In new opportunity with Commanders and Jayden Daniels, Dan Quinn is checking his blind spots


ASHBURN, Va. — Dan Quinn exited his office and turned left.

The Washington Commanders head coach walked the increasingly well-worn path toward the office of general manager Adam Peters.

The short walk toward his partner-in-crime, as they aim to return a franchise back to its winning days on and off the field.

But as Quinn glanced toward the door nearing on his left, he thought to himself: Do I really need to ask this question? Does he really need this reminder?

No.

“So I didn’t even walk in,” Quinn told Yahoo Sports during a recent visit. “I started walking down the hallway and I just U-turned and came back.

“I was going there and I was like, ‘No, he’s got that.’ … I don’t want to micromanage everything.”

Quinn instead is focusing on checking his blind spots.

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He knows how to be a head coach after five-plus seasons at the helm for the Atlanta Falcons from 2015-20. Quinn knows, too, how to call a defense, from his Super Bowl-winning Legion of Boom days in Seattle to his more recent takeaway-leading era as Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator.

Quinn thinks back to the schematic deep dive he confronted after the Falcons fired him, his realization that he needed to adapt his vision defense to handle more multiple, spread-out offenses. He thinks back to his reflection on what he wanted to change most if the five words he kept telling himself – “if I get another shot” – ever materialized: improving his delegations.

As he takes over the Commanders, Quinn accepts that doing less in some areas allows him to think more in others. His job is not to call defenses or lead every drill; it’s to establish a culture and make informed decisions.

“The essence of a head coach is to put it all together,” Quinn said at his introductory press conference in February. “It’s the chemistry, it’s the messaging, it’s the play style. It’s the attitude. It’s the swagger.

“The essence of this job [is] to tie everything together. And that’s when I’m at my best.”

Developing players is an established art for Quinn, who has coached at the college and NFL levels since before most of his players were born.

But in Quinn’s 21 NFL seasons, he has not teamed up with a first-round rookie quarterback. Drafting Jayden Daniels second overall creates a dynamic unlike what Quinn has seen with Dak Prescott, Matt Ryan and Russell Wilson.

So Quinn was intentional in hiring offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, whose resumé includes drafting and developing 2019 first overall pick Kyler Murray. He hired Anthony Lynn officially as Commanders’ run game coordinator and running backs coach, but made sure to ask Lynn about his time as head coach when the Los Angeles Chargers drafted quarterback Justin Herbert sixth overall.

“I want you to think about your time with Justin: What did you do that was too much? What did you do that was not enough?” Quinn asked Lynn on June 5. “Don’t answer me now.”

They met the following day to discuss how rookie quarterbacks manage schematic volume and how Lynn sought to protect Herbert from the potential “bust” label that he knew armchair critics would be eager to bestow upon young quarterbacks acclimating to professional football at a historic pace.

“Guys like Justin or Jayden who have this work ethic to go and get stuff right – everybody still has their moment when they’re still pouring water into the cup and it’s overflowing,” Quinn said. “That position’s crazy a lot. So I want to make sure I’m finding that spot with Jayden that it’s just the right amount.”

The more precisely the Commanders strike that balance, the greater their chance of securing the franchise’s first winning season since 2015 and first playoff win since after the 2005 season. A contingent of D.C., Maryland and Virginia residents remember the late 1980s and early 1990s Washington teams who won three Super Bowls in a decade and played in a fourth. Quinn has communicated with Joe Gibbs, the architect of those teams, as Quinn seeks to restore the success the Hall of Fame coach once established.

Success won’t look the same – Quinn’s teams will aim to leverage tempo and a dual-threat-but-pass-first quarterback to set an aggressive tone on offense, while ballhawking and strain characterize a defense that Quinn hopes can steal a few possessions with takeaway magic reflective of his recent Cowboys teams (who led the league all three of Quinn’s years in Dallas). Even special teams will look different in the first years of a new set of rules; there, Quinn envisions veteran addition Austin Ekeler excelling.

Those dreams of scoring and swiping and returning are still months away.

First comes maximizing the training camp schedule, a task on which Quinn engaged assistant head coach/offensive passing game coordinator Brian Johnson to check his blind spots. Decade-long Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett visited OTAs on Quinn’s invitation, too, offering another set of eyes whom Quinn trusted as “somebody who would give me an honest assessment of what he saw.”

And when Duke women’s basketball head coach Kara Lawson visited for her own professional development, Quinn turned the tables, canvassing her on end-of-game situations and tough coaching alike.

“There’s a level of transparency that maybe is a little different than when it’s your own sports because [we’re] not in direct competition with one another,” Lawson told Yahoo Sports. “Teaching and coaching and leading transcend the sport and sector.

“Most good leaders could be good leaders in any sport or any sector.”

A visitor would find it almost cheesy how often Commanders players praise the “vibes” and “energy” Quinn emits, until remembering what has characterized the last half-decade of Washington football.

Team name changes, Congressional investigations into sexual harassment and workplace misconduct, and an ownership sale not unrelated to those investigations (and money laundering) have overshadowed losing season after losing season..

Quinn knows the relatively uphill battle he’s fighting to recapture wins and integrity alike, the possibly impossible tightrope of respecting the legacy of former players and understanding the sensitivity toward the Commanders’ history. He doesn’t view his day-to-day interactions with players through the lens of what happened before he arrived, he said.

I started walking down the hallway and I just U-turned and came back. I was going there and I was like, ‘No, [GM Adam Peters has] got that.’ … I don’t want to micromanage everything.Commanders coach Dan Quinn

But he learned the window for merging history and present was smaller than he thought after an early May practice. Quinn arrived at his press conference with a T-shirt that bore a feather reminiscent of Washington’s old logo hanging off the burgundy and gold “W” of their new logo. A firestorm ensued from the reference to a long deemed offensive.

“There’s a lot of layers to this organization,” he said. “You do have to be able to look back to go forward. I want [former players and coaches] to be around.

“Football here in the DMV is super important and although it’s been dormant, that would be probably a way to say it, it’s our job to make it come back to life and make it super fun.

“Because when a community is behind a team, it’s as fun as it is.”

The road there, Quinn is sure, is through hard work. He emphasizes effort, grind and attention to detail as he implores linemen to perfect their hand placement and height, and as he calls out not only players but also coaches during practice when they fall short of the standard, or as players collaborated to write this spring: their “Commander Standard.”

“If you’re not gonna give extreme effort, stress, and it should hurt a little bit right now — and if you’re not gonna compete in everything we do, this is not the place for you,” defensive coordinator Joe Whitt told Yahoo Sports. “The way we live isn’t for everybody. It’s truly not. We’ll figure out who wants to be here and who doesn’t.”

Even as smiles abound, Whitt cautions of Quinn: “Don’t take his kindness for any kind of weakness. He’s the strongest man I’ve been around.”

So Quinn delivered to his players spring messages of pushing the envelope on their work ethic and embracing, as Lawson said in a video clip he played for the team the day after her visit, that the work won’t get easier – they will instead learn to “handle hard better.” They’ll learn to handle it together also, Quinn not only speaking of brotherhood but also assigning lockers to shuffle players by position, with Daniels between safeties Percy Butler and Jeremy Chinn while receiver Jahan Dotson is flanked by linebacker Frankie Luvu and defensive end Efe Obada.

“He really cares about his players, he really cares about the little things,” Dotson told Yahoo Sports. “He didn’t come off super aggressive, but it just resonates with you, sits with you and when you’re out there doing the hard s***, it doesn’t get easier. You gotta adapt to it.

“DQ loves doing hard s*** with a great group of people.”

So much so that, after Quinn announced that passion at his introductory media conference, the equipment staff printed shirts for the building that say: “DOING HARD S*** WITH GOOD PEOPLE.”

The gold letters are vivid on each piece of black fabric, but fittingly, they span the back of the shirt rather than the front. Players and coaches can see them only on one another — if they check each other’s blind spots.

They know Quinn will.



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