ASHBURN, Va. — The Washington Commanders, once more, have turned to a defensive-minded coach to turn their franchise around.
Dan Quinn becomes the latest coach to try to turn Washington into something it hasn’t been in a long, long time: a consistent winner.
He replaces Ron Rivera, who was fired after four seasons and had been hired by previous owner Dan Snyder under a coach-centric management model.
New owner Josh Harris did not hire Quinn to be the ultimate football decision-maker — that job belongs to general manager Adam Peters. But Quinn’s job will require a lot of heavy lifting as the Commanders have key holes to fill.
There’s reason to believe things can improve this time around — but there’s little doubt that some of the roster issues that have plagued the organization for years haven’t changed.
Taking a closer look, Commanders reporter John Keim answers three big questions about hiring Quinn, including what comes next. National reporter Dan Graziano dishes on what he’s hearing about the hire, and draft analyst Jordan Reid spins it forward to the draft. Finally, front office analyst Mike Tannenbaum grades the hire.
Here’s a look at Washington’s first hire under Harris:
Why Dan Quinn, and what does he bring to Washington?
Keim: The most-used word during the Commanders’ search, publicly and privately, was “leadership.” Washington wanted a strong leader.
One NFL coach who worked with Quinn said he was as good as any coach he’s been around at setting the standard for an organization. Another coach labeled him one of the best in the NFL. So he has numerous fans in the league.
Quinn coached the Atlanta Falcons from 2015 to 2020. His career record isn’t impressive (43-42, 3-2 in the playoffs), but he displays the traits Washington wants in a head coach, someone who has the same vision for the organization as the general manager.
Peters, the new GM, spent six seasons in San Francisco with coach Kyle Shanahan, who was Quinn’s offensive coordinator in Atlanta for two seasons before becoming a head coach.
Quinn developed a strong reputation as a defensive coordinator. When he was the Seattle Seahawks’ defensive coordinator in 2013 and 2014, the Seahawks ranked first in yards and points allowed each season. But Quinn had inherited a group that had been first in points and fourth in yards allowed before he took over.
He spent the past three seasons as the defensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys. In Dallas, he inherited a group that ranked 28th in points and 23rd in yards allowed. Under Quinn, the Cowboys improved to seventh and 19th, respectively, in those categories in his first season and ranked fifth in both areas this past year. Dallas created more turnovers (93) than any other team during Quinn’s three years as coordinator. Washington ranked 29th with 55 takeaways during this span.
One current assistant coach, whose team has faced Dallas, praised Quinn for adjusting his scheme over the years.
What’s the first thing Quinn must address in Washington?
Keim: Finding a top offensive coordinator. While Quinn’s downfall in Atlanta was his defense, the offense needs to be addressed first in Washington. The Commanders will likely select a quarterback with the second pick in the 2024 draft, so it’s imperative that Quinn has a well-developed offensive plan.
That means not only the coordinator but also the quarterbacks coach. He’ll also need to have a good succession plan in place in case his coordinator excels and quickly leaves for a head-coaching position. Washington currently has Eric Bieniemy as the offensive coordinator and Tavita Pritchard as quarterbacks coach. Both are under contract for 2024.
Houston made it work after hiring a defensive-minded coach in DeMeco Ryans and picking a quarterback at No. 2 to play for first-year offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik.
Quinn had his greatest success in Atlanta with Shanahan as his coordinator. The offense, with quarterback Matt Ryan and receivers Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, ranked first in points and second in yards in 2016. The offense ranked top 10 in yards in each of Quinn’s final three seasons and was top 13 each year in scoring as well.
Finding a quarterback is second on the to-do list. Since parting ways with Kirk Cousins after the 2017 season, Washington has started 12 different QBs, including eight in Rivera’s four seasons. The last Washington quarterback to be the primary starter for more than three seasons was Mark Rypien from 1989 to 1993.
With the No. 2 pick, Washington will be able to choose between quarterbacks Drake Maye and Jayden Daniels, assuming Caleb Williams goes first overall. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. projected Daniels to Washington in his latest mock draft. Other analysts have predicted Maye.
Washington has not had a strong offense in a while, ranking 20th or worse in points and yards in each of the past six seasons. Since 1992, the organization has had one season when the offense ranked in the top 10 in consecutive years — 2004-05. It has not ranked top 10 in scoring in consecutive years since 1990-91.
Who does Mel Kiper Jr. like for the Commanders with the 2nd pick?
Mel Kiper Jr. explains why Jayden Daniels could go second in the NFL draft to the Washington Commanders.
Was Quinn Washington’s first choice?
Keim: It’s hard to say. Many in the league anticipated Washington hiring Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson. Although he was a favored target of at least some in the Commanders’ search, that wasn’t a unanimous opinion, one source said.
When Washington hired Peters last month, one source said he was clearly the Commanders’ top choice. But shortly after Peters was hired, one source said there was no coaching candidate who stood out like Peters.
While Johnson’s withdrawal from consideration Tuesday surprised the team, it did not result in panic, one source said. Washington had not yet settled on one person, even if Johnson was considered a top target. Nobody had been offered the job. The Commanders had not yet met with Johnson in person and, in fact, were en route to Detroit for an interview when they learned he was staying with the Lions. Before Johnson’s decision became public, multiple sources indicated the hire would take place later in the week at the earliest.
Later that day, Slowik signed a new deal to remain with the Texans. He, too, was on the Commanders’ list — although considered an unlikely hire.
Former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald was another top candidate. Washington liked him; he liked Seattle, where he ended up. But it’s not certain Washington liked him more than other possibilities.
Whatever the case, there’s a long road ahead for the Commanders. If Quinn can lead them to a better place, it won’t matter how this process unfolded. If not? They’ll have to revamp their process for the next time.
What are you hearing around the league on the hire?
Graziano: The sense I got over the past week or so was that Washington liked Mike Macdonald a lot and that he may well have been the Commanders’ top choice. (Yes, even ahead of Lions OC Ben Johnson.) But I also kept hearing that Washington liked Quinn a lot and that his previous head-coaching experience matched what the team was looking for in an overall organizational leader. So obviously once Macdonald ended up in Seattle, it felt like Quinn would get the job unless the Commanders decided to open it up to new candidates.
Now that Quinn has the job, the questions turn to who will run his offense and obviously who will play quarterback. Washington has the No. 2 pick in the draft, so you have to think this staff will be working with a rookie starter. I think this offensive coordinator hire will be watched very closely. Quinn did have a successful head-coaching run in Atlanta, but his best years there were with Kyle Shanahan as the OC. If he can hit a home run like that with this hire, it could go a long way toward determining the level of success he can have in turning the Commanders around.
Who is the best QB prospect fit at No. 2 for Quinn to start his Commanders tenure?
Reid: LSU’s Jayden Daniels. Quinn might approach this one from the standpoint of a former defensive coordinator … who is the QB he wouldn’t want to face? And the fear factor associated with Daniels’ dual-threat ability makes him an appealing option for Washington, which needs a spark on offense. Daniels threw for 40 touchdown passes and ran for 10 more in 2023. Even though he is my QB3 right now, Daniels’ combination of downfield passing ability and explosiveness as a runner makes him a candidate for the Commanders at No. 2.
How would you grade this hire?
Tannenbaum: A-minus. Quinn is an experienced coach who has been to a Super Bowl, and he made the Cowboys’ defense immeasurably better over three seasons as their defensive coordinator. It’s a solid move.