For as long as Pete Carroll has been a head coach, he has tried to do everything he can to help his assistants climb the coaching ladder if that’s their ambition. Sure, it means losing top assistants from time to time, but if Carroll is going to live his “help people be the best they can be” philosophy, those departures are just the cost of doing business.
“I’ve always been kind of for everybody doing what they want to do—everybody get what they can get out of their opportunities and all that,” Carroll said. “Sometimes you hope that they like it so much here that they don’t want to go, but when they do, I just want to make sure that I give them every opportunity and if I can help in some way, that’s all. That’s really the simple thought.”
And for Carroll, embracing his assistants’ upward mobility occasional leads to moments like Sunday when the Seahawks will host the Atlanta Falcons and their second-year head coach Dan Quinn. Quinn twice worked for Carroll and twice left for too-good-to-refuse job opportunities. Quinn was Seattle’s defensive line coach under Jim Mora in 2009 and Carroll in 2010 before leaving to become the defensive coordinator at the University of Florida in 2011. Quinn then returned to Seattle in 2013 to replace defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, who became the head coach in Jacksonville. After two seasons in which the Seahawks had the league’s No. 1 defense and went to back-to-back Super Bowls, Quinn was a hot commodity and earned his first head-coaching gig with the Falcons.
“He has some really sound characteristics in his makeup,” Carroll said. “He’s really solid, Dan Quinn, he’s a really good guy, he’s unflappable. He’s got a real discipline about him. He presents himself to the players when he’s in front of them or when he’s coaching or challenging them in a way that they get him and they understand him and he makes sense to them. He’s a clear communicator. Everything about him is really clear and consistent and you know who you got. That’s a really good trait, guys can count on him and they do.”
But while Carroll is happy for Quinn’s success, and while Quinn in grateful for his time in Seattle, both agree that this week is not the time for nostalgia, not when each is preparing for a first-place opponent.
“I can say this, there are many people in the (Seahawks) organization, from the coaching staff to the players to the front office, that I’m standing here with a Falcons logo on my chest today because of so many people there, so I’ve got a lot of gratitude,” Quinn said. “But past that, it’s back to action this week and the game is at hand. That can be something for after the game, but this week, it’s about two teams going to battle, and we’re pumped to be a part of that.”
Added Carroll: “I don’t know about pride but it’s exciting to see. He’s having fun, he’s working hard, he has a team with an attitude and a personality. They had a great start last year and they battled back and finished well at the end, and they’re off flying again. They seem to really be utilizing their talent well and the people they picked up. They’re doing a lot of really good things. It’s really exciting to see, but I’m not going to get too caught up in the pride thing right now. We need to go play them.”
As Carroll mentioned, the Falcons, who are off to a 4-1 start, started fast in Quinn’s first year as well, but after a 5-0 start, Atlanta lost seven of its next eight games before winning two of three late to finish .500.
That first season was a good learning experience for Quinn, who joked he didn’t have time to go over everything he learned in his first go-around as a head coach.
“I don’t know if we have enough time on the conference call,” Quinn said. “Really, having your team identity come to life, that was my whole goal all along. We weren’t trying to create a Seattle replica, it was really, can the team be featured in the very best way of how we want to utilize the players? The messaging, the identity, the toughness we wanted to play with, having that really come to life. It took going through some tough lessons and developing some resiliency through last year in some difficult losses, and lessons about the football where we didn’t take care of it like we should. Those were scars that were painful as hell to go through, but at the other end of it, we grew tougher, we grew stronger… This season feels a lot different. I certainly learned a lot over the course of the year—how to best feature the players, how to best connect and get the message exactly right for the staff and the players, so it has been quite a bit (of learning).”
Quinn said one of the best things Carroll passed on to him was the importance of “being authentic to yourself. Run it in the exact style that you would… That was good advice I took right from the beginning.”
And to Seahawks players who learned under Quinn, it’s hardly a surprise that he’s finding success as a head coach by being himself.
“He let us use our gifts,” safety Kam Chancellor said. “He just let us be free out there, let us use our gifts. Everything that God had given us, whether you’re stronger than fast, or quicker than slower, he just let us use our gifts, let us be free out there and we kind of took that and put that into the ball. Everybody doing that together, and we turned it into a unit.”
Added linebacker K.J. Wright: “He just kept it simple for us. We just played our ball, did our style, and he just always put us in the right position to be successful. He’s somebody all the guys could relate to.”
Quinn’s background as a defensive line coach made him particularly popular with linemen like Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, who Quinn helped convince to sign with Seattle in 2013.
“Q is a heck of a coach,” Avril said. “He was one of the main guys who brought me here. And he’s a D-line coach, so I definitely appreciate what he brought to the game. It’s cool to see him go out and be successful. They’re doing some great things, it’s cool to see—until you play us. If he has 16 weeks to do great, we want him to do great 15 of those 16 weeks.”
Seahawks players loved working with Quinn, but they weren’t sad to see him go, not when it meant a chance to advance his career.
“It’s not difficult at all,” cornerback Richard Sherman said. “You’re genuinely happy for them. You’re excited, that’s their dream, that’s something they’ve always wanted to do, so you’re happy that they get to achieve their dreams too. You don’t want to be selfish and keep them to yourselves the whole time. He’s a great man, a great coach, and we’re happy to see him having success.”
The Seahawks and Falcons have battled 16 times, including playoffs, since 1976, with Seattle owning 10 victories. The two teams meet again this Saturday in the Divisional Round of the playoffs at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.