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Bill Parcells, Joe Gibbs helped Falcons’ Dan Quinn shape vision

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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Dan Quinn took a chance, and the chance certainly paid off.

The Atlanta Falcons coach, a New Jersey native, had never met Bill Parcells despite growing up an avid New York Giants fan. Quinn always admired from afar as Parcells coached his all-time favorite player, linebacker Lawrence Taylor. So shortly after being named the Falcons coach prior to the 2015 season, Quinn went fishing for a face-to-face meeting with “The Big Tuna.”

“I didn’t know him,” Quinn said, “but I knew how to get to him.”

Parcells, a two-time Super Bowl champion with the Giants who went on to coach the New England Patriots, New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys, agreed to meet with Quinn in upstate New York. Quinn had his notes neatly prepared yet still carried a tingly feeling in his stomach, not knowing what to anticipate. He emerged from the meeting with an even better understanding of what it takes to develop a championship-type culture.

“We were talking about the identity of your team.” Quinn said. “Forever, we all had a real clear understanding of what Parcells’ teams looked like and played like: tough as hell and didn’t beat themselves. He helped me articulate that: Make sure they’re playing with the identity you want them to play with.”

Parcells modestly downplayed sharing his wealth of knowledge.

“I really didn’t do anything,” he said. “We talked a couple of times, and that was it.”

Quinn certainly appreciated the time, regardless. And one has to admire Quinn for making the effort to enhance his coaching skills.

Quinn has drawn from a number of outside resources to help him establish a winning atmosphere as he prepares for Saturday’s divisional playoff matchup against the Seattle Seahawks — his first playoff game as a head coach. Naturally, he learned plenty while serving as the defensive coordinator and winning a Super Bowl under Pete Carroll in Seattle. Quinn said working on staffs with guys such as Carroll, former San Francisco 49ers coach Steve Mariucci and former Miami Dolphins coach Nick Saban presented him “a model” on how to run a team.

But Quinn’s influences extend beyond football. During baseball season, he swapped ideas over lunch with Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon, who won the 2016 World Series. Maddon is close friends with Falcons wide receivers coach Raheem Morris from when both coached in Tampa.

Quinn previously talked about his relationship with Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who won an NBA title in his first season. Quinn also has developed a bond with San Antonio Spurs general manager R.C. Buford, who has been a part of five NBA titles and is a close friend of Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff. Buford sent Quinn a text message this week wishing him good luck in the playoffs.

“R.C. Buford has been a huge help to me with his support,” Quinn said. “The culture that San Antonio has in their sport — although it’s different than our sport — is still about dealing with their players and the coaches and how you want the organization to be seen. We can learn from everybody, man. It’s the coolest thing to keep battling for it.”

Quinn had a chance to huddle with another legendary coach shortly after taking over the Falcons. Owner Arthur Blank is friends with former Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, a three-time Super Bowl champ. Blank helped Quinn arrange a sit-down with Gibbs in Charlotte, where Gibbs’ auto racing team is based.

“We talked about how he created his culture,” Quinn said. “We also discussed how he evaluated quarterbacks. He was somebody who won with different people at different spots. I just felt like with his standard of winning, the people changed but he didn’t. He adapted to who he was.”

Of course the defense-minded Quinn has a great appreciation for how Gibbs’ teams attacked on defense.

“They were the best at the ball,” Quinn said. “I think they owned the turnover margin for a year at like [plus-43]. I was like to him, ‘How did that happen?'”

Quinn continues to emphasize having such a ball-hawking mentality to his own young defense, which showed steady improvement for the 11-5 Falcons, winners of the NFC South title. The entire team took a gigantic step this season after a 5-0 start but 3-8 implosion to the finish line in 2015.

Quarterback Matt Ryan improved. Linebacker Vic Beasley Jr. improved. Quinn improved.

“Well I think, No. 1, I still have a long way to go,” Quinn said. “Like me articulating the vision … of what I’d like us to play like I think has been clearer and something that I’ve improved upon. I think if you asked our players, they have a really clear identity about who we are and how we play and the style that we do it. I’d say that’s an area that I know I tried hard to work at to make sure we knew exactly who we were — identity, toughness, effort — on all three phases attacking.”

Free safety Ricardo Allen agreed that Quinn made the vision much clearer.

“Last year, when he came in, we started off really good but we didn’t play well in the division,” Allen said. “Then DQ came at the end of last year and he said, ‘I don’t think I made it really clear last year, but my goal is to own this division.’ As soon as we ended last season and didn’t make the playoffs, he made that very clear in front of the team.

“First of all, any team we play is going to get it. Every team has to come and battle against us. But owning the division is clearly the first step. Coach Quinn made that clear. And that’s exactly what we did.”

Now it’s on to the next step with Saturday’s divisional clash.

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