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The Dallas Cowboys secured a big offseason win on Thursday: Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn will return for a second season, a person with knowledge of Quinn’s decision confirmed to USA TODAY Sports. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly disclose the information.
The decision will delight Cowboys fans and players alike after Quinn engineered a defensive improvement from 28th in points allowed to seventh in one year. The Cowboys also led the league in takeaways and interceptions, in part a product of Quinn emphasizing ball-hawking and aggressive play style in personnel acquisition and system installation.
Quinn interviewed for several head-coaching vacancies this month, including with the Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos, New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings. After the Broncos elected to hire Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and the Bears moved forward with Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, Quinn’s return to the Cowboys finalized.
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Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore also interviewed with teams including the Vikings, Broncos and Jaguars but is trending toward return. The Cowboys led the league in points scored and offensive yardage in 2021, leading the lead in yardage also in 2019.
The Cowboys won 12 games and the NFC East title in 2021 before suffering the league’s lone home loss in the wild-card round. In 2022, they will ask: How can they get over their postseason success hump? Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones expressed significant frustration last week with the season’s end and declined to publicly endorse head coach Mike McCarthy’s job security after Year 2.
Two All-Pro stars emerged on Dallas’ defense in 2021: cornerback Trevon Diggs, who led the league with 11 interceptions, and rookie linebacker Micah Parsons, the 12th overall pick of the draft. Parsons and Quinn met for one-on-one instruction as the rookie quickly assumed responsibilities as both a coverage linebacker and an edge rusher.
Players lauded how Quinn homed in on their personalized athletic gifts, subsequently scheming packages dependent more on his personnel than on traditional positional responsibilities. Eighth-year defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence had made a living rushing from the left end? Quinn lined him up also from right and interior, helping create Lawrence’s first interception in three years. Veteran free agent Jayron Kearse arrived as a safety? Quinn sought a hybrid player whose size-speed combination could handle tight ends, so he shifted Kearse among safety and linebacker usage.
“Moving forward I bet more teams, because of the versatility of the NFL and the systems, have people who have length and size …play in more than one position,” Quinn said earlier this month. “There are a lot of cool players in the NFL that are hard to guard, and in my next life, I’m definitely coming back as an offensive coach to attack some of the defense.
“It’s hard but it’s really cool to see the matchups and how to go defend guys.”
Mike McCarthy lauds how Dan Quinn engenders disguise, awareness, tilt of coverage + leverage. Cowboys D progressing, room for more.
"We wanted to be more scheme-challenging and Dan has hit the target," McCarthy tells us. "It's not the same game plan every week, that's for sure."
— Jori Epstein (@JoriEpstein) November 15, 2021
Quinn arrived in Dallas with extensive experience. He spent five-plus seasons as Falcons head coach after coordinating Seattle’s Super Bowl-winning “Legion of Boom” defense. Quinn’s Atlanta tenure peaked when his 2016 team won the NFC championship and raced to a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl against the Patriots. But New England rallied, and the Falcons have had just one winning season since. After the 2020 campaign began 0-5, Quinn was fired. His final record as head coach: 43-42.
“Anyone who goes through adversity, I think you’d also know it stings a lot,” Quinn described the time.
Dan Quinn on game ball from Cowboys > Falcons: "When you get fired midyear, it’s hard. You’re embarrassed. You’re pissed. But..the hardest part is to not be on a team.
"Man, what a good feeling to know there’s a whole army of people that got your back."pic.twitter.com/U0npfyrLrN
— Jori Epstein (@JoriEpstein) November 15, 2021
He channeled the sting into motivation. Between his October 2020 release and January 2021 hire in Dallas, Quinn surveyed past coaching and player colleagues, front-office members and additional colleagues. He sought honest feedback on his strengths and weaknesses. He considered how the feedback would inform his goal to always find each player and coach’s “superpower” and allow them to fly. Quinn carried his tenets to Dallas but evolved.
“The way those 11 guys play and attack the ball and go for the ball, he’s got them going,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, formerly Quinn’s offensive coordinator in Atlanta, said this month. “It’s still his style (but) coverage-wise and stuff, it’s very different. Not as much cover-three and the type of man coverages that they’re doing, that’s impressive for Dan to do it a certain way his whole career and then to make the adjustments, mainly because of his personnel.
“It’s hard to deal with, but who he is doesn’t change. He’s a motivator.”
Cowboys players agreed, celebrating both surer technique and more cohesive communication among teammates than a 2020 campaign featuring historically bad numbers. Players wondered how quickly Quinn could salvage a fatally flawed unit before they saw his teaching style.
Parsons expressed gratitude for Quinn’s mentorship in his rookie year. Quinn gave him the instruction and confidence to thrive on the field. And Quinn set the tone early off it.
“When I first met Q, he was like, ‘I know you are going to be a really good football player, but I care about what type of person you are, how you treat your teammates, how you act in practice, how you look in walkthroughs,’” Parsons said. “He said, “I know you are going to be good on Sunday, but I want to see how good you are during the week.’
“It is always the little things with Q, never big. It is a lot of moral lessons (from) just a great dude when it comes to outside of football.
“There is always more than just the game, and I think Q really represents that.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Dallas Cowboys: Dan Quinn to remain rather than take head coaching job