FRISCO, Texas – Dan Quinn has a different idea of decompressing than most, it would seem.
That's the impression one gets from talking to the Cowboys' new defensive coordinator, at least. Quinn became the first coaching casualty of the 2020 season last fall, when – after an 0-5 start – he was released as the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons.
Plenty of coaches would take some time to relax after six years in such a high-pressure position. Quinn opted for the opposite, instead choosing to deconstruct his coaching approach in anticipation of the next opportunity.
"I wanted to do as big an after-action on my own self to make sure what I could learn from, things that went well and things that didn't go well," Quinn said. "So, I wanted to kind of do a 360 on the whole process first, the scheme side."
Exactly three months passed from the time Quinn was fired by the Falcons until he was hired to revamp the Cowboys' struggling defense. In that span, he said he had a lot of frank conversations with former coaches and players on what he could improve.
The result is a defensive system that sounds like it'll be at least a little bit different from what people got accustomed to seeing during his stint as a head coach in Atlanta and his years in Seattle as a defensive coordinator.
"That included defensive cutups from 2013 to 2020, and that brought me into some of the system changes that I wanted to implement on the next lap around," he said. "I didn't want to do just another rinse and repeat. And, so, that was a big piece on what I wanted to do."
That's not only encouraging, but awfully interesting for the Cowboys. From the time he was hired, Quinn has long been associated with the 4-3, Cover 3 style of defense that he helped make famous in Seattle – and is also strikingly similar to the scheme Rod Marinelli and Kris Richard ran together for two years in Dallas.
To be clear, a lot of those elements will remain, but Quinn does plan on implementing new looks. That's perhaps why it raised some eyebrows during his post-draft press conference when he said the Cowboys' base look would resemble a 3-4, continuing last year's attempt to look more multiple defensively.
"Certainly a combination of things that, the foundation that has been here, as well as some new things that I wanted to bring into it and how we play and the style that would do that," Quinn said.
Quinn was hesitant to provide too much detail about what it will all look like, opting to defer until he's been able to get onto a football field with his players. When that eventually happens, he'll undoubtedly have talent to work with. The Cowboys' 12th overall pick in the draft was a do-everything linebacker in Micah Parsons, who should team quite well with established talents like DeMarcus Lawrence, Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith.
In his limited interactions to this point, Quinn said he's been impressed with the effort and intensity of the veterans in the early going of the offseason program.
"To me, that's a great first step and now how much can they relentless compete over the next six or seven weeks to put this package together, to connect, collaboration. It's a big part of it," he said.
Time will tell how well it works. The memory of the Cowboys' defensive struggles are fresh, and plenty of people have pointed out that Quinn's defenses in Atlanta never achieved the top-tier production of his units in Seattle. For every person that associates his resume with the Legion of Boom, there is another that remembers Quinn's Falcons losing a 28-3 lead in Super Bowl LI – a fact that was pointed out to him when he met with reporters.
"Much like a player, I guess I have to prove it," he said. "And what I would say is what you can count on from me is somebody that's real specific in how we're going to go about it and get after it. And I'm very much looking forward to proving that."
Having learned all that, maybe it shouldn't be a surprise that Quinn jumped right back into coaching. After all, he did tell reporters that his favorite aspect of the job is facing a challenge as part of a group. And if that's the case, he's unlikely to be fazed by the prospect of turning things around for this Dallas defense.
"Standing right on it, the game's on the line, 30 seconds left, I love that more than anything," he said. "And, so, not being a part of that connection and being a part of the team, that was as hard as anything of being out. And, so, I love that more than anything. And, so, that's why I coach."