By now you’ve heard the news that two year defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has left Gainesville to take the same position with the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks. This wasn’t entirely unexpected. The consensus opinion was that an up and coming coordinator like Quinn wouldn’t be here for long. The job he did coaching up the talented but young Gator defense would certainly make him a hot commodity. Once the Seahawks coordinator Gus Bradley was hired by the Jacksonville Jaguars as their new head coach, the handwriting was on the wall for Quinn and the Gators.
Quinn came to Florida from Seattle where he was the defensive line coach under head coach Pete Carroll. The thought was that if Carroll didn’t offer Quinn the coordinator position, Bradley would. Carroll did make the offer shortly after Bradley was hired by the Jags and Quinn accepted it pretty much immediately.
To Muschamp’s credit he was proactive in having a succession plan in place for when Quinn left. He promoted linebacker’s coach and special teams coordinator D.J. Durkin within hours of the announcement of Quinn’s departure. Now the question will be who they add as an assistant. Muschamp said that Durkin would continue coaching linebackers which means they will likely be adding a defensive ends coach, the position that Quinn coached personally, unless they extend defensive line coach Bryant Young’s responsibilities to include the ends.
Personally, I understand what Muschamp is doing by promoting Durkin and I’m on board with it. Durkin is the lone holdover from Meyer’s staff and that alone says a lot about what Will thinks about Durkin. As the special teams coordinator, he assembled and coached a unit that was one of the tops in the nation in virtually every facet. Both of his specialists were finalists for their respective positional awards, the only team in the nation with that distinction. Additionally, his coverage teams gained national notoriety for their speed and ability to hit and create turnovers. The Gators had several blocked kicks this season including one that was returned for a touchdown to win the Louisiana game with two seconds left.
Durkin is a good young coach and one that will be more inclined to accept Muschamp’s “meddling” in schemes and gameplans. If Muschamp had brought in an experienced defensive coordinator it might have led to tension with the volume of input that Will gives on that side of the ball. With Durkin that shouldn’t be an issue.
However, the loss of Quinn will not necessarily be a simple, smooth, seamless transition and will have a significant effect on the Gators defensive fortunes next season. The biggest issue will be a loss of continuity. From season to season one of the biggest objectives is to maintain a level of consistency that players can count on. When you have change, particularly at the coordinator level, no matter how much a head coach hates to admit it, there is a loss of continuity that can create issues. Hopefully, with a lot of new guys in the starting lineup due to a player exodus in the offseason, Muschamp and Durkin can minimize the continuity issues and keep changes, particularly in schemes, to a bare minimum. The more continuity and consistency the staff provides, the more effective players, particularly young players, can be in the system.
Next, and one of the biggest issues any time you have a change in leadership is the “brain” drain. Every individual coach has a set of understanding and knowledge that is specific to him. Different people see and understand things differently. When you lose a guy with the knowledge and experience of Quinn, you lose some of the intuition in game planning, execution, and adjustment. Not to downgrade Durkin by any means. Obviously, Muschamp must have seen some good things with Durkin to trust him with the position. The issue is he’s a first time coordinator and still very young and there is a learning curve that has to take place. There most likely will be some dropoff from a third year Quinn coordinator to a first year Durkin coordinator. How much remains to be seen, but suffice it to say that is no small issue and will likely be obvious at some points next season.
The best part and most likely the biggest positive in promoting Durkin over bringing in an experienced coordinator is that Durkin has been able to work closely with both Muschamp and Quinn the last two seasons and he will likely stay in the coordinator position for a long period of time creating longer term continuity for the defense than what they had with Quinn. It’s likely that the plan all along when Muschamp retained Durkin and brought in Quinn was that Durkin would serve as Quinn’s understudy and become the coordinator when Quinn left. If that is indeed the case, then Durkin has a better leg up than many first time coordinators as he is already immersed in the system, has been trained, and simply has to come in and maintain while putting his own personal stamp on the defense. The fact that he is young and raw as a coordinator means he is not likely to be plucked up by other teams any time soon, meaning he should be in this position for a while, assuming he doesn’t simply fall on his face.
Finally, one area that is first mentioned when coaching changes like this take place and one that has, thus far, not been a problem is the effect on recruiting. Whenever changes take place within a month of signing day the question always get’s asked, what about reactions from existing recruiting commits? Fans stress that players might decommit if the coach that leaves was a) their main recruiter, b) their position coach, or c) a pre-eminent figure head that draws players into a school or system.
A good example of point (a) is the relationship Jeremy Pruitt had with recruit DeMarcus Walker. Walker had been recruited by Pruitt to Alabama and had built such a strong relationship that when Pruitt left to become defensive coordinator for FSU, Walker actually took a late trip to Tallahassee and enrolled early there, despite never previously expressing interest in the school.
Point (c) would be a guy like Bowden as head coach or Monte Kiffen as a defensive coordinator. These are guys that have gained a certain amount of notoriety over their careers that players actually will want to choose a school specifically to play for that guy in his system.
The good news for the Gators is that, despite Quinn being very popular with recruits, he hasn’t been doing it long enough to run players away with his leaving and with Muschamp being so heavily involved in the defense, it is certainly easier to provide the continuity that potential recruits need to give them the confidence to stick with the Gators.
The main issue may have been losing Quinn’s NFL connections which always plays well with recruits, but with Bryant Young, a former all pro defensive lineman, remaining on staff and the results that Muschamp has had in getting players to the league in previous FBS stops as a coordinator, this issue has been minimized as well.
So, thus far, no defections due to Quinn’s departure and none expected before signing day.
Overall, expect the change in leadership to have some significant effects on a young returning defense but hopefully Muschamp and Durkin can minimize those effects and make this a long term positive for the Gators.