Much in the same way the Minnesota Vikings hired Mike Zimmer as their head coach following an apocalyptic season on defense – allowing the most points in the league in 2012 – when Atlanta had the worst-ranked defense in the league in 2013, they chose a similar path as Minnesota.
Hire a head coach who was known as an innovative defensive coordinator.
The Vikings raided the Bengals coaching staff to find their man. The Falcons filched the Seattle coaching staff to hire Dan Quinn. Quinn spent more than a decade in the NFL coaching defense in San Francisco, Miami, the Jets and Seattle before getting the defensive coordinator job in Florida.
Quinn coached there in 2011-12 and, while with the Gators, one of his most impressive young players was Vikings defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd. Two years later, coach and player will be reunited on the opposite side of the field.
Floyd has a lot of respect for Quinn and isn’t surprised he got a head coaching job in the NFL and has enjoyed early success.
“His style is really aggressive,” Floyd said. “As a player, you love that. He has one mindset – get your whole team on one page. He also has one goal – get your guys to fight. He’s done some really good things over there and we have to be prepared.”
Quinn was very impressed with Floyd when he coached him with the Gators. When he watches Floyd on tape now, he sees much of the raw talent and promise he showed at Florida being realized with the Vikings.
He is impressed with the same intangibles that he helped mold in college and sees a clear transformation at the next level.
“The first thing that jumps out for Sharrif is the quickness that he has for a 300 pounder,” Quinn said. “His ability to use his feet, he can jump off the ball. He has the quickness of a much lighter guy at 300 pounds. I’m not sure what he is now, 305, 310. He has the quickness of an undersized guy, but he’s not undersized. I think that’s probably the first thing that jumps out to me, the ability to get off the ball, use his leverage. I know him well, and I’m really pleased to see him doing so well there.”
While Quinn and Zimmer came to be head coaches in the NFL for the same reason, but by different paths, they have more than a few similarities.
The same thing that has helped Zimmer transform the Vikings from the defensive dregs to inclusion among the elite defenses has been in play in Atlanta. Although they inherited teams they were unfamiliar with, both have won over the players with a belief in the schemes they run.
“They both have attacking styles and bring the pressure to offenses,” Floyd said. “They both coach with the same basic philosophy – attack, run to the ball, get to the ball. They both believe in trying to dictate the pace and be disruptive. I don’t know about the personnel, but the schemes are similar and they both get good results.”
Zimmer brought the Vikings from the bottom of the pack to the middle in his first season. Quinn has taken Atlanta from the league’s worst defense to the 10th-ranked group, including first place in run defense.
Considering that the Falcons have lost their last three games, that is saying something. He has brought the same style that he honed to perfection with Seattle to the Falcons. Like Zimmer, he has had to add some players who fit his style to help with the transition for the uninitiated.
He’s impressed with what he sees, because it looks a lot like the same defense Zimmer has seen out in Seattle relocated to the Dirty South.
“Scheme-wise. I think they’re working towards getting the personnel,” Zimmer said. “They’ve got athletic ends, bigger inside guys, a physical downhill safety, corners the same. It looks very similar.”
For Floyd, despite focusing his primary attention on the Falcons offense, he has seen similarities in the Falcons defense that he saw in college and with the Seahawks.
“Everybody has to do their job and run to the ball,” Floyd said. “His philosophy is that you don’t play for yourself, you play for each other. We do a lot of those same things here. Both of them have a style that is more family-oriented than it is worrying about yourself.”
During his formative years in between high school and the pros, Floyd and Quinn were student and teacher.
On Sunday, they will be on opposite sides of the field as enemies for three hours. After that, don’t be shocked if Quinn and Floyd give one another an embrace and a short conversation.
Their professional careers have diverged since their time in Gainesville, but there is a mutual admiration since they had a symbiotic relationship – Floyd helped get Quinn noticed as a hot defensive coordinator and Quinn taught Floyd the secrets of the trade in his style of football.
“I learned a lot from him,” Floyd said. “He was a very good coach who could relate to players. I think he made me a better player and helped prepare me for the NFL. Hopefully, I can show him how much I learned on Sunday.”