Dan Quinn speaks like he coaches — in rapid, direct jabs.
There are no long-winded speeches, no flailing attempts at metaphors or Shakespearean imagery that may cause a player to tilt his head sideways like a Labrador and think, “Huh?” There are just clear, short word strings, suitable for posting under refrigerator magnets or slapping on a T-shirt or a rear bumper.
“You know me: I speak in bumper stickers,” Quinn said the other day.
The Falcons are in the Super Bowl this week for a number of reasons. There is talent. There is scheme. There was the implementation of a plan. But Quinn’s magic of turning the Falcons into NFC champions for only the second time in franchise history — and in only two seasons — stems directly from his ability to connect with his players on a level that’s rarely seen in professional sports.
He does it with catch phrases. He does it with shirts and hats and weekly messages. He does it by having rap and hip-hop music played over loud speakers at practices.
“There is a byproduct of the music,” Quinn said. “One, we wanted the beats to be fast, so we could feel that energy. There are over 100 beats a minute to get rolling. The second part of that is we knew how we were going to play and to get our crowd into it, we wanted noise to be available for the defense. Each week, (an opponent) was going to have to deal with some crowd noise.”
Break it down.
No doubt you’ve heard or read stories about how Falcons players have been brought together in this “Brotherhood,” whether because of drills with Navy SEALs or Matt Ryan’s throwing camp or the pingpong tables in the locker room or the basketball hoop in the meeting room or the weekly in-house competitions.
But those are things that brought players together. Quinn’s connection came through different avenues.
“He would do a good job if he sold bumper stickers,” Ryan joked, referencing the team’s dozen or so catch phrases.
“He’s done a great job of week to week creating a message for us that’s relevant to our team, relevant to the opponent, relevant to what’s going on with our team at that time. It’s kind of like a rallying cry for that week. He’s done a great job of understanding our guys, understanding what situation we’re in and understanding what bumper sticker would be appropriate for that week. It’s been impressive.”
“His messages stick, that’s why he does it,” rookie safety Keanu Neal said. “Little phrases just pop in your head now and then.”
Quinnisms: Iron sharpens iron. Do right longer. Do what we do. It’s about the ball. It’s about the process (Former coach Mike Smith left that one behind.)
Quinn also has had a dozen T-shirts or hats with punchy thoughts made up during the season, the latest being, “Ready to Ride, Dog.” The week of the first playoff win over Seattle, players wore shirts reading: “Arrive violently.” Those words were referenced by Neal after the game.
Linebacker Deion Jones, another rookie, said the catch phrases “pretty much sets off what we do. That’s our mentality. That’s how we play.”
A coach’s job is to maximize the talent of his athletes. Quinn has done that by connecting with them from the shoulders up.
This will be the coach’s third Super Bowl appearance in four years, the previous two coming as the defensive coordinator in Seattle. Those things don’t happen by accident. Seahawks defensive players sang his praises similarly two years ago during Super Bowl week when it was known the Falcons had a deal in place to hire Quinn as their coach.
The challenge Quinn had is: It’s much easier to make that connection when someone is coaching only a position group or even as offensive and defensive coordinator, as opposed to an entire roster.
“When you become a head coach, how do you find those moments to connect with the players to make sure we’re looking out for you,” Quinn said. “It doesn’t happen overnight. I definitely wanted that to happen overnight and it didn’t. It’s not easy to go through that, but it’s worth it. It is really important that we’re all connected, we all talk in the same way. There is no disconnect on our team.”
Quinn picked the music early on, but now there’s a series of amateur DJ’s in the Falcons’ building. There’s a lot more rap and hip-hop played during practices than before.
“Smitty’s playlist and Dan’s playlist are very different,” Ryan cracked. “Dan’s pretty eclectic.”
This isn’t about Quinn having different musical tastes than Smith. It’s about effect. Quinn has particularly built a strong connection with the young players on his team, which is a positive sign for the future. The Falcons have four rookies and four second-year players in their base and nickel defenses.
Jones again: “I don’t even feel like DQ is my head coach sometimes. He’s that cool. He’s that down to earth. He knows how to communicate with us. He knows how to get his point across to us without having his hard hat on. He knows how to relate to us. It’s really good to have a coach like that.”
The man who speaks in bumper stickers is getting his point across.