Why is Dan Quinn the NFL's most unique coach?

HOUSTON -- Dwight Freeney languished on the open market until August, hoping the Cardinals would reciprocate his interest in a reunion.

After flirting with the idea of retirement the previous year, Freeney would return for a 15th NFL season only if he could find the right fit with a Super Bowl contender.

So why did he ultimately choose the 8-8 Falconsover a Bengals outfit that had been a mainstay in the AFC playoffs for the past half-decade?

Chalk it up to Dan Quinn's effervescent charm.

"Immediately when I sat down with him we were connecting. We had that energy, and that's what it was," Freeney explained Monday night. "And the funny thing was Atlanta wasn't even on my radar. I didn't know anything about the NFC South."

Freeney's mother had advised him to go with his heart, the seven-time Pro Bowl pass rusher added.

His heart not only led him back to the Super Bowl, but also to one of the NFL's most extraordinary coaching talents.

After Atlanta's NFC Championship Game victory two weeks ago, Freeney raised a few eyebrows when he revealed to NFL Network's Tiffany Blackmon that Quinn is the "most unique coach" he's ever encountered.

That qualifies as exceptionally high praise considering Freeney began his career under venerable Hall of Famer Tony Dungy for seven seasons and teamed up with the charismatic Bruce Arians in Indianapolis and, later, Arizona.

"It's just the way he connects with the players," Freeney told Blackmon. "I mean I've never been excited for team meetings in my life. When I come here, I'm excited. ... He has all these things to keep you interested and engaged. He does an amazing job. Seriously."

That sentiment has been widespread among Atlanta's most experienced players leading up to Super Bowl LI.

"Just being around DQ," eighth-year defensive lineman Tyson Jackson raved, "it's an unbelievable experience, man."

What is it about Quinn that makes him so "unique" and "unbelievable"?

The common refrain in Houston has been his rare ability to bring a fresh perspective every day, keeping team meetings entertaining and enlightening while still getting down and doing "the dirty work" with the players, as 12-year defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux phrased it.

"He's really all about competing and getting us to compete and make each other better," eleventh-year guard Chris Chester explained. "At the same time, there's a sincerity about creating a brotherhood amongst the players."

That gospel of brotherhood has spread throughout the organization in the two years since Quinn was hired away from his position as Pete Carroll's first lieutenant in Seattle. It was "something that coach Quinn wanted to preach once he got in," fourth-year cornerback Robert Alford allowed.

"It's a big, big part of why we're successful this season," fifth-year wide receiver Mohamed Sanu testified. "I know I'm going to do my job because I know the guy next to me is going to do his. So I don't want to let that guy down."

Although he became a household name as the coordinator of a historically great Seahawks defense, he's far more than a carbon copy of Carroll, football's preeminent philosopher.

Quinn emphasized this week that he never intended to transform Atlanta into "Seattle East."

"I wanted to make our own Atlanta," Quinn said, "and that was really important to me -- our own philosophy, our own way, our own style of how we do it. I'm different than him in a lot of ways but he impacted me in my career in a lot of ways."

The most successful coaches learn at the knee of manifold mentors, weaving a patchwork of lessons into a core philosophy.

"For having a coaching philosophy," Quinn told reporters Monday night, "I have a very unique background."

He began his career under the 49ers' triumvirate of Steve Mariucci, Terry Donahue and Bill Walsh in 2001 before joining with college legend Nick Saban in Miami.

"Then I went to New York with Eric Mangini, and then out to Seattle with Pete Carroll," Quinn continued. "I have had this unique group of guys I got to be around. Early on, that is where a lot of my beliefs were formed."

Armed with those beliefs, Quinn has evolved into perhaps the league's most relatable head coach.

After covering the Seahawks in back-to-back Super Bowls, Around The NFL cohort Marc Sessler and I came away more impressed with Quinn than any player or coach we had ever interviewed.

When I mentioned to Brooks Reed that his head coach comes across as remarkably genuine, the sixth-year defensive end's eyes lit up.

"He's a very personable guy," Brooks expounded. "When you first see him, you're like 'Oh man, this guy looks tough.' You might be intimidated. But the second you start talking to him, he's all about you. He cares about people, cares about his players first and foremost. You can see that the way he talks about us and treats us."

Brooks was one of several players to casually drop the word "love" this week in reference to Quinn's approach.

I caught a glimpse of that shepherd-like quality when I asked Quinn about the high praise Freeney originally offered two week ago.

"Honestly, that makes me feel great," Quinn beamed, quickly pivoting to a two-minute dissertation on the finer qualities of Dwight Freeney -- the passionate man who willed himself into Dwight Freeney, the potential Hall of Fame football player.

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