Community has always been part of Dan Quinn’s life. Having five older siblings and going to Mass regularly from his youth have prepared him for his present-day coaching duties. As the defensive coordinator for the NFC West-leading Seattle Seahawks, Quinn uses, on a daily basis, what he has learned from his family and faith.
The connectedness Quinn values so highly has also been helpful in his marriage. The 43-year-old Morristown, N.J., native has benefitted from the support of his wife, Stacey. She has been with him over the years as he has moved from coast to coast for coaching changes.
Dan Quinn spoke with Register correspondent Trent Beattie.
With their best start ever to a season (10-1), the Seahawks are often spoken of as having a great chance of winning the Super Bowl. Yet how is the team approaching the season?
We have a really great team and coaching staff. I was privileged to work with Head Coach Pete Carroll in his first season with the Seahawks in 2010, and, after a good two-year stint with the University of Florida Gators, I’m happy to be back with the Seahawks.
As a team, we’re not talking about the Super Bowl right now; our primary goal is to own the NFC West. After that, we can move on to bigger things. Whether it’s the Super Bowl or anything else, you have to do it one step at a time, so we emphasize staying (in) the moment. That helps to maximize effort and concentration on the task at hand.
It sounds like the philosophy of former University of Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne and former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden: If you prepare as well as you can and execute as well as you can, the results will take care of themselves.
After his tenure with the New England Patriots, Coach Carroll looked into John Wooden’s philosophy and was very influenced by it. That’s what helped him to build up the football program at USC. He wanted to have a coaching staff that genuinely cared about the players as human beings and wanted them to be in a position to succeed.
When everyone is on the same page and actually enjoys being part of the team, then you can do great things. Of course, talent is important, but the most connected teams are the ones that do well. Really, every good team I’ve been a part of has had that connectedness. Games really can be won in the locker room before they’re won on the field.
You’re the youngest of six children. Sometimes the youngest is pampered; other times, pummeled. Which was it in your case?
Four of my five older siblings are brothers, so that should answer the question. Like most boys, we could treat each other pretty roughly, and being the youngest, I certainly didn’t escape from my share of bruises.
However, there is a real advantage to being the youngest, in that you can learn from the successes and failures of your older siblings. My brothers had gone through so many athletic experiences by the time I started in football, baseball and hockey. I felt very much at home when my time to play came.
Was the Catholic faith an important part of your upbringing?
Yes, Sunday Mass was a regular part of our week. It was seen in our family as it is seen by the Church: not optional, but necessary. My father insisting that we go to Mass was such a great blessing to me, because it laid the foundation for living life as God wants it to be lived. Giving God one hour of our time is nothing compared to what he gives us back in the Mass.
Regular Sunday Mass attendance helped me to understand coaching better. The importance of structure, discipline and fraternity were clear in church, and they were also made clear to me in athletics. When you have a set routine that you stick to as a family or a team, it is so much easier to get things accomplished.
It’s also necessary to take time every day to step back, think and pray. Reflecting on what’s happened, what you’d like to happen, how to get there — all in the context of God’s will — helps you to see things in their proper perspective. When you take the time to think and pray, then you make the right moves in life, rather than just reacting to things as they come up.
Connecting with God is the way to gain wisdom. In Sirach (6:37), it says: “Reflect on the statutes of the Lord, and meditate at all times on his commandments. It is he who will give insight to your mind, and your desire for wisdom will be granted.”
How did you get started coaching?
One year after completing my playing career at Salisbury State College, which is now Salisbury University, I started as a college defensive-line coach. I coached at three schools before going to work for Head Coach Steve Mariucci and the San Francisco 49ers in 2001.
That was a great experience for me, on many levels. At the time they hired me, I was only 30 years old and thought that I knew some things about football. Well, working with Coach Mariucci, not to mention Bill Walsh and Terry Donahue (who were both in administrative roles with the 49ers at the time), was a wonderful experience. I was blessed to learn from some great coaches.
That was so helpful, not only from a football standpoint, but from an overall life standpoint, as well. You’re reminded that humility is needed to learn new things and grow beyond your current capacity. John Wooden liked to say that, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”
You’ve had a good number of Catholic colleagues, right?
Being part of a team is great, and going to Mass with others on the team raises it to another level. It seems that ever since I started coaching, there have always been some faithful Catholics around me. I learned early on that being centered on God brings you stability in what can be a very unstable (constantly changing) line of work, and that there are so many lessons you can learn from being Catholic that carry over into the work world.
It reminds me of my father, who actually went to Mass every morning before going to work. He saw Mass as a regular part of his day, and I think it helped him fulfill his duties as a husband and father.
My parents’ dedication in over 50 years of marriage has helped in my marriage as well. My wife, Stacey, and I have been married for over 18 years. What has also helped our marriage is Stacey’s selflessness and supportiveness. She has been with me through all the moves, from team to team, over the years.
What’s the toughest part of your job?
The toughest thing is when 85 guys come into training camp and only 53 will make the active roster. It’s great to work with young guys out of college in order to help them realize their potential. You start to develop strong bonds with them, but at the end of the day, they can’t all stick around. That’s really tough.
I still enjoy my job tremendously, though. Guiding players and helping them to develop, then putting them in a position to succeed — that’s great fun, and it’s something I’ve been prepared for by my Catholic upbringing. When you come from a large family and are part of a church community, one major thing is made clear: It’s not all about you. That realization is essential to doing well and being happy in life — whether it’s on a football team or any other place.
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the National Catholic Register and is reprinted here with kind permission.