ATLANTA (AP) — Dan Quinn never stopped believing he could turn things around in Atlanta.
He won’t get the chance.
With the Falcons mired at 0-5 for the first time since 1997, Quinn was fired as the team’s coach — just hours after a 23-16 loss to the Carolina Panthers.
Longtime general manager Thomas Dimitroff was also dismissed.
Quinn’s five-plus seasons will be remembered for a Super Bowl meltdown at the end of the 2016 season, when the Falcons infamously squandered a 28-3 lead to Tom Brady’s New England Patriots and became a national laughingstock — a stigma that lingers to this day.
That ugly memory returned in force this season, when the Falcons became the first team in NFL history to blow fourth-quarter leads of at least 15 points in back-to-back games.
Those losses, to Dallas and Chicago, essentially served as Quinn’s epitaph, even though he managed to hang on for two more games.
After falling to the Panthers, Quinn insisted that he wasn’t thinking about his job status, maintaining the outward confidence he displayed throughout his tenure.
“Honestly, it’s the furthest thing from my mind,” the 50-year-old coach said. “My job is coaching and my focus on us to keep playing and play the way we can.”
Before the night was done, his tenure in Atlanta was over.
“This is a results business and I owe it to our fans to put the best product we can on the field,” owner Arthur Blank said. “We have poured every resource possible into winning and will continue to do so, but the results of late do not meet our standard or what I’ve promised our fans.”
Quinn was the second NFL coach this season to lose his job after Houston’s Bill O’Brien was let go following an 0-4 start.
Quinn departed with an overall record of 43-42, but he was just 14-23 since the beginning of the 2018 season. He was 3-2 in two postseason appearances.
The Falcons were planning to announce an interim coach on Monday, likely pulling from a staff that includes former NFL head coaches Raheem Morris and Dirk Koetter.
Team president and CEO Rich McKay — who preceded Dimitroff as general manager — will take over control of football operations in the interim and assist Blank in the search for a new GM and coach.
“We are moving forward and will do everything we can to help this year’s team win as many games as possible while putting a strong plan in place to execute these important leadership searches with an eye to positioning the Falcons for success well into the future,” McKay said in a statement.
Quinn was hired by the Falcons in 2015 after a highly successful run as Seattle’s defensive coordinator, highlighted by two straight trips to the Super Bowl.
After going 8-8 his first season, Quinn guided the Falcons to one of the greatest years in team history. Featuring a dynamic offense led by Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman, the Falcons built a locker room camaraderie that Quinn called “The Brotherhood” while winning the NFC South with an 11-5 record.
With blowout wins over Seattle and Green Bay in the NFC playoffs, the Falcons were riding a huge wave of confidence heading to their first Super Bowl since the 1998 season. That carried right into the game against Brady’s Patriots, who fell behind by 25 points late in the third quarter while championship-starved fans back in Atlanta began prepping for a huge celebration.
Not so fast.
With one of the great performances in postseason history — and benefiting from questionable play calling by the Falcons — Brady led a comeback that forced overtime for the first time in a Super Bowl. The Patriots won the coin toss and marched right down the field for a touchdown that completed the 34-28 victory.
“I’ll probably never forget this,” Falcons safety Ricardo Allen said afterward. “It will always be haunting.”
Indeed it was, for Quinn and the entire organization.
The Falcons made the playoffs again the following year, losing to eventual Super Bowl champion Philadelphia, but never seemed to fully shake their Super Bowl debacle.
Poor starts the last two seasons led to 7-9 records that put Quinn’s job in jeopardy. Blank decided to bring back his coach for the 2020 season, as well as Dimitroff, saying it was important to maintain continuity and citing strong support for Quinn in the locker room.
The 54-year-old Dimitroff was one of the longest-tenured general managers in the NFL, hired by Atlanta in 2008 with the franchise in turmoil after Michael Vick’s dogfighting conviction and Bobby Petrino’s stunning departure after just 13 games as coach.
One of Dimitroff’s first decisions was perhaps his biggest: grabbing Ryan with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2008 draft. With Matty Ice taking over the starting quarterback job on Day 1, the Falcons ripped off five straight winning seasons, four playoff appearances and two division titles under coach Mike Smith.
It was an unprecedented run for a franchise that had never even managed consecutive winning seasons.
Dimitroff also was responsible for a blockbuster trade in 2011 that landed Jones, who became one of the NFL’s top receivers and joined Ryan as the franchise’s cornerstones.
Dimitroff kept his job when Smith was fired at the end of the 2014 season after two straight losing campaigns. Mired in another losing run, Blank restored McKay — who had mainly been involved in planning for a new retractable-roof stadium that opened in 2017 — to a more prominent role in football operations.
Blank hoped the organizational changes would spark a turnaround in 2020.
It didn’t work.
Now, much bigger changes are coming.