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Dan Quinn wraps up Broncos' initial set of head coach candidate interviews

Greg Penner will zero on 1 to 3 finalists to bring in next week for a second round of interviews with the ownership group.

DENVER — Before his interview begins, Dan Quinn at the very least has proven to the Denver Broncos he is foremost a professional.

As such, he understands business is business. What, was he going to hold a grudge? Not when the world holds only 32 NFL head coaching jobs.

Quinn, the Dallas Cowboys’ defensive coordinator with a vast and impressive coaching resume, had reason to feel jilted by the Broncos at this time last year. He appeared to be their leading head coaching candidate going into the search, in part because of his long relationship with Denver general manager George Paton. (They worked together with the Miami Dolphins in 2005-06).

Quinn interviewed with the Broncos around this time last year, as did nine other candidates. While there were reports he didn’t exactly crush it, he was the only candidate with previous head coaching experience. And he did well enough to receive notice that he would be brought in for a second interview at the team’s UCHealth Training Center headquarters.

That second interview, though, never happened.

Paton first brought in Green Bay Packers’ offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett for his second interview. And Hackett, whose abundance of energy and enthusiasm were what the Broncos were looking for after three years of the understated Vic Fangio, sold Paton and his committee on the job.

Sorry, Dan. It’s not you. It’s us.

It didn’t take a year later for the Broncos to experience regret.

Credit: AP
Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn, left, speaks with New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton before the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Promises of a Broncos’ 2022 return to a winning season and the playoffs evaporated into horrific disappointment. A new ownership group has moved in since the Broncos last sat down with Quinn. Greg Penner, the Broncos’ CEO for 5 months now, fired Hackett with two games remaining in the 2022 season and is now leading the Broncos’ second head coaching search in two years.

Penner assembled eight head coach candidates for interview, although seven now remain after Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh dropped out.

Quinn is the last of those first round of interviews. He will sit down with Penner, Paton and owner Condoleezza Rice around 3 p.m. MDT Friday in the Dallas area.

Quinn seems to be in a better position for a head job this year. His interview with the Broncos last year was two days after his Cowboys lost their first-round playoff game to the 49ers.

This year, Quinn started planning ahead for possible head coach interviews. He’s now meeting the Broncos after his Cowboys already won their first-round playoff game (in convincing fashion against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Bucs) and after he completed preparations for this Sunday's second-round matchup against Brock Purdy and the 49ers.

Then there was Quinn’s work as the Atlanta Falcons head coach from 2015-20 that lifts him ahead of just about every other head coaching candidate out there, especially the front half of that term.

Inheriting a Falcons’ team that went 6-10 in 2014 under Mike Smith, Quinn led Atlanta to an 8-8 improvement in his first year of 2015, then went 11-5 with two dominant wins in the NFC playoffs against Green Bay and Russell Wilson’s Seahawks.

Quinn’s Falcons continued to roll in Super Bowl 51 against New England, taking a 28-3 lead midway through the third quarter.

But that’s when Atlanta collapsed to Brady’s heroic comeback and New England pulled it out in overtime. There was a 10-6 record with another playoff win for Atlanta in 2017 – Quinn does know how to win in the postseason – before a gradual decline of 7-9, 7-9 and 0-5 at the time of Quinn’s firing in 2020.

Atlanta has gone 7-10 and 7-10 in the two years since dismissing Quinn, so maybe the problem wasn’t the coach.

Two other aspects on Quinn’s resume worth examining:

One, his two-year run, from 2013-14, as Seattle’s defensive coordinator when the Seahawks made back-to-back Super Bowl appearances with Wilson as their quarterback. Quinn has a good enough relationship with Wilson to help him rally for a 2023 comeback.

And two, Quinn’s guidance of the Cowboys’ defense. While developing Michah Parsons into arguably the NFL’s most dominant defensive player of the past two years, Quinn has guided the Cowboys to the No. 7 and No. 5 scoring defense. The Cowboys were 27th in scoring defense the season prior to Quinn’s arrival.

This is a good coach.

But while Quinn’s coaching history glitters more than most, it doesn’t surpass that of Sean Payton. The former New Orleans Saints coach has a better overall record than Quinn, won a Super Bowl, and has consistently devised one of the NFL’s top offenses. For going on eight years, the Broncos need more help on offense than defense.

Payton, who resigned from the Saints after the 2021 season and is now working as an NFL analyst for FOX, is the NFL’s most impressive head coaching candidate of the past 20 years – since his mentor Bill Parcells jumped to the Dallas Cowboys in 2003.

But will Payton take the Broncos’ job if its offered? And will Penner offer the job knowing he would have to surrender a first-round draft pick to New Orleans, a year after Denver traded away two first-round picks and two second-round picks for Wilson?

Quinn wouldn’t cost the Broncos a draft pick. And while he could easily command a head coaching contract north of $8 million a year, that would be considerably less than the $17 million to $20 million Payton would receive.

After the interview today with Quinn, Penner will conduct a second round of interviews with one to three finalists next week. If Quinn’s Cowboys beat the 49ers in a playoff rematch Sunday, he wouldn’t be coming to Denver next week, although other arrangements could be made providing he would be invited for a second interview. And providing this time the Broncos would follow through on that second interview.

Credit: AP
New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton works during the first half of an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons, Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Danny Karnik)


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