RENTON – In the five-bedroom, colonial-style house the Quinns called home in Morristown, N.J., Peter Quinn always knew where to find his younger brother Dan during football season.
“He would be staying up watching the New Mexico State-Hawaii game at 2 in the morning figuring out what plays they were running,’’ Peter says of Dan, who by six years is the youngest of six children. “He was always a student of the game like that.’’
Soon after, Dan Quinn became a teacher of the game, a career choice that surprised absolutely no one, least of all himself.
“I always knew I wanted to coach,’’ he says.
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And now, at age 42, having steadily climbed the coaching ladder, Dan Quinn is ready for his biggest challenge yet, taking over as defensive coordinator of the Seahawks in a year when the Super Bowl is regarded as a legitimate goal.
“I’d rather it be that way,’’ Quinn said of the expectations greeting the Seahawks.
The ink had barely dried on the stories that Gus Bradley was leaving the Seahawks to become the head coach at Jacksonville before Quinn was hired as his replacement — a sign of Quinn’s enthusiasm for the appointment. Quinn’s Seattle hiring came about two hours after Bradley was announced as Jacksonville’s coach.
“It was really something that I wanted to do,’’ Quinn said.
Indeed, it was as big of a no-brainer for each side as the timing made it appear. Quinn had served as Seattle’s defensive line coach in 2009 under Jim L. Mora and in 2010, when coach Pete Carroll took over, before leaving to become defensive coordinator at the University of Florida under Will Muschamp.
Just as significant to Carroll, though, is that Quinn — like Carroll — learned much of what he knows about defense during his days with the San Francisco 49ers, and specifically from longtime San Francisco assistant/defensive coordinator Bill McPherson, whose son Pat is now Seattle’s tight ends coach.
“I loved Dan when he was here before and knew that if we had an opportunity that he would be the guy that we would like to bring back,’’ Carroll said. “So there really wasn’t a big decision. I had already kind of figured that out from the time we had spent together.’’
Quinn’s stock only rose during his time away from the Seahawks. He received a lot of credit at Florida for helping revive its defense, which finished fifth in the nation in yards allowed last year and led the team to an 11-2 record. Other than a year as the defensive coordinator at Hofstra in 2000, the two seasons at Florida were the first when Quinn called his own defense, an experience he says has readied him for his new job with the Seahawks.
“It was important for me,’’ he said. “… just having the experience, kind of leading the entire year as opposed to (coaching) a defensive-line group. Making calls on game day and that type of thing, it was a very valuable time for me.’’
It was what he’d dreamed of doing for as long as he can remember. His father, Jim, was a baseball player at Northwestern before settling down for a career in insurance and a life as a family man in Morristown, with a population of about 18,000, roughly 30 miles from New York.
Quinn has four older brothers, most of whom played sports at Morristown High School.
“We were always a competitive family,’’ saidPeter. “Whiffle ball or whatever it might be.’’
Football was always big in the house. Peter remembers Dan trying to make like Sam “Bam’’ Cunningham — a running back for the New England Patriots in the ’70s known for jumping over defenders into the end zone — and leap over couches in the house with a football in his arms to score “touchdowns.”
“We wouldn’t let him,’’ Peter said with a laugh.
During summers as a kid, Dan often visited the training-camp home of the Giants in nearby Madison — somewhere, he said, he probably still has an autograph from Lawrence Taylor.
All of that built a love of sports and a desire to coach. “I knew early that this is what I wanted to do,” he said.
Quinn played defensive line at Morristown High, and then for four years at Salisbury (Md.) State before entering coaching, getting jobs helping coach defense at William & Mary, Virginia Military Institute and Hofstra.
His big break came after the 2000 season at Hofstra. Two players from the school were playing with the 49ers, including safety Lance Schulters, which helped get Quinn an interview for an entry-level job on the San Francisco staff under coach Steve Mariucci and Mora, the future Seahawks coach who was the 49ers’ defensive coordinator at the time.
“It was the one totally random chance that they brought me out to interview me for an assistant D-line job,’’ Quinn said. “Just a one-in-a-million chance. I wore Jim Mora out enough that he said, ‘Let’s bring this guy in.’ ’’
Quinn was given a quality-control job, and two years later was coaching the defensive line. Soon after came stops at the Dolphins, under Nick Saban, and the Jets, under Eric Mangini, before Mora hired him at Seattle in 2009.
His first Seattle tenure was highlighted by the move of Red Bryant from tackle to end, helping remake the Seahawks defense into one of the best in the NFL.
“I think the big thing I learned very early is once you knew how to get a player better, they will be invested in you,’’ Quinn said. “That was true early in my time (with the 49ers). Players say, ‘OK, this guy knows what he is doing.’ They want to be around more because it’s their career.’’
He worked alongside his predecessor Bradley for a year with the Seahawks in 2010 and now takes over a unit that ranked first in the NFL in points allowed in 2012 (15.3 per game).
Still, Quinn hardly plans to stand pat.
Specifically, Quinn says the Seahawks will play more aggressively this season, calling on a veteran secondary to play more man-to-man and open up more players to rush the passer.
“I think that we just have a mindset that we like to play aggressive,’’ he said.
Linebacker K.J. Wright says that’s a big change.
“As you can see, we are running a lot of man-to-man coverages, so we are really locking onto guys, making sure we stay tight to them and don’t stay back in zones and let them pick us apart,” Wright said. “So he’s really aggressive with his calls and we are going to be on guys to see who the best defender is.’’
That’s music to the ears of a Seattle secondary regarded as among the best in the NFL and eager for the chance to be given added responsibility.
“We definitely like it,’’ said safety Earl Thomas. “We’ve got the personnel to do it and DQ recognizes that and we are going to play to our strengths. And if we get beat, OK, we are going to move on and go to the next play and come back at you. … Everybody knows what we are going to do. We are going to play man or some type of (cover) three. We don’t really disguise anything. We are just going to get in your face and see what happens.’’
Quinn’s more aggressive nature on the field, though, is countered by a more analytical approach off it.
Wright says that where Bradley was “more of a rah-rah type’’ Quinn is “straight to the point. He just tells you what he wants you to do.’’
Just the way he always envisioned he would.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org.