Coaching in the NFL is hard. Many have compared the position to that of a corporate CEO and they’re not wrong. Head coaches need to manage their assistants, motivate their players, and look ahead to ensure they’re adequately prepared for their opponents. They also have an incalculable number of micro-decisions to make during the actual games themselves. These decisions can make or break a team’s success.
The Atlanta Falcons‘ Dan Quinn is a solid coach who’s gotten a team to a Super Bowl before. That said, he’s also guilty of making what some called the worst coaching decision in NFL history.
Dan Quinn’s coaching career
Before coming to Atlanta, Quinn was known as the defensive coordinator of the vaunted “Legion of Boom” Seattle Seahawks’ defense that made two Super Bowls and won one. According to his bio on the Atlanta Falcons team website, he has a 43-37 regular-season record.
In 2016, he oversaw the team’s second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history. He’s currently fourth all-time in franchise victories and second in winning percentage (.538). Quinn has a solid track record, but even that doesn’t mean he can’t make a mistake. A few seasons ago, he did just that.
The worst coaching decision in NFL history
An SB Nation video took a closer look at the call Dan Quinn made. The called it “the worst coaching decision” ever made. In a regular-season game that took place on November 8, 2015, the Atlanta Falcons visited the San Francisco 49ers.
Late in the game, the Niners led the Falcons 17-13. The Falcons had the ball deep in San Francisco territory, on the one-yard line. With about three minutes to go, on fourth down, the Falcons opted to kick a field goal. The 49ers went on to win the game.
Quinn’s reasoning was likely that kicking the field goal enabled the Falcons to cut the deficit, giving them a better chance to win. His reasoning was faulty, however, for reasons the video points out.
Why Dan Quinn made the wrong call
When evaluating Quinn’s decision-making, it comes down to a faulty assessment of his options and the risk inherent with either. Consider the situation Quinn and the Falcons found themselves in.
They were down by four points with about three minutes remaining. Both teams had two timeouts. Quinn found himself with two options:
- Go for the touchdown. The risk here would be to not convert the play, leading to a turnover on downs.
- Kick the field goal. The risk in this scenario is that you potentially won’t be able to get the ball back.
With the first scenario, the negative outcome (not converting on fourth down) is better than the positive outcome of the first scenario. In other words, not scoring a touchdown in that situation would have been better than making a field goal. Why? A few reasons:
- Field position. The 49ers would have been in the worst possible position on the field, backed up on their own one. They would have likely played conservatively, protecting the ball and looking to do anything but commit a safety. A punt was likely.
- Kicking a field goal puts the game in the hands of your defense. Whether the Falcons went for it or kicked, they needed their defense to make a stop at this point in the game. Why not ask them to make a stop under the most favorable of conditions? Instead, you know give the San Francisco offense the advantage of returning a kickoff and having breathing room.
As the video points out, the Falcons would have been better off with quarterback Matt Ryan taking a knee on fourth down. Quinn has had plenty of highlights in a promising NFL coaching career, but this wasn’t one of his finer moments.