With all of the heat that Dan Quinn has been under lately, it’s important to take a step back and look at things outside of the emotion of a loss and/or being essentially eliminated from the playoff race. The reality is that Quinn has had a frequently-disrupted first four years in the league which has presented him with a number of challenges that few new head coaches have to face in just their first few years. These challenges have led to four years where Coach Quinn has had just one with any semblance of stability year-over-year. That also happens to be 2016, the year the team went to the Super Bowl.
Year one (2015)
It’s easy to forget that Dan Quinn got a late start on his first season, since his previous employer had gotten to the Super Bowl. By the time mid-February rolled around, Quinn had a lot of work to do just to prepare for free agency and the draft, never mind the fact that he had to get used to a completely new role in a new organization on the other side of the country.
The roster Quinn inherited was a bit of a mess. Outside of stars like Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, the rest was a bunch of unknowns. Veteran Roddy White would prove to be past his prime while guys like Devonta Freeman and Ricardo Allen would get opportunities they hadn’t before. The defense was a disaster overall, and it was clear Quinn was going to reset it as much as he could.
The 5-0 start crumbled to an 8-8 finish that saw fans clamoring for the head of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, someone Quinn had hand-picked to lead the offense in Atlanta. It was a rough first year for Quinn who has admitted he learned a lot of lessons in that first, roller-coaster of a year.
The only stable year (2016)
With the return of the hated Kyle Shanahan and a flood of new rookie defenders built for Dan Quinn’s vision, this was the only real season in which Dan Quinn didn’t have substantial upheaval to deal with. His coaching staff remained intact from 2015, allowing him to focus on developing players and creating the type of team atmosphere he wanted in Atlanta.
Though there were some ups and downs, the 2016 season was a resounding success. It was so successful, in fact, that it led directly to a successful run in the playoffs up-to the devastating loss we shall not talk about.
Few people expected the Falcons to turn into a team this good this quickly. Their success created league envy which led to the departure of Kyle Shanahan to a big offer from the San Francisco 49ers and a number of his assistants to positions elsewhere in the NFL. The NFL’s most prolific offense had just lost it’s mastermind along with many of the supporting pieces that helped make it possible.
Coaching turnover (2017)
The success of 2016 - and the pain - hung over this season like a curse. With Kyle Shanahan gone and the team not wanting to change offensive systems yet again, Coach Quinn opted to bring in Steve Sarkisian to try and learn the Shanahan system in the hopes of keeping it going without a hitch. The young defense looked to be improving and if the offense could just stay a top-10 unit, there was good reason to believe the team would be successful again.
Yet, the amount of coaching turnover was clearly a bit too much, as Sark clearly needed time to adapt to the team and the new playbook while the team needed time to adapt to him and the other new coaches. Even with all of those changes in play, the Falcons still managed to put together a winning season with another playoff berth, win in the first round on the road, and they came one play away from appearing in the NFC Championship Game again.
A decimated roster (2018)
For the first time since 2016, it looked like the Falcons would feature very little coaching and roster upheaval going into this season. As we’ve seen, Steve Sarkisian has improved dramatically in year two even if he’s still a bit inconsistent in his play-calling. Unfortunately, for the first time in his career as a head coach, Quinn was faced with a string of injuries to key starters from the very first game. Losing guys like Deion Jones, Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen, Andy Levitre and Devonta Freeman before game 3 had even finished, Quinn now had a roster shakeup the likes of which he never had to deal with before.
All of this happened in a year where the Falcons had to tie up cap space in keeping some key players (Matt Ryan, Ricardo Allen and Jake Matthews), meaning the team couldn’t be overly active in free agency to fill these glaring roster holes. As things currently stand, the Falcons will likely miss the playoffs and end up with a draft pick somewhere between 5th and 15th in the 2019 draft class.
Before anyone even discusses the idea of Quinn being on the hot seat, it’s worth remembering what he’s had to deal with in his first four years as head coach. In many ways, Dan Quinn has had to learn quite a few painful lessons the last few years even as he continues to learn more this year. There’s still reason to be hopeful that he will bounce back nicely in 2019, but he could really use some coaching and roster stability around him to get there.