Chess Match Between Johnson And Blank Shows The Risks Associated With NFL Head Coach Searches

By Ernie Palladino
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Had Arthur Blank acted a little less patiently as the 2014 season wound toward the Super Bowl, the Falcons’ owner might have had Todd Bowles as his new head coach.

Had Woody Johnson been a bit more patient, the Jets’ owner might have had Seattle’s defensive coordinator, Dan Quinn.

Instead, Blank waited until the Super Bowl was over and Johnson jumped two weeks beforehand.

Quinn got Matt Ryan, Bowles got Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Dan Quinn

Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn reacts against the Seattle Seahawks at the Georgia Dome on Jan. 14, 2017, in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

We all know what happened this year. Quinn was the one stepping out front in Monday’s ridiculous Super Bowl Opening Night interview extravaganza at Minute Maid Park, while Bowles sat home pondering how he’s going to turn 5-11 into something that will save his job.

There is no telling what might have happened to each franchise under reverse circumstances. Probably nothing. Coaches go nowhere without quality players. It’s how both men reached their positions in the first place. Quinn, in fact, might not have been on anyone’s radar at all if he didn’t have talent like Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman, Bobby Wagner, Cliff Avril, and Michael Bennett to form a “Legion of Boom” that could have won consecutive Super Bowls if not for Russell Wilson’s ill-conceived, goal line throw in the final minute of XLIX.

Ditto for Bowles, whose Arizona Cardinals defense featured coverage luminaries Patrick Peterson, Rashad Johnson, Jerraud Powers, and Antonio Cromartie.

But once they reached their respective teams, it quickly became evident that lucky Quinn had stepped in a pile of, uh, talent. “Matty Ice” was already established as a quality quarterback, his growing rapport with NFC reception leader Julio Jones enhanced by Devonta Freeman’s 1,000-yard rushing.

Bowles? He got one great year out of Fitzpatrick before the journeyman started playing to his trading card stats in 2016. Fitzpatrick’s favorite receiver, Brandon Marshal,l fell off, third-down specialist Eric Decker got hurt, and the defense Bowles thought could carry the team did a pratfall worthy of an old Keystone Cops flick.

A little luck, a little wiggle of life’s fickle finger, and Bowles might have been soaking in the joys of Super Bowl week instead of Quinn.

He can blame the Jets for that. According to a report in the Daily News, both Johnson and Blank had both men on their wish list, though Quinn was the clear No. 1 on Blank’s.

Quinn had wowed the Jets’ owner and his consultants, Charley Casserly and Ron Wolf, in the one allowable postseason interview they conducted with him in Seattle. Bowles had been impressive, too, though quite different from Quinn in demeanor. Besides that, both were New Jersey guys — Bowles from Elizabeth, Quinn from Morristown — who just might have jumped at the chance to come home.

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Quinn had even planned to bring Washington’s offensive coordinator (and just-named 49ers head coach) Kyle Shanahan with him, ostensibly to coax free agent quarterback Kirk Cousins to join Gang Green. As it turned out, that would have been a huge upgrade over Fitzpatrick.

If Seattle had lost to Carolina in the divisional round, Johnson almost certainly would have offered Rex Ryan’s former job to Quinn. But the Seahawks won, 31-17.

The owners were stuck now. It was either wait and risk a bidding war, or jump and get Bowles now.

Blank picked the former.

Johnson took the surer route.

Ultimately, Blank and his patience won out. He signed Quinn the day after the Super Bowl.

Quinn went 8-8 to Bowles’ 10-6 during their rookie seasons. But now, it is Quinn who will face the Patriots on Sunday with a chance to win the Falcons’ first Lombardi Trophy.

It’s hard to blame Johnson for his choice. Bowles was a solid candidate. And Quinn might have looked over the talent, seen into the future, and decided that Atlanta’s full war chest gave him a better chance to win than the Jets did.

So just chalk this one up to the ironies of the coaching search, an example of what happens on an almost yearly basis to some downtrodden franchise looking for a new start.

Sit tight or wait until the hot guy finishes the postseason, whenever that happens.

After that, just hope you’ve given the new guy the ammo he needs to succeed.

Blank already had much of that in this year’s probable MVP quarterback, a dominant offense, and a powerful defense.

Lucky for Quinn.

Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino


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