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'I can't say enough good things': The Athletic's Jon Machota explains why Dan Quinn could be ready for another head-coaching opportunity


The Broncos continued their head-coaching interviews on Tuesday, as George Paton and Co. spoke with Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.

Quinn, the former Falcons head coach who led the Cowboys' defense in 2021, helped Dallas lead the NFL in takeaways this season. Quinn is the lone reported candidate for the Broncos' job with prior head coaching experience.

To learn more about Quinn and his candidacy for the role, spoke with The Athletic's Jon Machota.

Aric DiLalla: Dan Quinn said recently he wants to be where his feet are and that he's not looking ahead, but do you get the sense he's ready to be a head coach again? And what would a team get from him as a head coach?

Jon Machota: "Dan's a great leader. Dan wins over the room as soon as he walks in it. That's from Day 1 since he's taken over as defensive coordinator here. You just knew exactly who was in charge of the defense. It was interesting because with us, he's just so good on the podium. You can just tell his head-coaching experience. … He'll come up there often times and have a prepared thing that he's been thinking about. He comes off as a head coach in every sense. It's very clear that even if you didn't follow the NFL and you didn't know anything about him being the Atlanta Falcons' head coach before that, everything he's done in his year in Dallas, he just seems like a head coach. None of that comes off as a surprise that there would be teams interested in him, and I certainly think he's easily ready to go back and get another head-coaching position immediately. I don't think there's any question about it. It was kind of interesting when he took the job, especially on Twitter, I heard a lot of stuff like from Falcons fans like, 'Good luck with that.' He couldn't have been more successful with this defense."

AD: I wanted to ask how he's changed the defense, because there is the sense from some that things didn't end so well in Atlanta. What has he brought to the Cowboys' defense this year?

JM: "In covering the Cowboys, when it's gone from Jason Garrett running the offense to Scott Linehan to Kellen Moore, you've seen a lot of similarities kind of go with it. On the defensive side, it's completely different. You go from Rod Marinelli who was the defensive coordinator for a long time under Jason Garett and then you go to Dan Quinn — and obviously he's taking over for Mike Nolan, who it obviously didn't work out for [with] the Cowboys the year before — but the biggest difference with Dan Quinn that we saw immediately is he's just very adaptable in his defensive style, whereas in the past the Cowboys were very much like, 'This is going to be our 4-3 base. We're going to run. We're going to find players that fit this system.' And Dan Quinn is not like that at all. It's, 'Get the best players, I'll mold the defense around them.' I know a lot of coaches talk that, they talk a big game about that, but I can't give you any better examples than Jayron Kearse this year and Micah Parsons. Micah Parsons gets all the headlines because obviously he just had this star rookie season, and Micah Parsons is phenomenal, don't get me wrong, but I don't think he reaches the levels he reached this year without Dan Quinn. And particularly Dan Quinn being adaptable and willing to move him from linebacker to playing D-end, allowing him to rush over the center. Just move him all over. He played some defensive back in certain situations. Wherever it seemed like it was the best fit for Micah, which is fascinating to us because you're like, 'Man, it seems like you're putting a lot on this rookie linebacker,' but he just always seemed to ride it to where he wouldn't put too much on him. Like, whatever was going to be best for Micah, and the proof is there. The other one is Jayron Kearse, and that stands out so much to us down here, because safety has been such a weak position for the Cowboys for a long time. They've invested the least amount of resources in the safety position as any team has invested in any position in the NFL. And so for Jayron Kearse to be a one-year, $1 million free-agency signing, we've seen plenty of those down here. And he came in and just the way that Dan moved him around, where he wasn't just playing some deep safety. He was coming up, he was almost like another linebacker. Dan would call it a big nickel. He was basically brought in to match up against tight ends, but he did so much more than that. I think Dan deserves a ton of credit for that. Really, every week he would adjust things on the defense that fit best for the personnel that he had. A lot of coaches talk that, but he certainly backs it up."

AD: Broncos President/CEO Joe Ellis said the Broncos need someone that can inspire people when things aren't going so well. Have you seen anything from Dan Quinn that suggests he can be that guy?

JM: "Yeah, 100 percent. There's absolutely no doubt about it. I think the biggest example I would give you would be when Mike McCarthy had COVID and Dan stepped in at head coach for their game in New Orleans. Now, clearly the Cowboys had the better team on paper, but just the way Dan Quinn stepped into that role that week and led the charge, it was impressive. Again, that was just another example where you're like, 'Oh yeah, this guy's going to get a head-coaching job next year. The Cowboys better enjoy what they have this year.' Honestly, I couldn't say enough good things about Dan Quinn and just what he's done. … It's just been night and day the way the defense has played from last year to this year. He deserves the most credit of anybody for that. The team completely bought in, they love how he is. … Another [example]: people talk about a player's coach. He backs that up. We walked out for a practice this year, and Dan Quinn's got a helmet on and he's doing these different drills with the defensive linemen to get them ready to play. They were playing New England, and he was getting them ready for the different things they were going to see from their offensive line and different blocks that the New England offensive linemen would do. That was just another example where you see he's a very hands-on, fiery guy. Very relatable to the players, to the point where it kind of surprised me that he would call games and … prefers to call the defense from up in the box. He just seems like a guy that would be perfect on the sideline, and he certainly was in that New Orleans game. … I think honestly that the Cowboys should try and make him their head coach. I just think the way he turned over that defense, with the way this season ended, I think Dan Quinn is the type of guy that they need to be their head coach. [If] they lose him, it's going to be a huge blow to their defense and to their team in general. It's not going to be easy to replace a guy who did as much as he did."

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