Multiple reports are surfacing that the Atlanta Falcons are set to announce the hiring of Seattle Defensive Coordinator Dan Quinn as their new Head Coach once the Seattle post-season ends. Quinn would be filling the position formerly held by Mike Smith, who was fired on December 29th.
(UPDATE (1/18/2015 10:50 PM): In a movie that really only makes sense if the Head Coach has been decided and has accepted the job but can’t officially be hired until his team’s season is over, the Falcons have announced that they have hired Kyle Shanahan as Offensive Coordinator. Shanahan was most recently the OC for the Browns.)
Quinn is highly regarded among NFL executives and was a leading candidate for all the vacant NFL head coaching positions this season. His strongest interest seemed to be from the Falcons and the New York Jets, who ultimately hired former Bills’ Head Coach Doug Marrone. He was also linked to the Denver Broncos for their vacancy, but Denver reportedly missed a cutoff to interview him before the post-season ends (their job was not vacant when the cut-off arrived).
Smith had early success with Atlanta, going 56-24 in his first five seasons, but stumbled to a 10-22 record over his last two seasons. Atlanta owner Arthur Blank elected to replace the coach and keep General Manager Thomas Dimitroff, although some of Dimitroff’s job functions (specifically in regards to scouting and draft considerations) have been reassigned to assistant General Manager Scott Pioli.
Whether Quinn will be able to recreate in Atlanta the success he has had in Seattle is a big question. The Seahawks clearly have the best corner in the game in Richard Sherman, but much of their success has been attributed to Quinn’s schemes and unorthodox positioning of players. he has used undersized defensive ends in the interior line. He has used over-sized safeties as ends. He drops ends and tackles into zone coverages. He disguises his packages to confuse the opponent.
However, Atlanta is short on talent on the defensive side of the ball. Jonathan Babineaux was a good tackle/end at one point, but he is aging. Kroy Biermann has flashes, but is largely an over-achieving reserve playing out of necessity. Sean Weatherspoon can’t stay healthy. Ditto for William Moore. Quinn’s biggest challenge will be acquiring players who can perform regularly at an NFL level.
One of the attraction’s for Quinn to the Atlanta job is clearly the offense. Atlanta has an established, top-tier quarterback in Matt Ryan. He is complemented by bookshelf Pro Bowl caliber wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White. The offensive line over-achieved this year, given the incredible number of season ending injuries suffered by the unit. Any unit that is counting on Gabe Carimi as a viable replacement at this stage of his career has to be hurting.
Dan Quinn may be a very competent replacement for Mike Smith, but Atlanta still seems to have some confusion in the front office. Rich McKay, Scott Pioli, and Thomas Dimitroff are all essentially General Managers. Dmitroff was a major contributing factor to the poor performance of the Falcons over the last two seasons; that has at least been partially mitigated by taking scouting and drafting duties from him. But that then creates a clash for Quinn (or whomever comes in): does he report to Dimitroff, who is the tiled GM, or does he go to Pioli for input on players?
If Quinn can get just a couple of NFL caliber players from free agency or the draft, he should be in a better position to succeed than Smith was. The offense should keep the Falcons close, but they need a serious improvement on the defense to win consistently. Quinn has shown he can build and coach a defense.