Why was Dan Quinn fired as the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons?

Why was Dan Quinn fired by the Atlanta Falcons during the 2020 season, what moments stands out from his career, and what was his record?

When Dan Quinn leads the Dallas Cowboys as stand-in head coach on Thursday in Week 13, it will not be an unfamiliar situation for him. Quinn was head coach of the Atlanta Falcons for just over five seasons, including to start 2020. Let’s take a look at why Quinn was fired and his record during his time as head coach in Atlanta.

Why was Dan Quinn fired from Atlanta?

Quinn’s firing happened after an 0-5 start to the 2020 NFL season. Many people felt Quinn should have been fired following the 2019 campaign. However, after starting the year 1-7, the Falcons went 6-2 to close out the season. That strong finish kept Quinn in the job heading into 2020, but it left him treading a thin line.

The 2020 season was the third year in a row that Quinn’s Falcons had lost at least four of their first five games. In 2018, they were 1-4 before recovering to 4-4 in Week 9. Atlanta then lost five in a row before reeling off three consecutive wins to end the season. Those consistent losing streaks would ultimately cost Quinn his job in Atlanta in 2020.

Fourth-quarter comebacks haunt Quinn’s time in Atlanta

Quinn is a defensive coach by trade, making his team’s inability to hold onto a lead in games all the more embarrassing. The loss to the Patriots in Super Bowl 51 after leading 28-3 in the third quarter is remembered as one of the most incredible collapses in sports history.

Subsequently, in 2020, that inability to protect a lead reared its head again. Against Dallas in Week 2, the Falcons led 39-24 with 5 minutes to go and lost 40-39. That game included one of the most ridiculous onside kick recoveries in the history of the NFL (multiple Falcons did not jump on the spinning ball).

Atlanta would become the first team in NFL history to lose after leading by 15 points or more during the fourth quarter in back-to-back games. In Week 3, they led the Bears 26-10 with 7 minutes remaining and would go on to lose 30-26 against Nick Foles.

As isolated incidents, all of those occurrences could be viewed very differently. However, for all three of them to happen to one team under one head coach shines the spotlight brightly on that coach. With Quinn already hanging onto his job by a thread, those back-to-back embarrassing losses meant an immediate response was required. After losing two further games, Falcons owner Arthur Blank moved on from Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff.

Quinn’s record as head coach in Atlanta

Overall, Quinn’s numbers as a head coach are middle of the road. He went 43-42 in the regular season as a head coach, which is certainly not the worst number. However, that record is salvaged by several wins late in the season when the pressure was off.

Quinn’s time in Atlanta can be broken down into two halves. His first season in 2015 had some promise at 6-1 through seven weeks. On the other hand, the Falcons then lost seven of their next nine to finish 8-8 and miss the playoffs. 2016 was when they broke through, going 11-5 and making it to the Super Bowl. Despite a dominant first half, they would lose that game in overtime.

Often, teams who lose in the Super Bowl suffer a “hangover,” but Quinn and the Falcons managed to navigate that. They stumbled to a 3-3 record before winning seven of their final 10 contests. They made the playoffs that season before the Eagles eliminated them 15-10 in the Divisional Round.

That is when the situation turned for Quinn. In the first five games of the next three years, Quinn’s Falcons went 2-13. Winning less than one game on average through the first five weeks does not eliminate you from the Super Bowl, but it means you have to be almost perfect the rest of the way. Ultimately, those slow starts would be the end of Quinn’s time as head coach of the Falcons.

Ben Rolfe is a Senior Managing Editor at Pro Football Network and is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA). You can find him on Twitter @BenRolfePFN