The Falcons lost on Thursday night. They lost for the ninth time in twelve games, meaning they’re lost a full three quarters of their contests thus far in 2019. They’re on pace for their worst record since 2013, a season where they largely were without Julio Jones and their offensive line prominently featured Jeremy Trueblood. They have no hope of a turnaround and nothing left to play for except pride, paychecks, and a playoff spoiler role for the 49ers and Panthers.
It’s a grim state of affairs, is what I’m saying. Against that backdrop, you could hardly blame the Falcons for punting Dan Quinn to the curb. His regular season record is now approaching .500 (39-37) and could dip below it by the end of the year, and he has one phenomenal, historic season, one playoff year, and three .500 or worse seasons in his five years in Atlanta. Blank gave him one more chance to fix what ailed this team after an injury-marred 2018 and the Falcons are somehow even worse than they were the year before. I like Quinn personally and it’s obvious his players and bosses do, too, but the case against keeping him around is cut and dry.
Yet it appears more obvious than ever that Quinn is going to survive until the end of the season, if not longer.
Falcons were officially eliminated from playoffs last night. I know the next question is: If Dan Quinn loses his job, then when? Not clear right now. https://t.co/zRAYQHbOnf— Jeff Schultz (@JeffSchultzATL) November 29, 2019
At this point, it’s obvious Blank has seen what he needs to see and has made the decision he’s going to make. Why? As I see it, there are a few possible reasons.
#1: There’s no upside to firing him now
If Blank had looked at this team after their 1-4 start and made a move to try to salvage the season, it would’ve made sense. If he had fired Quinn at the bye in the vain hope that Atlanta could dig deep and find something in the second half, it would’ve made sense. Firing Quinn after the Falcons offense put together a historically poor performance against the Saints on primetime during a national holiday would’ve made sense, too, if only to send a message to the entire team that this kind of sustained failure is unacceptable.
There is no point going forward where it would make sense, however. Atlanta’s got a legitimate shot at a top five draft pick in a talented class, and the dead cat bounce that sometimes comes from firing your head coach would only serve to work against that outcome. Firing Quinn at 3-10 or 3-11 would raise all sorts of questions about why that was the right time when smarter, more opportune moments were passed up earlier. If you weren’t going to fire Quinn for all the other losses, you can’t really come up with a compelling reason to do it now.
#2: Quinn is willing to evaluate young players
One thing you don’t want with a coach who might be on his way out the door is a stubborn resistance to looking at the future. Quinn has been a company man through and through since arriving in Atlanta, and to his credit he’s been willing to use the injuries that have cropped up to take a harder look at players who may be part of the next Falcons teams.
That’s been especially true at wide receiver, where Atlanta has three legitimately interesting young options in Christian Blake (fresh off an eye-opening game where he beat Eli Apple and Marshon Lattimore several times), Russell Gage (26 grabs, 241 yards and a touchdown since Mohamed Sanu was traded), and Olamide Zaccheaus. The team has stuck fast with Kaleb McGary, elevated Kendall Sheffield into the starting lineup with encouraging results, and given the likes of Jaeden Graham and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner real shots.
He didn’t come to all those easily—and his reluctance to play Matt Gono and Deadrin Senat remains frustrating as hell—but so long as this team isn’t sitting players who may be useful in 2020 and beyond to try to squeeze more wins out in the final four games, the upside of an interim coach seems pretty limited.
#3: Arthur Blank may actually want to keep Dan Quinn
I don’t know if we can entirely rule this out, much to my chagrin.
Blank has defended Quinn over and over again, and not really in the tepid way you’d expect him to defend a coach on a crash course with a second straight losing season. He obviously likes Quinn a great deal, is acutely aware that the players do as well, and in both his words and actions (chiefly the willingness to undercut negotiations by talking about how Julio Jones will be a Falcon to life, etc.), has suggested that he’s not interested in a long-term rebuild of the franchise he bought nearly two decades ago. I don’t think it’s totally far-fetched to suggest that he might be willing to maintain the status quo if he believes that Quinn can get this team back to winning next season, as utterly unpalatable as that would seem to the vast majority of fans.
Tinfoil hat time, as well: Blank has had Thomas Dimitroff around much longer, and long enough to be frustrated that the offensive line has only been “fixed” for a year or two at a time. Having given Dimitroff a mandate to fix the line and seeing this mess, having watched Scott Pioli bail and then talk trash about the team during the season, and his evident preference for Quinn might be enough to convince Blank to try to move on from his long-time GM and retain Quinn. I can’t imagine that effort would be particularly successful—Dimitroff is still respected around the NFL and there aren’t many hot GM candidates who would want to step into a role with an incumbent coach in place—but as insane thinking goes I think it’s at least plausible.
The smart money is still on regime change, given how disgusted fans are with this franchise. Blank’s attachment to Quinn still gives me pause.
The upshot of all this is that Quinn is going to finish the year as Atlanta’s head coach. The only questions remaining are whether Black Monday will see him looking for work elsewhere, and if so, whether he’ll finish his Falcons tenure with a winning record or not.