Dan Quinn is fired up. He thought he might never be a head coach again. He worried the NFL was too focused on offensive coaches, too consumed with finding the “young and shiny.” But now he’s here, 53 years old, ready to “kick a–,” he said, ready to “get rocking,” ready to mold his new team’s “explosive and physical” identity, ready to lead the Washington Commanders through what he hopes will be a swift “recalibration.” He refuses to call it a rebuild.
“Nothing I enjoy more than doing hard s— with good people,” Quinn said during a nearly hour-long news conference Monday at the team’s headquarters.
Seated between Commanders managing partner Josh Harris and General Manager Adam Peters, Quinn essentially introduced himself as Dan Quinn 2.0. He said that, after the Atlanta Falcons fired him in 2020, he conducted a thorough review — a “360,” he called it — of his approach. He said he is older and wiser, and he touched his goatee, joking that the “chrome” was a symbol of what he has learned.
The moment was striking because it contrasted what could have been for Washington. The three-week coaching search came down to Quinn; Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, 37; and Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald, 36. Last week, over two days, Johnson withdrew his name and Macdonald signed with the Seattle Seahawks, leaving Washington as the NFL’s last open job.
Rick Spielman, the former Minnesota Vikings general manager who advised the Commanders during their search for a new coach and GM, said the committee never panicked.
“A lot of times, the stuff that’s the outside noise isn’t actually what’s going on inside,” he said. “I knew, as we went through the process and interviewed all these guys and Josh and Adam vetted through everybody, that there was no question that Dan was the right leader for this organization.”
“He has some more tricks up his sleeve,” Harris added.
The staff will be important. Quinn said that in his “360,” some of his findings were schematic tweaks. Others were managerial; Quinn needed to narrow his focus and delegate more. So the successor to Ron Rivera — a coach who had final say over all football personnel decisions and was pulled into many non-football discussions as well — effectively said he will stay in his lane, helping Peters build the roster and empowering his coordinators by letting them call the plays.
The part left unsaid: Quinn won’t have to deal with constant distractions from former owner Daniel Snyder, either.
Once the coaching staff is assembled, the organization can turn its full attention to personnel. The NFL scouting combine starts Feb. 27, free agency negotiating officially opens March 11, and the draft kicks off April 25.
“I don’t foresee making any changes [to the front office or scouting department] throughout the draft process,” Peters said. “I’m happy with what we have now.”
During roster building, Quinn said, the team won’t necessarily look for players who fit best within a certain scheme. He believes it’s about play style and traits, such as length, speed and ball-hawking ability. Quinn, who spent the past three seasons as the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator, pointed to Dallas linebacker Micah Parsons, whose extraordinary skill set allowed him to line up all over the defense. If the Commanders’ new coaching staff follows through — if it actually fits the scheme to the players, rather than the other way around — it would be a departure from the approach of the previous regime.
But the story of Quinn’s second chance will, he hopes, be one of evolution. After Atlanta fired Quinn, he studied the NFL and college football and resolved to get smarter, to try to stay ahead of the curve in his next job.
“Coming back for that second lap, I knew I wasn’t going to rinse and repeat,” he said.
Last week, Quinn said, he and his wife, Stacey, waited anxiously to hear back from the Commanders. He would pull out his phone, see that no one was calling, put it back in his pocket, take it back out again, still see no one calling and wonder if the phone was working. Yes, it was still working.
“I so wanted this moment,” he said. “Stacey and I took a ride out in the car, and we don’t ever do that. She’s like, ‘Come on, let’s get out of the house.’ ”
Stacey, sitting in the front row of the news conference, teared up.
“I’ll tell you too — he didn’t answer when I called,” Peters said, grinning. “He was playing hard to get.”
“He made me wait so long, I’m not answering on the first ring,” Quinn cracked. “I got to make him feel some [type of] way.”
Soon, the new regime will start building its football team. It’s impossible to know now whether Quinn will be a success. But the foundation of the franchise is far more stable than the last time it introduced a new head coach. It’s easier to believe Quinn when he says he believes this group can restore the glory of “this historic franchise.”
“There is no timeline,” he said, adding: “Like all things, it takes some trust between teammates, staff, personnel, ownership. But the more connection we have, the faster we’ll get there. There’s a lot to get done.”