JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Sometimes Dan Quinn puts on mitts like a boxing trainer, and encourages his Seahawk defenders to punch him.
Other times the defensive coordinator wears thick pads that cover his arms up to his elbows. They allow defenders to tangle with him full-force. But more than anything, the pads make Quinn look like somebody who trains attack dogs.
And, really, isn’t that pretty much what he’s doing with the Seahawks defense?
“He (does look like that),” defensive lineman Michael Bennett said. “And then he lets them (attack) on Sunday.”
Quinn took over a top five defense from last season and helped make it the NFL’s best in total yards and points on the way to Sunday’s Super Bowl XLVIII meeting against the Denver Broncos.
It has been this literal hands-on approach, and aggressive attitude, that has not only endeared Quinn to Seahawks defenders, but also made him appealing to teams looking for new head coaches.
He interviewed with both Cleveland and Minnesota during this postseason, but both vacancies have been filled, and the 43-year-old Quinn appears to be rooted on the Seattle staff at least another season.
Defensive tackle Tony McDaniel said that Quinn’s sparing and squaring off with his players has established a rare connection.
“I think it’s great, more coaches should try it,” McDaniel said. “It builds a bond between the players and the coach, and you end up believing in what he’s saying. And when he says ‘Jump,’ we all say ‘How high?’ ”
Defense is about attitude and aggressiveness, McDaniel said, and Quinn has been the root-source this season. “Just look at the way we play, look at the way we practice,” McDaniel said. “It’s all about having that attitude.”
After all, what better way for a coach to express his expectations for aggressiveness than getting on the field with players and spending the afternoon clubbing each other?
“That connection with the players is what I enjoy the most about coaching,” Quinn said. “Sometimes it’s not just in the classroom but on the grass and on the field. Those interactions are some of the things that are the most fun, feeling the energy you have with them on the field.
“We have a blast coaching them, challenging them, being part of a group that is a lot of fun – players and coaches.”
Quinn learned the craft under NFL head coaches Steve Mariucci, Dennis Erickson, Nick Saban, Eric Mangini, Jim Mora and Pete Carroll. After spending the 2009 and ’10 seasons in Seattle under Mora and then Carroll, he took over as defensive coordinator at the University of Florida in 2011-12.
When coordinator Gus Bradley left the Seahawks for the head coaching job of the Jacksonville Jaguars last year, Carroll invited Quinn back to take over the Seahawks defense.
Defensive tackle Brandon Mebane remembers what Quinn told them upon his return: “He said, I’m gonna let you guys be free to play football, just go ahead and play.”
Linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. said Quinn’s return was seamless, and he’s always “been on the same page” with Quinn. They speak the same language.
“He’s a guy who talks about knocking people back and playing really tough,” Norton said. “Attitude is important, as you can see; it’s our style and really works in our favor. You have to have mean, tough, reliable people on defense, and he came in with a great concept and a great attitude that really fits our players and staff.”
Quinn’s roots as a defensive tackle (Salisbury State), along with his New Jersey upbringing, create a “grit and toughness about him,” said safety Chris Maragos. “You know we’re going to hit you.”
Asked his opinion on the strengths of Quinn as a coordinator, Pro Bowl safety Kam Chancellor cited his open-mindedness and willingness to adapt.
“Coach Dan does a good job listening to us,” Chancellor said. “We have good communication back and forth. You can say, ‘I don’t know about this call here, coach’ or ‘We want to play more man here,’ and he’s definitely open to that.”
Since Pete Carroll’s coaching approach has taken the Seahawks to the Super Bowl in just four seasons, other teams are looking for ways to learn the secret. What better way than to hire one of his top lieutenants?
Interviewing for head-coaching spots was a valuable experience, Quinn said, but “I couldn’t be more thrilled to be (with Seattle) and get the opportunity to be in the Super Bowl.”
Carroll has helped Quinn in that regard, too, prepping his coordinators in how to prepare for interviews and positions.
“He’s been really awesome in that respect of helping develop coaches,” Quinn said. “It’s one of the things that’s most fun about coaching with him, he’s constantly challenging us to see where we can go.”
Another season like this and Quinn will be even more highly coveted. The Seahawks players certainly endorse him.
“The thing about Dan is he’s real with you all the time,” said defensive end Cliff Avril. “Veterans appreciate that. He’s always pumped up … real active. I think that’s very cool.”
It keeps them on their toes, too.
“Oh, yeah,” Avril warned. “You gotta watch your Ps and Qs when he puts those mitts on.”