GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Dan Quinn had a good job. As defensive line coach of the Seattle Seahawks, Quinn was one of only three assistants retained last season when former USC coach Pete Carroll returned to the NFL to replace Jim Mora.
The Seahawks finished strong in Carroll’s first season, pulling off one of the biggest upsets in NFL history by knocking off the defending Super Bowl champion Saints in the playoffs. And Quinn’s contributions didn’t go unrecognized.
When an injury sidelined tackle-turned-end Red Bryant, Quinn quickly adjusted by rotating the duo of Chris Clemons and Raheem Brock. Clemons and Brock responded by registering 23 sacks, the first time in 14 years the Seahawks had two defensive ends – Clemons had 12 and Brock 11 – produce double-digit sacks in a season.
Still, when new Gators head coach Will Muschamp called to see if Quinn was interested in leaving Seattle to become Florida’s defensive coordinator, Quinn didn’t take long to say yes.
All he had to do was flashback to that 2005 season in Miami when he and Muschamp were on Nick Saban’s staff during Saban’s first season coaching the Dolphins. Muschamp was assistant head coach of the defense, and Quinn coached the defensive line.
Quinn recalled the long talks in the office with Muschamp about defensive schemes and philosophies. He also remembered watching Muschamp at practice, the way he immediately earned the respect of a veteran defense that included such players as Zach Thomas, Jason Taylor, former UF star Kevin Carter and Junior Seau. And on game day, Quinn said Muschamp was often at his best, able to adjust on the fly and turn a game around.
“The guy has a real passion for the game,’’ Quinn said. “There is an intensity you see as a coach that is there. He is a good teacher off the field. Out on the grass, he did a really good job of coaching the guys and with motivation. And third, I thought he was really good on game day.
“We had a real veteran team when we got there. You could see the guy was a really good teacher, and out on the grass, he really knew his stuff. Instantly, I think he earned everybody’s respect and trust in a really short amount of time. Those were the kind of things that that stood out.’’
Quinn spent two seasons in Miami on Saban’s staff, but only the first with Muschamp, who left after one season in the NFL to return to the SEC as Auburn’s defensive coordinator. Meanwhile, as Muschamp developed a reputation as one of the college game’s hottest young coaches, Quinn has spent the past 10 years as an NFL assistant after starting his college coaching career at William & Mary in 1994.
But the two crossed paths often in the years since, and when Quinn would attend Pro Days at Auburn and later at Texas when Muschamp went there in 2008, he always made sure to arrive early and stay late to talk shop and catch up with his old friend.
“We hit it off right away, just from a personality standpoint and a football standpoint,’’ Quinn said. “I really enjoyed working with him. When he left, we certainly remained close. That was part of the connection for me to come here to work for him.
“There have been opportunities before, but this one with Will was so unique. I have such a strong opinion of him and for how well he’ll do, I certainly wanted to be a part of it.’’
But there’s more to this story.
For Quinn, it was an opportunity to become a defensive coordinator for the first time since a one-year stint in that role at Hofstra in 2000, his last college coaching job. He left the college game in 2001 to take a job with the San Francisco 49ers as a defensive assistant. While in San Francisco, Quinn coached defensive tackle Bryant Young, now on Florida’s staff as a defensive assistant.
Over the past decade, Quinn has spent time with the 49ers, Dolphins, Jets and Seahawks, hoping one day to run his own defense. He finally got the chance thanks to Muschamp.
A native of Orange, N.J., Quinn attended the same high school – Morristown (N.J.) High – where Gators offensive coordinator Charlie Weis once taught and coached. He played against Seton Hall Prep, the school where new Gators offensive line coach Frank Verducci’s late father, Tony, served as head coach and where the school’s football field is named in his honor.
So with all his the connections and the opportunity to run his own defense, Quinn packed up his office in Seattle the day after the Seahawks were eliminated by the Bears in the playoffs and headed for Gainesville.
Muschamp sees it as one of his most important hires.
“I remember when we hired Dan Quinn – I got a text message from Jason Taylor saying, ‘How the heck did you get Dan to join your staff? He is the best defensive line coach I’ve ever played for,’ ’’ Muschamp said. “He is as a good of a coach as I’ve ever been around in teaching technique. He will have a huge impact on the young guys we have on the defensive line.”
Quinn is excited now that spring football is here and he has a chance to work with young defensive linemen such as Dominique Easley, Sharrif Floyd, Ronald Powell and Lynden Trail.
His message is a simple one. He has worked with players like Taylor with the Dolphins and Young, who was still a star defensive tackle for the 49ers when Quinn joined San Francisco’s defensive staff.
Quinn knows what NFL players look like. He knows how they practice and how they prepare. He hopes to teach the young Gators what he has learned and help them fulfill their potential.
“You look forward to be able to have a big leadership role with the guys,’’ Quinn said. “You look forward to developing some of those guys and their skills where they can take it as far as they can as players. That would be one of the goals I have for all the guys. See how far you can take it?”
To get them there, Quinn’s plan is one very similar to the one used by Muschamp over the years as defensive coordinator at Auburn and Texas. The Gators will be aggressive on defense, placing a premium on takeaways and using multiple schemes to keep opposing offenses guessing.
That’s part of the reason Quinn felt so comfortable in rejoining Muschamp.
“From a scheme and style standpoint, you’ll see that Will and I are closely aligned,’’ Quinn said. “Effort, toughness and finishing – we’ll be multiple in our schemes. We’ll start with effort. For us, it’s going to be about takeaways and getting the ball. When you watch our tape, you’ll say, ‘Man, these guys really play hard and get after the football.’
“I am anxiously waiting on third down here at The Swamp. I want it to get loud and make it as hard on the opposing quarterback as possible.’’
Q: What’s a perfect vacation for you at this point in your life?
A: Hawaii. That stems a little bit from living on the West Coast. It’s a place we like to visit.
Q: Who has had the biggest influence on your coaching career?
A: Man, I’ve had so many good guys that have left big impressions on me. When I first came into the NFL, Steve Mariucci was the head coach there and Bill Walsh was the GM. That first learning experience with those guys left a huge impression on how to run an organization and how to be involved in leading a team.
Q: What was your greatest day as an athlete?
A: I’d say probably in track and field competing for a championship when I was back in college, and then in football it was just a blast, the whole thing. I can’t think of one performance over the other. All of it was a blast.
Note: Quinn was a star shot-putter and hammer thrower at Salisbury (Md.) State and played football there; he was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 2005.
Q: As an outsider looking in over the years, what was your impression of the Florida football program?
A: When you first think about it, you think of this being one of the best in the whole country, not just the SEC. You think about how good the football is in the SEC. I think there are a few schools around the country that you do it all. You’ve got to win forever at a place like Florida, so when you hear about places like that, that gets you fired up to know that you can really take it far here and have a chance to do it on the biggest stage.
Q: What’s a perfect meal?
A: I’d probably say pizza back in New Jersey.
Q: Who is your favorite musician?
A: Bon Jovi – that’s definitely it for me.
Q: You coach defensive linemen. What do you look for in a top defensive lineman?
A: You break it down differently from the inside guys to the outside guys. With the outside guys, you generally look for guys who have speed and length. As a rusher, if you’ve got enough initial quickness and speed to get off the end, and then you have length in your arms and hands to work a guy, then usually those kinds of rushers are the most effective. For the inside guys, I want to see a guy who has real power at the point of attack, a guy who can come out of his hips and strike people and get his hands on him. That guy has to be a really good run player, be able to push the pocket as a rusher.
Q: Do you have a favorite player that you’ve coached?
A: There have been a lot of different guys. I think it would be unfair to single out one. There are guys like Bryant [Young] and Jeff Ulbrich – who just started coaching – that had a certain standard they played at, they practiced at and performed at.
Q: You’re a Jersey guy like Weis and Verducci. Yankees or Mets?
A: I grew up a Mets fan. I grew up in the era of the ‘80s with Doc Gooden, Daryl Strawberry, Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, all those guys. Back in the ‘80s, they had some great players. That’s unusual. Usually the guys from my neck of the woods are Yankee fans.
Q: After 10 years in the NFL, what you are most looking forward to in return to college game?
A: I can’t wait to get started and get out on the grass with the guys. Part of the reason you start coaching is you love working with the guys. I’m really looking forward to getting to work with the guys and getting around them. You don’t see these guys as much as in the NFL, so the time you spend with them, you want to be special.
As part of GatorZone.com's coverage of spring football, senior writer Scott Carter will profile each member of the Gators' coaching staff leading up to the Orange and Blue Debut on April 9.