of like those guys found their superpower and we're able to absolutely let it rip. And I enjoy that part of seeing that happen."

Commanders fans hope Quinn can help their players find their superpowers because Washington's defense ranked dead last in the entire NFL in scoring defense (30.5 points per game), total defense (388.9 total yards per game), passing touchdowns allowed (39) and passer rating (105.7) in 2023.