Ranking the Falcons’ best Dan Quinn replacement candidates if Atlanta fires head coach

Dan Quinn coached the Falcons to Super Bowl 51 after the 2016 NFL season. Less than four years later, after two missed playoff seasons at 7-9 and an 0-3 start in 2020, Quinn’s tenure in Atlanta is in jeopardy.

Quinn took over for Mike Smith, who went 66-46 with four playoff trips over seven seasons. Working on his sixth season, Quinn is 43-40 with one NFC South title and one wild-card berth.

Although Falcons owner Arthur Blank has proved he is patient with his coach and may not be one who likes to fire his coach in midseason, there’s no doubt he is closer to considering another change after the Falcons turned almost certain victories into sure defeats against the Cowboys and the Bears the past two weeks. The Falcons like playing for Quinn, but in a bottom-line business, unfortunately, the results haven’t been there, especially on defense for the defensive-minded Quinn.

With the Jets, Lions and Texans among those franchises who might also be looking for new coaches for 2021, the Falcons would have stiff competition for top candidates. Here’s our ranking of their best potential replacements for Quinn:

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1. Eric Bieniemy, Chiefs offensive coordinator

Bieniemy, 51, is waiting patiently for his first head-coaching gig as the latest top protegee of Andy Reid. The Chiefs’ deep Super Bowl 54 run may have taken him out of the mix for some teams who couldn’t wait. Given his work with Patrick Mahomes, he is overdue for a shot. The Falcons could consider either offense or defense as the speciality of their next head coach, as they need to play better complementary football, period.

2. Joe Woods, Browns defensive coordinator

Woods, 50, did great work on the 49ers’ staff under former Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan before being elevated in Cleveland, where his influence already has been seen in the run defense and pass rush. He brings a good combination of experience and energy. He can bring a fresh perspective to the defense and also knows how important a run-effective offense is.

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3. Robert Saleh, 49ers defensive coordinator

Saleh, 41, continues to have a lot of outside appeal. He is ripe to be plucked from Shanahan’s staff and use his pep and motivational skills to pump up an entire team. He has the likeability of Quinn and has some of the same defensive scheme sensibilities, so he would appeal to the players in that sense of the transition.

4. Byron Leftwich, Buccaneers offensive coordinator 

The former Marshall quarterback and Jaguars first-rounder has found a great second NFL career at 40. He’s learned well under Bruce Arians and is now being influenced by the GOAT, Tom Brady. He’s got youth on his side and can have a great influence on Matt Ryan in maximizing his elite 11 personnel of Juilo Jones, Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage.

5. Matt Eberflus, Colts defensive coordinator

Eberflus, 50, keeps raising his game working under Frank Reich as his unit is the big reason why the team is 3-1. He is another coach like Woods with a lot of college and NFL experience as a motivator and tactician. HIs intensity would be a welcome asset in Atlanta, especially for the defense.

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6. Kevin O’Connell, Rams offensive coordinator

Insert “how is he connected to Sean McVay?” hotshot young coaching candidate semi-joke here. O’Connell is only 35 but he has some Matt LaFleur- and Zac Taylor-potential in taking over another team well. He is very organized and experienced and his time bouncing around as a NFL QB on multiple offenses can be good for Ryan.

7. Patrick Graham, Giants defensive coordinator

Here’s how the Falcons can bark up the Bill Belichick tree. Graham, a 41-year-old Yale product, has turned his several years in New England into strong gigs with the Packers, Dolphins and now Giants again. He is doing a great job with their big defensive changes, even with some key holes. Graham’s smarts and winning experience can’t be denied.

8. Joe Brady, Panthers offensive coordinator

Brady cut his teeth as a Saints offensive assistant under Sean Payton before getting the best collegiate QB season ever out of Joe Burrow at LSU. He’s off to a hot start in Carolina, showing he can coach Teddy Bridgewater to good things even without Christian McCaffrey. The Falcons should at least consider the 31-year-old who has been making noise elsewhere in the division. They could see him as another Shanahan, for sure.

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