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Teaching by example
Dan Quinn wants the Seahawks’ defensive linemen to be relentless, aggressive and fundamentally sound.
And why not? He is.
The same trio of attributes the Seahawks’ new defensive line coach uses to explain what he expects from his players also describes Quinn, who was hired in January by first-year head coach Jim Mora.
“Coach Quinn isn’t asking us to do anything he wouldn’t do,” said Craig Terrill, a sixth-year defensive tackle whose style is a textbook match for what Quinn is seeking.
“He’s a high-energy guy, and he brings that to the field for practice. And we can feed off that, because he’s ready to go everyday. He’s very involved. He’s just relentless.”
Did someone else say relentless? Yes, it was Mora, and it happened when he was telling a story about how he first encountered Quinn.
“Dan’s a great story,” Mora said, unable to hold back a smile. “Our relationship is a great story.”
It started in 2001, when Mora was the defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers and looking for a quality control assistant to replace Joe Barry. Steve Mariucci, then the 49ers head coach, put Mora in charge of filling the opening.
“Over the course of about a month, I talked to five or six people and nothing felt quite right,” Mora recalled. “I kept getting these phone calls from this guy named Dan Quinn at this school called Hofstra back in New York.
“I wasn’t familiar with Dan Quinn, and I wasn’t familiar with Hofstra. All I knew was that this guy was relentless. He just wouldn’t let it go.”
Mora finally relented, and 10 minutes into his meeting with Quinn he realized, “There was something special there. He had a special personality. He had a tremendous work ethic. He had a conviction about what it takes to be a great coach and how to get the best out of your players.”
Quinn was, in a word, relentless. He got the job with the 49ers and hasn’t looked back.
“It was good,” Quinn said. “It turned out to be a good fit for Jim, and it definitely was a good fit for me.”
Their paths crossed again in January, when Mora was looking for a defensive coordinator after taking over for departed Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren. Quinn interviewed for the job, but so did Gus Bradley. The choice turned out to be Bradley, the former linebackers coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But Quinn was still on the radar.
“At the end of the day, we realized that the best thing for us as an organization was to have both these guys,” Mora said.
Rather than being the D-coordinator, Quinn rejoined Mora as assistant head coach/defensive line coach.
“Dan was a little taken aback when I asked him to be the assistant head coach,” Mora said. “But he was convinced this was the best situation for him and, at the end of the day, he decided to come here.
“It was amazing for us to be able to get those two coaches on staff.”
So here they all are. Mora, the former defensive coordinator for the 49ers, head coach of the Atlanta Falcons and, for the past two seasons, secondary coach for the Seahawks. Bradley, who got his interview because of an over-the-top recommendation from long-time NFL defensive guru Monte Kiffin but got the job after wowing Mora during his interview. And Quinn, who spent the past two seasons with the New York Jets and shares a passion for playing relentlessly, aggressively and fundamentally sound with Mora and Bradley.
Quinn, 39, seems to have been born to play and coach the position. He wasn’t just another defensive lineman at Salisbury State, but a four-year letterman, two-time co-captain and 2005 inductee into the Maryland school’s Hall of Fame. He coached the position at William & Mary (1994), VMI (1995) and Hofstra (1997-2000) before relentlessly wrangling that spot as a quality control assistant with the 49ers. He then served two-season stints as the D-line coach for the 49ers (2003-04), Miami Dolphins (2005-06) and Jets.
“Working with the front is what came natural to me,” Quinn said of the move from playing the position to coaching it. “Then I had the opportunity to be around some good defensive coaches, not only in the NFL but prior to that.”
Since coming to the NFL, Quinn has worked with Bill McPherson (49ers), Dom Capers (Dolphins), Nick Saban (Dolphins) and Eric Mangini (Jets), in addition to Mora.
“All of those guys have had a different impact on me as a coach,” Quinn said. “I’ve had different experiences in different defenses. So all of them have left a strong impression on me of good defense play.”
Quinn is affable and articulate, but when it comes to football, he often comes at intruders into his finely focused world with an expression that seems to say, “This better be good.”
All anyone might need to know about Quinn comes from the fact that he volunteered to throw the hammer at Salisbury State because, as he puts it, “That looks like something I’d be into. And sure enough, it was.”
While moving from the shot put and discus to the hammer seems like an obvious progression, the torque and technique needed to excel at controlling the hammer is tortuous. For every convert able to master the event, several others burnout or breakdown.
But Quinn was good enough to set a school record (which has since been broken).
“For me, track and field was a good changeup from football, where everything was involved around the team,” he said. “As a thrower, there wasn’t anybody else there with you. You either did it, or you didn’t, by yourself. That was kind of a good challenge.”
Speaking of challenges, Quinn has heard the talk from Mora and Bradley about how the best way to improve a pass defense that ranked 32nd in the league last season is to get more pressure on the passer.
Former Seahawks coach Chuck Knox always said that pass defense is “rush plus coverage.” Quinn couldn’t agree more.
“I think Chuck was right on that one, and I definitely subscribe to the same theory he used,” Quinn said. “I’m looking forward to working with the guys here and being able to have this whole team affect the QB – by the way we rush, by the way we disguise.”
Another Knoxism: “It’s not who you play, it’s when you play them.” With the Seahawks and their palpable home-field advantage, it’s also where you play them.
Quinn has been in Qwest Field before, including last December when the Seahawks defeated the Jets on a snowy Sunday to send Holmgren out a winner in his final home game as coach. But Quinn is looking forward to being on the other side of the din generated by the 12th Man.
“As a defensive coach, with the crowd noise and that having the ability to affect the QB as pass rushers, that’s one thing I’m really glad to have on our side,” Quinn said. “I want it as loud as we can get it.”
Which will only help his linemen match their coach in the pursuit of playing relentlessly, aggressively and fundamentally sound.