Quinn expects Florida to rebound

Dan Quinn's fall Saturdays had different schedules in 2013. Serving as the defensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks, he often found himself going through a defensive walk through either in Seattle or the city his team played in the next day. While he led the Seahawks defense on the field, his eyes would frequently glance at his phone, waiting for his wife to send updates on Florida's game.

Quinn doesn't expect that passion for the University of Florida to change anytime soon. But the truth is, he never expected it to come when he took the job in Gainesville.

It's all a reflection of how he remembers his time in Gainesville, leading the Florida defense to a Sugar Bowl appearance in his second season with the Gators. Quinn left to take a job he simply couldn't refuse -- and the outcome of the Seahawks' 2013 season showed why -- but that doesn't mean his heart left Gainesville.

Standing on the practice field on Friday as the lead speaker at Florida's coaching clinic, Quinn spoke through his familiar ear-to-ear grin, reminiscing about his two special years at Florida.

"I was always connected to people here, and I think I always will be," Dan Quinn said. "It was a blast coaching here. It was all the people that are a part of this university from Jeremy (Foley) to Will (Muschamp). They treat you in a first class way, and it was really my first experience at a big time college.

"It's awesome. So many of the faces, not just the coaches but players and other guys, for them to give me such a warm welcome back was awesome. I realized (in the time at Florida) what an important job that we as coaches had to develop the guys, off the field as well as on it. I took that responsibility seriously, so it's nice to have that connection with them."

The former Florida defensive coordinator remains in conversation with Muschamp and other coaches on the staff in Gainesville. While keeping up with their outcomes during the 2013 season in the staff's first year without Quinn, it was tough for the former defensive coordinator to understand why the struggles happened.

Quinn remains confident that there is more talent in the program than last year's 4-8 record would suggest

"I never would've thought that and still don't," Quinn said if the Florida program is where last season's record shows. "I know they're probably getting back to work. When things don't go your way as a competitor, which I know these guys are, it's like the thing you want to do the most is go work and get back to it. There's a lot of guys and coaches on this team that have a lot of grit and the setbacks won't stop them. I know they're ready to go."

Even with that belief, the pressure remains high around the Florida football team this spring. The heat has built on Will Muschamp after losing at least six games in two of his three seasons as head coach, and he'll head into the 2014 season on the hot seat.

The pressure is growing on the players, too. Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel heads into his fourth year on campus and third year as the starter with plenty to prove. The talent that Quinn referenced didn't look to live up to its billing last season, but the former Florida defensive coordinator is confident that will change this fall.

"I'm sure internally they feel it, but one of the cool parts is that when you step out onto the grass, you're in your element," Quinn said. "All the talking about last season is over, and I think they're ready to move on and learn from it. I know they're chomping at the bit to get going. You can feel the energy in the guys."

With the talent returning, the Gators do lose a good chunk of their defense from last season. Quinn coached all of those players during the 2011 and 2012 seasons and has first-hand knowledge of what it's like to work with them.

As he surveyed the practice field on Friday, Quinn was often in conversation with Dominique Easley and Ronald Powell. The two raved about their time learning from Quinn and the techniques that they learned from him. Now they hope for the chance to play for him and the Seattle Seahawks.

Quinn has stayed in touch with both players, especially Easley after tearing his ACL for a second team during the 2013 season on his way to an All-American season. Quinn saw both of the players in Indianapolis for the NFL Combine, the first time they were able to spend time together in person since he left Florida.

And both made sure their intentions were clear about how much they would like to play for him in the NFL.

"Oh yeah, there's no question," Quinn said with a laugh. "I'd be fortunate to coach either one of them. Really, it comes down to the tape and what they put on the tape. I know there are Pro Day and the combine, but when you're evaluating football players, the best tool is to watch them play. I've learned that and those guys have done a good job with it."

When Quinn was the defensive coordinator at Florida, he was the spokesman for the Florida defensive players that began their NFL careers. Professional teams came to Gainesville to learn more information about players they could draft, and Quinn loved talking about them and feeding positive, honest information to the NFL teams.

Now, that's not the case. He'll keep some of the inside information about the Florida upperclassmen secret.

"I wasn't able to give out some of that information at the combine," Quinn said with a grin. "When everybody was here (at Florida), it was a little easier when (NFL teams) would come in and I'm glad to share all the cool stuff. Now I keep some of that to myself."

His first season as the Seahawks' defensive coordinator ended with a Super Bowl ring after Quinn's defense put the clamps on Peyton Manning after his record-breaking season. His defense started the year with a reputation as one of the best in the NFL, but when it ended, there was no doubt.

"It was a blast," Quinn said. "It really was. In the NFL, it's a long season. We had 23 ball games including the preseason with some byes thrown in there, so it's 26-27 weeks of going. The effort, enthusiasm that the guys showed was fun to be a part of.

"Just like any good team you're on, you have to recapture the work ethic and the hard work it takes to play well. That's where our focus is right now."

Quinn received interest from multiple NFL teams about head coach openings in the offseason, and he was likely hurt by his unwillingness to interview for head coaching positions while his team prepared for a Super Bowl. His loyalty earned him a Super Bowl ring and likely puts him in a position to become an NFL head coach in the coming years.

But there will always be a special place in his heart for Gainesville. He became the Florida defensive coordinator in 2011 and returned to the college game for the first time in his career since the 2000 season. It came with uncertainties, but it ended with Quinn falling in love with Gainesville and working with college athletes.

"One of the things I liked most about college was you got to visit with these guys and help them develop, even off the field with a guy who is 18-19 years old and not only is his play getting better, but you're seeing him grow up.

"I miss baseball games, hoop games and just being on a college campus. Those are things that you can't simulate anything else."

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