The Broncos’ first round of head coach interviews is done.
The Broncos interviewed Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, 52, for their open head coach job on Friday, making him the final of their eight candidates to interview. The Broncos will likely hold a second round of interviews, which will probably begin early next week.
So why would the Broncos hire Quinn?
The Broncos have swung and missed on three first-time head coaches since Gary Kubiak left town. This time around, they might be more interested in an experienced veteran who can steady the ship. Quinn fits that mold.
Quinn spent six seasons as the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, starting in 2015. He posted a .500 record in Year 1, which followed up two losing seasons in Atlanta. In Year 2, he took the Falcons to the Super Bowl, where they lost after holding a 28-3 lead over the Patriots. They won a playoff game the next year before missing the playoffs in each of the next two seasons. In 2020, the Falcons lost their first five games of the year and Quinn was fired.
Despite the highs and lows, Quinn left Atlanta with a 46-44 record and a Super Bowl appearance under his belt.
Quinn cut his teeth as a defensive coach and took his first NFL coordinator job with Seattle in 2013. He ran the Legion of Boom of defense for two seasons, leading the NFL in points and yards allowed in both. Those Seahawks teams appeared in two Super Bowls, winning Super Bowl 48. Quinn became a hot commodity and left for Atlanta.
Quinn called plays for the Falcons for his first four seasons in Atlanta. When the defense got off to a slow start in Year 5, Quinn distributed some of the play-calling duties to his assistants.
Whether Quinn would call plays in Denver is still to be determined. His defense is one of the simplest in the NFL. It’s a 4-3 base scheme that features heavy usage of Cover 3. There aren’t a lot of quirks, but if you have the talent to run that defense, it can be successful.
In Seattle, Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner ran the boundaries. Earl Thomas played center field. Kam Chancellor, Bobby Wagner and KJ Wright played underneath zones. Those six players combined for 24 Pro Bowl appearances and 21 All-Pro nods. And that’s without factoring in the pass rush.
The Seahawks’ version of Cover 3 was briefly a hot defense in the NFL, but without ultra-talented players at most positions, it’s tough to replicate Seattle’s success. Current Jets head coach Robert Saleh was one of the last to run this defense when he was in San Francisco, but he flipped to a Cover 2 defense in 2019.
Most of the NFL has migrated toward a Vic Fangio-inspired defense. In this defense, safeties rotate late, which gives quarterbacks little time to decipher what they see. That’s the defense Denver currently runs, and it’s tough to imagine Quinn would try to change the Broncos’ scheme from one that has been successful. And if the Broncos aren’t running the “Dan Quinn Defense” then Quinn is unlikely to call the plays.
Calling plays won’t be a requirement for the Broncos’ owners as they hire a new head coach. They noted before the search began that they were looking for an expert in all three phases of the game who can lead the team to success.
Among the candidates for the job, Quinn ranks highly in regard to those criteria. He has head-coaching experience. He’s been a part of successful organizations. He’s well-liked and well-regarded as a leader.
That’s probably why he was seen as the favorite to land the job last year before the Broncos ultimately decided on Nathaniel Hackett. Woody Paige of the Denver Gazette reported last week that Quinn “interviewed badly” and that’s why he was passed over.
Quinn is the favorite again this year, tied with Sean Payton at +175 odds.
But there’s a twist: Quinn won’t be able to take over as head coach until he’s done in Dallas, where his defense ranked fifth in points allowed and 12th in yards allowed this season. The Cowboys will take on the 49ers on Sunday with a trip to the NFC Championship on the line. If Dallas wins, Quinn is at risk of letting the Broncos’ coaching search pass him by.