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Under Dan Quinn, Bill Walsh Fellowship takes on special importance in Washington

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On the current Commanders staff, there are nine coaches, from several different position groups, who have the same three-word title on their resume. The time they were in the role and NFL club they held it with varies, but for all of them, this three-word title changed their lives and helped get them where they are today.

"Being a Bill Walsh Fellow was incredibly eye-opening and an invaluable experience," said quarterbacks coach Tavita Pritchard. "Representation in the football community, in our profession is really important, and the fact that there are so many of us on staff shows that, for one, the fellowship is working and, two, that there is a priority being put on it from the top at the Commanders."

Established in 1987 by Hall of Fame head coach Bill Walsh, the Bill Walsh NFL Diversity Coaching Fellowship exposes talented minority college coaches, high school coaches and former players to the methods and philosophies of NFL coaching staffs. The high number of former Bill Walsh fellows on Washington's staff this year is certainly no coincidence.

Dan Quinn and his chief of staff Sarah Hogan, among others, believe deeply in the talent this program produces. A large part of that springs from their own commitment to making it as effective and educational as possible. The 2024 class of fellows, the first under DQ in Washington, have felt that commitment.

Dan Quinn's approach to the Bill Walsh fellowship can be traced back to the early 2000s. In first job in the NFL with the 49ers, Quinn overlapped with Walsh himself and was steeped in the culture that the legendary head coach helped cultivate. That, in combination with friendships he developed with coaches like Mike Tomlin and Raheem Morris, illuminated certain coaching patterns and inequalities to Quinn.

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"With me not ever being in a person of color's shoes, I don't know what that discrimination is like, but I'm against it at my core," Quinn said. "What [the Bill Walsh Fellowship] stands for is giving opportunities to some people that maybe you didn't interview or who weren't part of a certain clique … I've recognized the power of it, and I never want to let that go. I've always been somebody who wants to push that forward."

When Quinn got his first NFL head coaching job with the Falcons, he found himself in a spot to be able to push forward the mission of the Bill Walsh Fellowship in a special way. Soon, his now chief of staff Sarah Hogan came on board and became instrumental in taking the fellowship to new heights.

"Sarah's been an absolute champion. She's so committed to this," Quinn said. "She's my eyes and ears for this program, too."

Hogan continued to carry the torch in Atlanta as a major advocate and leader for the fellowship. Now she and Quinn have been re-united, at the dawn of a team's new era and with several former fellows on staff, the passion around Bill Walsh Fellowship has perhaps never been higher in Washington.

This year, the path to identifying the first Bill Walsh Fellows at the Commanders under Quinn began with rigorous, purposeful methods.

"I think the uniqueness of our program starts off with way we process our applications and do our interviews. We have a database that we keep year-round of people that have been connected with us through our current coaches or people who have just cold emailed us," Hogan explained. "And then we narrow it down and kind of put them into categories – Division 1 coaches, Ivy league coaches, high school coaches – because different coaches can only do certain times of the year."

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Only 15 applicants were granted a phone interview and about 5-7 got Zoom interviews. Those select few were asked to do a presentation with a potential position coach.

"It's not just a name from a buddy," Quinn explained. "We screen them, we interview them … I'm proud of the work we put in."

That work led to the selection of 10 coaches who will do the fellowship as part of two groups. The first bunch spent time with the team during portions of OTAs and throughout mandatory minicamp. The second will come during training camp. Once the fellows are selected, the thoroughness of the Quinn-led fellowship certainly doesn't stop.

"Not only do they hear and observe, they also teach. So, they have to do projects for us, break down film, present to a whole group," Quinn said. "The other night it was probably 30 people that they had to do individual presentations … I just said, 'Here's the topic, teach us.'"

Experiential learning opportunities, immersion in NFL routines and more equip fellows with many hard and soft skills to help elevate their development.

"I've learned better leadership skills, how to motivate players to perform at their best as well as new coaching techniques and better training methods," said 2024 fellow Anthony Davis, who worked with the defensive backs during the offseason.

Just as impactful as the lessons gained from the film room and the field is the power of an environment with so many who prioritize this fellowship's mission. Being around so many who are 1. a testament to the success of the Bill Walsh Fellowship and 2. who fervently believe in the importance of diversifying NFL coaching staffs is inspiring.

"I think it gives us some hope," Johnson said. "It actually proves that hard work pays off. Not when you want it, but it eventually pays off if you just keep staying on course, going through the process, building relationships and just keep your head down and keep working and keep grinding."

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