HOUSTON – Dan Quinn has not said “Row the boat” at a Super Bowl news conference. But the week isn’t over.
The head coach of the Atlanta Falcons speaks in single-serving sizes. He has learned that reciting the soliloquy from “Henry V” probably will not win him many games. Like new Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck, Quinn wields short motivational sayings and modern music the way old-school football coaches might use curses and punitive sprints.
“You know me,” Quinn said earlier this week. “I speak in bumper stickers.”
The second-year NFL coach who has taken the Falcons to their second Super Bowl in franchise history bears a resemblance to the two highest-profile football coaches in Minnesota.
Like the Vikings’ Mike Zimmer, he became a head coach after proving himself as a defensive coordinator beloved by his players.
Like Fleck, Quinn sounds as if he’s considering trademarking every sentence he speaks.
This week Fleck was able to spin the 12th-ranked recruiting class in the Big Ten as a success. He also went undefeated in the Mid-American Conference last season. His approach, though, has raised an important question for Minnesota:
Has sloganeering ever won big at a higher level of football? The previous Gophers coaches who sold themselves with catchy sayings were Jim Wacker and Tim Brewster. Both failed miserably, and Wacker had a couple of winning seasons at TCU in what was then a tough Southwest Conference.
Wacker wanted your corpuscles to jump. Brewster wanted you to swear an oath to Gopher Nation. Fleck wants your oars in the water.
Quinn is proof that in the right hands or larynxes, slogans can win hearts, minds and perhaps even games.
“He believes that you can work and have fun,” Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said. “I think he has created an environment for us as players where you love getting into the building, you love working hard and putting in the time. He’s big on the brotherhood, the camaraderie we have with each other.”
Quinn was the defensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks when they swamped the Broncos in one Super Bowl and came within one play of beating the Patriots in the next. His first Falcons team started 5-0 and faded, which sounds vaguely familiar, and his second became the second Falcons team ever to make it to the Super Bowl.
Quinn offers thoughts for each week to his players. He makes up T-shirts and hats. He plays fast music at practice to raise energy and pace.
Some of his favorite sayings: Do right longer. Iron sharpens iron. Do what we do.
He’s made up T-shirts saying “Arrive violently” and “Ready to ride, Dog.”
“He’s done a great job of week to week creating a message for us that’s relevant to our team, relevant to the opponent, relevant to what’s going on with our team at that time,” Ryan said. “It’s kind of like a rallying cry for that week. He’s done a great job of understanding our guys, understanding what situation we’re in and understanding what bumper sticker would be appropriate for that week.”
Credibility is worth 1,000 words. Anyone can produce slogans. Getting players to believe in the message and the messenger is the trick.
“When you become a head coach, how do you find those moments to connect with the players to make sure we’re looking out for you?” Quinn said. “It doesn’t happen overnight. I definitely wanted that to happen overnight, and it didn’t. It’s not easy to go through that, but it’s worth it. It is really important that we’re all connected, we all talk in the same way. There is no disconnect on our team.”
Casey Stengel said, “The secret of successful managing is to keep the five guys who hate you away from the four guys who haven’t made up their minds.”
In the NFL, the key to pleasing players is winning. Win, and player dissension becomes muted or irrelevant. Win, and a message as simple and silly as “Do what we do” sounds something like wisdom.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. email@example.com