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'He's your guy': How Steve Kerr and others influenced the Commanders to hire Dan Quinn

Quinn was a top candidate, along with Ben Johnson, Mike Macdonald and others. Here's how -- and why -- Washington made him its guy.



'He's your guy': How Steve Kerr and others influenced the Commanders to hire Dan Quinn
'He's your guy': How Steve Kerr and others influenced the Commanders to hire Dan Quinn
DAN QUINN WAITED anxiously for his phone to ring.

It was Feb. 7, one day after he had interviewed to be the next coach of the Washington Commanders, and the silence, in this case, was not golden.

Four years after being fired as the Atlanta Falcons head coach, and following a successful stint as Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator from 2021 to 2023, Quinn believed the time was right to have a team of his own again. The phone, however, would not cooperate. So, instead of just letting him pace around his Dallas home, his wife, Stacey, suggested they ease the tension and go for a drive.

Meanwhile, in Mobile, Alabama, Commanders general manager Adam Peters was at a dinner with team scouts fielding call after call as he and Washington's hiring committee finalized its decision about the franchise's next coach.

Finally, that night, Peters called Quinn.

But there was no answer. Quinn had fallen asleep on his couch.

"He made me wait so long," Quinn joked at his introductory news conference. "I'm not answering on the first ring."

He did quickly return the call and Peters delivered the good news. After listening to the excited GM's job offer, Quinn responded with two words: "F--- yeah!" Then he hugged Stacey.

After four weeks and 14 interviews with potential candidates, Washington had its man and Quinn his team. Quinn had sold the Commanders' hiring committee -- consisting of Peters, owner Josh Harris, longtime NFL general manager Rick Spielman, former Golden State Warriors GM Bob Myers and front office veteran Martin Mayhew -- on his leadership traits, willingness to learn from failure and desire to work hand-in-hand with the front office. Aiding Quinn's case were a flood of endorsements received on his behalf, including from Warriors coach Steve Kerr and Falcons owner Arthur Blank, who had fired Quinn in 2020.

Washington's coaching search was not without intrigue. Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson was in the running before pulling out to remain in Detroit. Baltimore Ravens and Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinators Mike Macdonald and Raheem Morris were also considered, multiple team sources said, before Macdonald picked the Seattle Seahawks and Morris chose the Falcons. But according to sources heavily involved in the hiring process, Quinn -- who led the Seahawks' vaunted Legion of Boom defense as coordinator, guided Atlanta to a Super Bowl appearance as head coach and transformed the Cowboys' defense into a top-10 unit -- was never considered a Plan B.

"Every time we spoke with Dan, it became more and more clear that he was the guy," Peters said. "Both times it was like we were speaking the same language. It was really, really cool, had a great connection, had a great shared vision, so it was almost right away that I knew Dan would be a great coach for us."

A COACHING SEARCH was nothing new for many of the people on Washington's hiring committee. Spielman had done it in Minnesota as a general manager. Myers interviewed numerous candidates before settling on Kerr. Harris has hired coaches with both with the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Devils multiple times. Mayhew went through it twice as Lions GM for eight seasons.

For Peters, who was hiring a coach for the first time, the experience provided by the group was invaluable. At times he would sit back and observe the prospective coach's body language as this group took the lead.

When interviewing Quinn, multiple sources involved in the process said, Harris asked him the same question he asked others: What was his impression of the team's personnel? Harris also focused on the relationship between the coach, general manager and owner. Myers, too, asked about the coach-GM dynamic. Spielman asked how he would handle crisis management situations, such as receiving a call at 2 a.m. about a player who just gotten a DUI arrest.

But one question stood out: Myers asked Quinn about the most adversity he had faced. That one was easy: Super Bowl LI, when Quinn's Falcons blew a 28-3 lead to the New England Patriots and lost in overtime. The group didn't ask Quinn to relive the game, but rather, how he handled the situation.

"He talked about it in a very healthy way, non-defensive way," one source who was in the room said.

They also liked what he didn't do: blame others for the loss.

"We have seen him in a brutally difficult position, go through it, get through it and get back on the horse and say, 'I want another crack at this,'" one team source said. "If Andy Reid was blamed for the Eagles losing the Super Bowl [XXXIX, in 2005] and never got another job that would've been a travesty."

EARLY IN THE process, Washington's search team quickly realized it had received more votes of support for Quinn than anyone else.

One person involved in the hiring process said the number of people who contacted Washington on his behalf was "significantly more" than anyone else on the list. As one person said, Quinn's evangelists "came out of the woodwork."

That wasn't meant as a knock on the other candidates, this person said, but rather an indication of how highly people who knew him viewed Quinn.

Kerr, a four-time NBA champion as coach, was one of them. He and Quinn had struck up a friendship over the years; their agents work for the same company. Kerr texted Myers: "He's your guy; you've got to hire him."

Former Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman, who played two seasons for Quinn, texted Peters on Quinn's behalf. Peters spoke in-depth about Quinn with San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan -- Quinn's offensive coordinator in Atlanta -- who, Peters said, was effusive in his praise. Peters later told people he couldn't recall Shanahan touting someone so highly.

Many others throughout the NFL who knew Quinn reached out to Peters, via call or text.

Perhaps the biggest endorsement came from Falcons owner Blank. Blank, who fired Quinn in 2020 after six seasons with the Falcons, reached out to Harris unsolicited on Quinn's behalf.

"To have Atlanta endorse Dan was powerful," one person involved said.

"WHAT WOULD YOU do differently?"

A short question during Quinn's interview led to a long answer -- and one that multiple sources involved said cemented the team's belief in him.

Quinn detailed what he considered his blind spots during his time in Atlanta, how he rectified some of those issues in Dallas and how he would implement changes in Washington.

Shortly after he was fired by Atlanta on Oct. 11, 2020, Laura Okmin, a longtime TV sports reporter currently with Fox, contacted Quinn with an idea. She wanted to do what Quinn later termed a "360 review" -- a private report to help him identify areas he needed to improve as a coach. Okmin had done outside work with Quinn since 2015 on various aspects of the industry, including media training. She has worked with other coaches and athletes as well.

That level of self-analysis was nothing new for Quinn. In 2017, after losing the Super Bowl to the Patriots, he sought opinions from others who had been in a similar situation, including former Cleveland manager Terry Francona, whose team held a 3-1 World Series advantage against the Chicago Cubs in 2016 before losing in seven games.

During the interview with Washington, Quinn focused on improving his blind spots, detailing the 360 review, multiple people involved in the process said. Quinn had given Okmin a list of about 50 names to contact. She requested they be people he might have cut, passed over for a job or did not end with on good terms. She did not want a glowing review of Quinn, she wanted to collect information that could help him grow as a coach.

Okmin said she spoke to 30-40 people. Among the findings Quinn shared with Washington during a several-hour video conference call with him: He had spread himself too thin with Atlanta and needed to delegate more, which he eventually did in Dallas, giving his assistants more say in preparing the defense. Quinn told the interviewers in Washington his defensive coordinator would call the plays, unlike his setup in Atlanta. This would free Quinn to handle all aspects of being a head coach.

Quinn also shared his vision for a succession plan on offense, said sources who were in the room -- something he had come to regret not having in Atlanta. When Shanahan left to become 49ers head coach, rather than fill Shannahan's position from within, Quinn looked outside the organization, letting Falcons assistant coaches Matt LaFleur (quarterbacks coach) and Mike McDaniel (offensive assistant) follow Shanahan to San Francisco. In all, five of his top eight offensive assistants left with Shanahan -- along with any offensive continuity. And while LaFleur and McDaniel have found success as head coaches with the Green Bay Packers and Miami Dolphins, respectively, Quinn replaced Shanahan with Steve Sarkisian, who installed a new offense. He left after two seasons and was replaced by Dirk Koetter, who installed another new system.

"Until you've actually [replaced coaches], it's hard to really plan it," one person involved in the process said of Quinn's succession plan. "That's an advantage that he had."

Finally, Quinn shared how he altered his defensive schemes amid his stops in Seattle, Atlanta and Dallas, changing from a 3-4 defense made famous by the Seahawks to a 4-3 with the Cowboys. Dallas yielded the fifth-fewest yards (299.7) and points (18.5) per game in the NFL last season.

"He evolved in Dallas," said the person who was involved in the process. "He had taken those lessons to heart and really worked on anything that he thought he might not have done as well. That was an outstanding thing that he did that did separate him."

Added a team source: "And then attacking those things and having a plan for everything and a detailed plan and a good plan where I'm writing it down like, 'Oh man, this is good.'"

WHEN PETERS WAS hired Jan. 12, one team source said he was firmly the team's top target. The search for a coach was different.

During Peters' interview, he presented Washington with a list of coaches he wanted to interview if he got the job, said one source who was involved. The list matched closely with what the Commanders had compiled.

They later separated their candidates into tiers -- Quinn and Johnson were among several Tier 1 targets.

Complicating matters was that Washington's interviews had to start the day before Peters was hired, which allowed the Commanders to comply with NFL rules about when coaches in the playoffs could speak to other teams. On Jan. 11, Harris, Mayhew, Spielman and Myers spoke via video conference with Ravens assistants Macdonald and Anthony Weaver.

They spoke to Johnson, Quinn, Detroit defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, Morris and Houston offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik in the two days after Peters was hired.

Each interview session lasted roughly two hours, with all five members from Washington's committee participating, though only Peters, Mayhew and Spielman were around for the entire period. The sessions were comparable to a first date, they said. They weren't going to "marry anyone" after a video conference. They didn't discuss each candidate in-depth following their interview. Instead, they waited until after they were done with all the initial interviews to compare notes in detail. It removed some emotion, allowing them to focus on specifics.

Multiple sources said the group liked Morris, whom Spielman has known for 20 years. After Atlanta offered Morris its job in late January, his side informed Washington. But the Commanders were determined to finish all of their in-person interviews. When the Falcons hired Morris on Jan. 25, Washington still had five in-person interviews remaining.

Because Detroit and Baltimore had played NFC and AFC title games on Jan. 28, and because each had two candidates, Washington wanted to visit their respective cities for the interviews. Commanders brass went to Baltimore on Jan. 29 for two interviews, talked to Quinn the next morning in Washington and then boarded their private plane for Detroit.

Though many NFL sources believed Johnson was the top candidate, Washington had not interviewed him in person. Before he could be considered one of the favorites, the committee wanted a face-to-face interview.

According to team sources, Washington's decision-makers were looking forward to their Detroit trip to meet with Glenn and Johnson. But Washington never got that chance with the latter. While the committee members were en route, Johnson texted them to say he had decided to stay with the Lions. According to multiple people involved, because Johnson texted when they were in the air, they found out about his decision via social media, before his text went through -- a sequence that irked the Commanders delegation.

The Commanders also liked Macdonald. But after their interview with Glenn on Tuesday, Jan. 30, they wanted to have more internal conversations about the candidates. Mayhew and Peters flew to Mobile, Alabama, for the Senior Bowl; Harris went to Miami and Myers to Los Angeles. They spoke later that night and again Wednesday morning.

However, that morning they learned Macdonald was flying to Seattle for a second in-person interview with the Seahawks. Washington called to see if Macdonald was still interested in its opening, but, after talking to him, the group knew it was a matter of time before he got the Seattle job. Indeed, he was named the Seahawks' coach several hours later.

That same day, Slowik got an extension to stay with Houston, leaving Washington with three candidates: Quinn, Weaver and Glenn. Sources involved in the process said Quinn's experience and his detailed plans won him the job. Washington also liked pairing its new general manager with an experienced coach.

The Commanders also evaluated each candidate on seven qualities: leadership, intelligence, honesty, integrity, consistency of personality, communication and ability to build a staff. Each candidate received a score from 1 to 10; Quinn received all 9s and 10s and scored the highest, according to a source involved in the process. The source said that the Commanders did not hire Quinn because he had the highest score, but that it reflected their thoughts on him.

THE TIMING WORKED out well for Quinn. Washington wanted a strong leader. And he wanted to be part of a collaborative team -- from the top of the organization on down.

Harris was a first-time NFL owner, Peters a first-time general manager and Quinn would be part of a new group. That setup appealed to Quinn.

"What I was looking for was to be part of a team like this," he said.

Washington also has the most salary cap space this offseason. The Commanders will have approximately $75 million in space once free agency begins.

In Dallas, Quinn wasn't looking to bolt for the first job available. He interviewed in the past -- including with Indianapolis, Arizona and Denver in 2023. He liked his defense in Dallas and believed the team could do something special, one person close to him said. But, this year, the timing felt right, according to the same source.

He also interviewed this time with the Carolina Panthers, Los Angeles Chargers, Tennessee Titans and Seattle. He said the match felt right in Washington -- each side could provide what the other wanted. He liked what he heard from Harris and Peters in particular, considering they are who he'd be tethered to during his tenure. He liked that it was a historic franchise with a fan base "really wanting to go get after it."

"I've been waiting on this moment," Quinn said. "I cannot wait to get this thing rocking."