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Clayton: Former Seahawks assistant Dan Quinn has been the right man in charge for Atlanta

Former Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has led Atlanta to the Super Bowl in his second season. (AP)

One of the central figures in Super Bowl LI is Falcons coach Dan Quinn.

As much everyone talks about the seven Super Bowl appearances shared by Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, Quinn has been in three of the past four, two as the Seahawks’ defensive coordinator. Despite having a secondary decimated by injuries as Super Bowl XLIX progressed, Seattle’s defense under Quinn did enough against the Patriots to put the Seahawks in position to win a second ring. The ill-faded interception to Malcolm Butler instead of a run left the Seahawks one yard and one play short of winning the game.

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Quinn’s challenge now is to get an entire organization in Atlanta into the right Super Bowl mindset against a Patriots team that is used to being here. On his side is an elite quarterback (Matt Ryan), an offensive coordinator (Kyle Shanahan) coming off one of the best play-calling seasons in recent years and a defense in which some of the young players are starting to gel.

Getting an inexperienced Super Bowl team ready isn’t easy. Shanahan, for example, almost lost his playbook and game plan when a writer accidentally picked up his backpack at Monday’s media night. Whoops.

One of the tough parts of maintaining success in the NFL is that Super Bowl teams lose quality players and coaches. The salary cap prevents teams from keeping all core-group players. Struggling opponents fire coaches and look to the good teams for replacement.

Though the Seahawks still have been good on defense since Quinn’s departure, you can see that some of his presence has been missed. Even as a defensive coordinator, Quinn was exceptional at developing defensive linemen.

The current Seahawks staff does a good job. Look at how Frank Clark improved from his rookie year to his second. Quinn was particularly good at having defensive linemen use their hands. In doing that, he really helped develop inside pass-rushers. Michael Bennett has become one of the best defenders in the NFL. Clinton McDonald was another example.

What Quinn brought to the Falcons is so much of Pete Carroll’s leadership and ability to create a great environment for players to compete in big games. Like Carroll, Quinn keeps the music piped up to increase practice intensity. He tries to preach to players that big games aren’t different than those against losing teams.

In his first year in Atlanta, the Falcons jumped out to a fast start by winning games against NFC East teams with fourth-quarter comebacks. Then they hit a mid-season slump and went on a bad losing streak. Quinn got the team to finish strong and end with an 8-8 first-year record. This year, the Falcons went 11-5 and finished as the No. 2 seed.

Quinn bailed out a struggling Falcons franchise that went on the skids from 2012 to 2015.

“You have to have the right leader,’’ general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. “It’s just a matter of staying the course and believing what you want to do. Luckily, I had a partner in Dan who was very into that. We were working together lock-step, spent a lot of time coming together with our philosophies and we created our vision statements for everything in football operations.”

Quinn was the right leader.

Want more John Clayton? Listen on-demand to his weekday and Saturday shows as well as his “Cold Hard Facts” and “Clayton’s Morning Drive” segments on 710 ESPN Seattle. Also, check out his all-new “Schooled” podcast and look for his columns twice a week on

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