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Dan Quinn went from on the radar to right defensive fit for the Cowboys

Though he didn’t land the head coaching gig the year prior, defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has led a resurgent Dallas Cowboys defense during the 2021 campaign.
Credit: AP
Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn watches team warmups before the first half an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

DALLAS — The Dallas Cowboys got their man.

On Jan. 7, 2020, the Cowboys announced Mike McCarthy as the ninth coach in franchise history. Dallas decided to go with the proven winner approach as McCarthy had led the Green Bay Packers to a Super Bowl victory during his tenure with the club from 2006-18.

As then-coach Jason Garrett finished out his contract with the Cowboys, who went 8-8 on the 2019 season with a dysfunctional 18-9 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 16 with the NFC East title on the line acting as the death knell, the Dallas front office was already targeting prospective candidates.

According to Cowboys chief operating officer Stephen Jones in an appearance on "K&C Masterpiece" on 105.3 "The Fan" on Dec. 27, one of those prospects was Dan Quinn.

"Dan was actually on the list," Jones said. "But we didn’t know if he was going to end up staying in Atlanta or not, but he did. He was on the list as well of coaches we wanted to interview if he, you know, did get released from Atlanta, but they kept him. So, he’s somebody that’s been on the radar a little bit around here."

Quinn’s Falcons finished out 2019 with a 7-9 record, but they had started the year off 1-7. The late-season turnaround gave him another shot in Atlanta even though it was another losing season after his team had stacked together consecutive winning seasons from 2016-17, including a Super Bowl appearance at the end of 2016.

Atlanta continued going backwards, however, and ultimately owner Arthur Blank made the move to get rid of Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff following an 0-5 start in 2020. Quinn, a former Super Bowl-winning defensive coordinator with the Seattle Seahawks from 2013-14, was out of football.

Meanwhile, Mike Nolan was failing to meet expectations as McCarthy’s first-year defensive coordinator with Dallas finishing 28th in points allowed and 23rd in yards allowed. With a chance to make a change, the front office took another look at Quinn, albeit in a different capacity than head coach.

"I serve on the competition committee with [Falcons president and CEO] Rich McKay, who knows [Quinn] well in terms of being with him in Atlanta," Jones said. “And Jerry [Jones] and I just smiled ear to ear when we sat down with Mike [McCarthy] for the first time and Mike said, ‘Hey, we’re going to need to make a change at defensive coordinator.’ He said, ‘Top of my list is Dan Quinn’ and it was just like it was meant to be."

Under Quinn, the Cowboys lead the NFL with 33 takeaways, are seventh in points allowed, and 19th in yards allowed entering Week 17.

Quinn feels at home in Dallas, too, and is enjoying the ride while also being a target for coaching vacancies.

"I’m having a blast right here with this crew and going for it," Quinn told reporters on Dec. 27. "That’s where my mind is, that’s where my heart is. I don’t really spend a lot of time thinking about down the road or what’s next. I just like really being in the moment with the guys."

It took an extra year but the Cowboys got their man for the defense.

Do you think the Dallas defense will be able to contain Kyler Murray and the Cardinals in Week 17? Share your thoughts with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.