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Why Kliff Kingsbury, Joe Whitt Jr. were perfect fits for Dan Quinn's vision


Dan Quinn said it himself during his introductory press conference as the Washington Commanders' 31st head coach; he "cannot wait to get this thing rocking," as he's wasted no time in starting to fill out his staff.

Just hours before Quinn, Managing Partner Josh Harris and general manager Adam Peters addressed the media, the Commanders announced they had hired Kliff Kingsbury and Joe Whitt Jr. to be their offensive and defensive coordinators. Kingsbury, previously the Arizona Cardinals' head coach, spent last season as a senior offensive analyst for USC, while Whitt, who's enjoyed a 17-yard NFL career, comes to Washington after being Quinn's secondary and passing game coordinator with the Dallas Cowboys.

Quinn still has some work to do in hiring the rest of his staff -- Harris said Quinn's "got a few more tricks up his sleeve" -- but it was important for him to establish the leading voices on both sides of the ball. They'll be charged with rejuvenating Washington's offense and defense, both of which struggled in 2023, but their philosophies and approaches to their jobs also make them ideal fits for the vision Quinn wants to establish.

"Explosive and physical," Quinn said when asked what his team will look like, "and I'd hope teams that have to play against us are like, 'Damn, this is gonna be hard today.'"

This will be the first time Quinn has worked directly with Kingsbury, but he is familiar with his new offensive coordinator's style and reputation. Aside from his four seasons coaching the Cardinals, most of Kingsbury's experience has come at the collegiate level. Although his combined record with Texas Tech and the Cardinals is 63-77, his offenses, influenced by the "Air Raid" system, have been dynamic.

Whether it was with Houston, where his offense led the NCAA in almost every major category in 2011; Texas A&M, which had the third-best offense in college football and led the SEC in total yards per game in 2012; or Texas Tech, where he led top five unit in 2015 and 2016, it's clear that Kingsbury knows how to create problems for defenses.

That kind of explosiveness is exactly what Quinn is looking for.

"The explosive comes offensively and on the return game from big plays, through the run game, through play action, through the passing game, ones that can change fields position," Quinn said. "And those are the explosive plays that you have to keep going and being aggressive to go."

Quinn, who spent time at Florida as the Gators' defensive coordinator, had first-hand experience in putting together a game plan to stop Kingsbury's offense. Spoiler alert: it wasn't easy. Florida managed to win, 20-17, and hold the Aggies to their fewest points scored in a game the entire season, but the amount of wrinkles Quinn had to account for stuck with him.

It was similar to what Quinn experienced coaching against current San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan.

"He would stretch the field horizontally and vertically," Quinn said of Shanahan, "and going against Kliff, those [were the] same feelings you had. This is going to be tough. Matchups, formations, speed, shots down the field, aggressiveness, boldness to go."

It also doesn't hurt that Kingsbury has a proclivity for elevating quarterbacks. Case Keenum finished his college career as Houston's all-time leading passer; Johnny Manziel became the first freshman in college football history to win the Heisman Trophy; Patrick Mahomes is third in passing yards and touchdowns at Texas Tech; and Kyler Murray was named the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2019.

"We're really pumped that he's going to be a part of it," Quinn said. "Obviously, I know people talk about his acumen with quarterbacks and that's proven, but he's also an excellent coach."

While Quinn has watched Kingsbury from afar, his relationship with Whitt goes back to when he was the Falcons' head coach. Whitt, who worked with Charles Woodson as a cornerbacks coach and passing game coordinator for the Green Bay packers, joined the Falcon with the same title in 2020. They only worked together for a few months, as Quinn was relieved of his duties five games into the season, but Quinn could tell that Whitt "has special traits about him."

"I had a chance to be shoulder to shoulder with him over the last three years in Dallas and through that time, I've just seen the detail, the connection, the play style," Quinn said of Whitt.

If there's a theme among all the defenses that Whitt has worked with, it's that they know how to create turnovers.

Since taking over the Cowboys' secondary in 2021, Whitt's unit has led the league with 59 interceptions. Last season, Dallas' pass defense ranked fifth in passing yards allowed per game (187.4) and recorded 17 interceptions, tied for the eighth most in the NFL. DaRon Bland set an NFL single-season record for most interceptions returned for touchdowns in a single season (five) and earned Pro Bowl and All Pro honors.

In 2009, Whitt Jr. helped Hall of Fame Charles Woodson to a career-best nine interceptions, four forced fumbles, 18 pass breakups and three defensive touchdowns. Woodson earned defensive player of the year honors that year and became 1-of-11 defensive backs in NFL history to achieve the honor.

Once again, creating those explosive opportunities is what Quinn wants from his team.

"On defense, that's the energy generating football that takes place on an interception, on a score for returning on defense, a forced fumble, the sacks, the ones that create negative plays for an offense to put them in some disadvantaged situations," Quinn said.

Whitt's defenses also check off the physical qualifications as well. Quinn also praised how Whitt has been able to teach his players how to tackle, not just near the line of scrimmage, but also in the open field, where most modern NFL offenses like to operate.

"You better be a good tackling team and you better know how to get the ball away and show good disguises to make the quarterback have to read the coverages after he has the ball in his hand," Quinn said. "And Joe's been exceptional at that through his career."

As important as getting Kingsbury and Whitt was to Quinn, finding coaches to fill the rest of the staff will be just as important. Quinn has a history of doing that, as his first staff in Atlanta featured Raheem Morris, Mike McDaniel, Shanahan and Matt LaFleur, all of whom are head coaches.

The Commanders have the core of their staff in place, though, and that has Quinn fired up.

"We'll hit the ground running," Quinn said. "There's lots to do."

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