5 years is a long time in the NFL, especially when you’re a head coach. Because it’s long enough to get a fair read on any head coach, the 5 year mark is an apt time to conduct some sort of thorough internal review, no matter how you feel about the current regime. So it makes perfect sense that the Falcons would pick now to separate from head coach Dan Quinn.
The majority of pundits and the fan base are absolutely convinced that Quinn is already unemployed. That’s fair, and probably true. Come Black Monday, there’s a good chance he will be fired. I understand and appreciate why that would happen. But as foregone conclusions go, I fear this one has the potential to surprise us all.
To be clear, I believe the Falcons should move on from Quinn. I repeat: I do believe the Falcons should move on from Quinn. He hasn’t come close to meeting expectations and you can draw a straight line between his coaching and much of what is wrong with this team. But that said, I’m not so sure his firing really is a foregone conclusion. In fact, as the weeks roll by, I’ve grown increasingly unconvinced that Blank will elect to part ways with Quinn. And while I, and likely quite a few of you, may disagree with that decision, there are, of course, reasons it would be made.
Falcons owner Arthur Blank is a smart businessman. A little over 40 years ago, he and Bernard Marcus co-founded Home Depot. His entire career has been based on decisions made after careful consideration of the available options. Putting yourself in Blank’s shoes, what are your foremost considerations as you look to right the ship in 2020?
To be sure, Quinn’s record as a head coach (40-37) isn’t great. It’s barely a winning record; and that’s just not good enough. But he did win a Super Bowl as the Seahawks’ defensive coordinator. And he does have a winning playoff record (3- 2). And he did win an NFC Championship before
sitting idly by as Kyle Shanahan forgot running backs exist what was arguably the most embarrassing Super Bowl loss in NFL history. What’s more, and this is maybe the most important part, the players love him. They love and adore him. He’s a player’s coach. That’s the reputation that precedes him and it’s fundamentally who he is. As Blank stares down a shrinking Super Bowl window, he may rely on that simple familiarity with Quinn as a crutch.
Fear of the unknown
Is anyone bullish on the options likely to be available to the Falcons when it would come time to find a replacement? I’m certainly not. The Falcons can’t presume they will be a desirable landing spot for the best free agent head coaching candidates. Quinn’s replacement will need to find a way to navigate a notoriously fragile cap situation. The Falcons have had to (and continue to) part ways with a lot of cash to retain their young core. Aside from the draft and maybe a couple of modest additions in free agency, the incoming head coach would have to roll with what’s here already. That will limit the replacement’s vision a bit, particularly if a replacement would prefer the ability to perform a rebuild over multiple seasons.
It’s All Thomas’ Fault/Not Anyone’s Fault
The Falcons have allowed Quinn to play an integral role in the drafting and development of players. That said, the decision to go all in on the additions of James Carpenter, Jamon Brown, Chris Lindstrom, and Kaleb McGary in free agency and the draft was Dimitroff’s to make. He is the general manager. Lindstrom and McGary are rookies and it’s far too early to assess their long-term value, even if we can and should comment on their ongoing development and poor performances as they occur. But Carpenter and Brown were overpaid and their poor play has been part and parcel of the struggles the offensive line has navigated in 2019. That, of course, isn’t the only bad decision Dimitroff has made. He’s got a well-documented history of missteps that unfortunately overshadow his accomplishments at a certain point. Given that, it’s possible Blank absolves Quinn to some degree.
The other potential defense requiring a similar way of thinking is that at least some of the team’s struggles over the past couple of seasons are not anyone’s fault. The injury bug struck the Falcons hard in 2018. That wasn’t Quinn’s fault and he was asked to make the best out of a bad situation. That doesn’t explain why a defensively minded head coach would struggle in epic fashion after taking over play calling to the extent Quinn did, but it’s worth considering nonetheless.
Look, this isn’t meant to be a full-throated endorsement of Quinn. Notwithstanding any emotional connection to the current regime, I do believe the Falcons would be better off cutting ties with Quinn and starting over. But given Blank’s willingness to allow Quinn to see the 2019 season to a conclusion and some of his public comments along the way, I’m quite concerned that this impending firing is, in fact, not impending at all. And you should be too.