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Five things to know about Commanders head coach Dan Quinn

Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn (left) works with defensive tackle Osa Odighizuwa (75) during an NFL football training camp Tuesday, July 27, 2021 in Oxnard, Calif. (James D Smith via AP)
Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn (left) works with defensive tackle Osa Odighizuwa (75) during an NFL football training camp Tuesday, July 27, 2021 in Oxnard, Calif. (James D Smith via AP)

The Washington Commanders have officially hired former Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn to be their new head coach. Here are five things to know about the franchise's new leader.

1. He has roots in Division III football.

Quinn has been around football for most of his life. He grew up in Morristown, New Jersey, and played football at the local high school. He graduated in 1989, and like many young athletes, he wanted to continue his playing career. He got the chance to do that at Salisbury University, then known as Salisbury State University in Maryland, and participated in football as well as track and field.

In the four years he played for the Sea Gulls, he established himself as one of the best athletes in school history.

Quinn was known as a talented defensive lineman, both among his teammates and the conference, playing in 28 games and recording 135 tackles, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and an interception returned for a touchdown. He was a two-time captain and received the Bobby Richards Award, an honor specific to SU players who show enthusiasm and a team-first attitude.

"We're excited to have Dan so close to home," **Monica Polizzi, SU director of athletics and campus recreation, said in a story on the school’s website.** "He is an amazing example of hard work and reaching your dream. Dan has not only been an outstanding coach, but also retains close connections to SU and many of the athletic programs here. We will all be cheering for the Commanders' success!"

Quinn was just as successful on the Sea Gulls' track and field team, earning All-Mason-Dixon honors for setting a school record in the hammer throw (51.4m, 168-8) -- a record that stood for 18 years. He also represented his school in the NCAA track championships in 1994.

Quinn was inducted into the Salisbury Hall of Fame in 2005, and he and his wife, Stacy, continue to support the university with endowments for football, track and field and athletic training. In 2021, they donated $200,000 in honor of We Are SU: The Campaign for Salisbury University."

"On behalf of our football program, I am extremely appreciative of the sincere and generous gift from Dan and Stacey," **said SU Football Head Coach Sherman Wood.** "Their donation will help provide necessary needs for years to come and I'm thankful for them thinking of us!"

2. His players love him.

Quinn has helped several players over the course of his NFL career, which began in 2001 as a defensive quality control coach for the San Francisco 49ers, and it's hard to find one who doesn't give him their seal of approval.

Quinn is known for having an exceptional defensive mind; it's part of the reason why he got the job with the Commanders. But his ability to create a strong culture played just as much of a role in his joining the Burgundy & Gold. Just ask his former players, and they'll sing praises about what it was like to play for him.

"When I was with him in Atlanta, he made this work environment that was so exciting," said former NFL tight end and current Commanders analyst Logan Paulsen. "Every day was such an exciting opportunity to come to work. You wanted to be in the building."

Although Paulsen was only with Quinn in Atlanta for about a year, the way Quinn coached left a lasting impression on him, so much so that it was the most fun he'd had with a team. But what about players who had been with Quinn for longer? Former linebacker KJ Wright, who spent 10 of his 11 seasons with the Seahawks, echoed Paulsen's sentiments to TheTeam980's Craig Hoffman.

"I love the man," Wright said. "He finds out what you're doing off the field, sees how your family's doing, sees what you're going through mentally throughout the season."

That reputation continued when he was named the Cowboys' defensive coordinator. And Micah Parsons, who's been one of the best pass-rushers in the NFL with Quinn's help, has a message for the Commanders' players: appreciate what Quinn can provide them, both as a coach and person.

"I hope those players buy in and play extremely hard for him, and understand that ain't no one going to love them and care more about them than Dan Quinn."

3. He's directed some of the best defenses in the league.

The ability to create a strong culture is important, but the NFL is ultimately about getting results. Based on his history, Quinn knows how to construct elite defenses.

Quinn oversaw a Seattle defense in 2013-14 that helped guide the club to consecutive Super Bowl appearances. Over those two seasons, the Seahawks ranked No. 1 in the NFL in fewest yards allowed (270.4), points allowed (15.2) and passing yards allowed (178.8), all while holding opposing offenses to just 91.6 rushing yards-per-game.

Prior to joining the Cowboys, Dallas' defense was one of the worst in the league, ranking 28th in points allowed per game. Once Quinn was named the coordinator, Quinn's unit ranked No. 5 in the NFL in points-per-game (19.9), No. 7 in the NFL in net yards allowed-per-game (327.0), No. 6 in the NFL in sacks (141) and No. 1 in the NFL in interceptions (59). His unit also ranked No. 4 in the NFL in that span in third down conversion percentage (36.4%).

Washington's defense, which showed such promise in the previous three seasons, unraveled in 2023, ranking at or near the bottom in yards (388.9), points (30.5) and third-down conversion rate (41.6%). Quinn and general manager Adam Peters will have their work cut out for them, but Quinn's track record does provide some confidence.

Check out photos of new Washington Commanders head coach Dan Quinn at his previous stops with the Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons. (Photos via The Associated Press)

4. His defenses know how to create turnovers.

Aside from having solid players and being one of the best at keeping offenses out of the end zone, there's a reason why Quinn's defenses are so successful: they do a good job of forcing turnovers and creating opportunities for his team.

Getting takeaways has been a hallmark of Quinn's defenses for years. During his tenure in Seattle, Quinn worked with CB Richard Sherman who led the NFL with 12 interceptions in 2013-14. The Seattle defense also led the NFL during that span with 28 total interceptions. In the two seasons that Quinn oversaw the defense, the team totaled 63 total takeaways, which lead the league.

In the three seasons he was in Dallas, a Cowboys cornerback led the league in interceptions. DaRon Bland did it most recently in 2023, grabbing nine picks and returning five for touchdowns, but prior to that, Trevon Diggs accomplished the feat in 2021 with 11 interceptions. The Cowboys also led the league in turnovers in 2021 and 2022.

Washington has also struggled with creating turnovers for years. The Commanders were ninth in takeaways in 2020, but since then they have ranked 21st, 26th and 23rd. It might be unrealistic to expect a complete turnaround in 2024, but with Quinn's ability to put players in position to make an impact, there could be some improvement in his first season.

5. He knows how to put together a quality staff.

Quinn is a good coach in his own right, but he will need to put together a staff that can help him rebuild the team. Like everything else, Quinn has a history of doing that.

Once the Falcons hired Quinn following a 6-10 record, he got to work surrounding himself with young talented assistant coaches. His first staff included offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, Matt and Mike LaFleur; Mike McDaniel and Raheem Morris. Four of those five assistants went on to be a head coach.

And the team saw positive results with that staff in place, too. They finished the 2015 season with an 8-8 record -- the Falcons' best performance since 2012. The next season, they were 11-5 and reached the Super Bowl. That was followed by a 10-6 finish in 2017 and another postseason appearance.

Things did decline after that as coaches left for other opportunities. The Falcons went 7-9 in 2018 and 2019, and Quinn was relieved of his duties five games in the 2020 season. However, it's worth pointing out that Quinn has learned a lot since his last head-coaching opportunity. He called several of his former players, including Paulsen, to ask for his advice on what he could have done differently in case he got another chance to lead a franchise.

As of Saturday, that time has come, and now we'll see how much Quinn's approach has changed in the last three seasons.

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