Dallas Cowboys Give COVID-Coach Dan Quinn 'Cool' Night in The Crescent City

NEW ORLEANS - It was a one-night stand in the Big Easy, and Dan Quinn loved every minute of it and could have till a quarter to three.

The Dallas Cowboys' defensive coordinator -- fired as the Atlanta Falcons' head coach after an 0-5 start last season -- was a head coach again on a one-game interim basis with regular head coach Mike McCarthy out due to COVID-19. And Quinn helped direct a 27-17 victory over the New Orleans Saints Thursday night in the Louisiana Superdome.

Quinn was much happier than he was, say, on Feb. 5, 2017, when his Falcons lost that 28-3 lead over New England in Super Bowl LI and lost the game 34-28.

"One thing you guys have heard me say before is that I love doing hard things with a group of people," Quinn -- the Cowboys' defensive coordinator by day -- gushed after a game in which his unit intercepted four passes -- the most by Dallas since 2010.

"And this is one of those moments," he said. "We have great people to get the job done."

Actually, he didn't have a lot of those people. In addition to McCarthy, five Dallas assistants -- offensive line coach Joe Philbin, assistant offensive line coach Jeff Blasko, strength and conditioning coach Harold Nash, assistant strength and conditioning coach Kendall Smith and general assistant Scott Tolzien -- were not at the game due to COVID-19 protocols.

So, Quinn embraced the opportunity and could not mask his emotions.

"I wanted to make sure Mike and all the guys who missed knew we have their back," Quinn said. "That was the only thing I was nervous about. I didn't want to have to say, 'Hey, here's your car keys, Mike. Sorry I screwed it up.'"

McCarthy and the other COVID coaches were able to help prepare the team for the game through various video forms throughout the week.

"We weren't going to make shit up and change things," Quinn said. "I didn't want to let Mike down. It was just a cool win."

And Quinn proceeded to use the word "cool" 12 times in all during the jubilant press conference.

"I do love coaching," he said. "I would say it's a pretty cool feeling knowing there's a whole group of people who have your back. That's one of the messages we told the team."

The Cowboys (8-4) had lost two straight and three of their last four, but their defense dominated the MASH unit known as the Saints' offense, which was missing star running back Alvin Kamara for the fourth straight game along with starting offensive tackles Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk.

Dallas' defense had six tackles for loss with two sacks of versatile quarterback Taysom Hill in his first starting role since last season. Previous starter Trevor Siemian had lost the last four starts after replacing Jameis Winston, who was lost for the season with a knee injury against Tampa Bay on Oct. 31. That was the last time the Saints (5-7) won.

New Orleans outgained Dallas' still troubled offense 405 to 377, but the four interceptions made up for that.

Defensive tackle Carlos Watkins (6-foot-3, 305) returned one such interception 29 yards for a touchdown and a 27-10 lead with 2:52 to play. When Quinn was Florida's defensive coordinator in 2011 and '12 under coach Will Muschamp, he recruited Watkins out of Chase High in Forest City, N.C., but lost him to Clemson.

"Any time you see one of the big guys rumbling and bumbling," Quinn smiled. "I'm certain it was not under five seconds. But it was a really cool play."

But strong safety Jayron Kearse had the most spectacular pick -- an acrobatic theft that was so cool that it was not Hill's fault.

"That play was designed for that exact coverage," Hill said. "But that's one that I'm not going to beat myself up over."

It was all Kearse's uncanny ability. It was also the most critical. The Saints were about to tie or take the lead near the two-minute warning of the first half with Dallas leading 10-7.

Hill, who was not yet fully feeling the sting of a middle finger on his throwing hand that he jammed in the first quarter, had just completed 4 of 5 passes for 49 yards to get the Saints to a first down at the Cowboys' 26-yard line. Then Kearse turned the game around.

"That was a significant play," Saints coach Sean Payton said.

Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott took it from there for a 79-yard drive in 12 plays for a 34-yard field goal by Greg Zuerlein as time expired for a 13-7 halftime lead.

The Cowboys stretched it to 20-10 late in the third quarter on a 58-yard touchdown run by Tony Pollard, and Hill threw interceptions on three straight Saints' possessions in the fourth quarter for the loss. Cornerback Trevon Diggs and free safety Damontae Kazee had the other two picks.

"To have that kind of resiliency tonight," Quinn said. "I thought it was cool. It was just cool to have a good team win."

Wide receiver Amari Cooper returned from a bout with COVID himself and caught a 41-yard pass to the Saints' 36-yard line to set up a touchdown in the first quarter for a 7-0 lead.

"What a cool way for Amari to reconnect and get back in," Quinn said. "It was very cool to see the big play happen for him. Welcome back."

Running back Ezekiel Elliott, who over the past week was not expected to play by some circles because of a recurring knee injury, rushed 13 times for 45 yards. Quinn was not asked about Elliott, but I'm betting if he had been, he would've said it was "cool."

Prescott was hot before the game in light of the losing skid.

"Some of it, we can repeat," Quinn said. "Some of it, we can't. It was about how we needed to attack. It's pretty cool when you see guys living in unity. It was really cool to see."

Prescott finished with 26 completions in 40 attempts for 238 yards with a touchdown and just one interception.

McCarthy left a cool message for his team from a nearby hotel, where he watched the game.

"He just said, 'Don't let what's going on right now (with the COVID absentees) affect what we have going on,'" linebacker Michael Parsons said. "At the end of the day, we're leaving New Orleans 8-4. That's what we did for Coach Mike. I'm pretty sure Coach Mike's smiling from his hotel room right now and looking forward to being back with us on Monday."

McCarthy is expected to be back on the sidelines along with the other missing assistants when Dallas next plays on Dec. 12 at Washington (5-6). Quinn will be back upstairs in the coaching suites.

"I'm hopeful you guys won't see me again," he said. "It was fun because it was that kind of emotional game. It was good being in the moment, but I'm glad to give the keys back to Mike."



Written by
Guilbeau joined OutKick as an SEC columnist in September of 2021 after covering LSU and the Saints for 17 years at USA TODAY Louisiana. He has been a national columnist/feature writer since the summer of 2022, covering college football, basketball and baseball with some NFL, NBA, MLB, TV and Movies and general assignment, including hot dog taste tests. A New Orleans native and Mizzou graduate, he has consistently won Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) and Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) awards since covering Alabama and Auburn at the Mobile Press-Register (1993-98) and LSU and the Saints at the Baton Rouge Advocate (1998-2004). In 2021, Guilbeau won an FWAA 1st for a game feature, placed in APSE Beat Writing, Breaking News and Explanatory, and won Beat Writer of the Year from the Louisiana Sports Writers Association (LSWA). He won an FWAA columnist 1st in 2017 and was FWAA's top overall winner in 2016 with 1st in game story, 2nd in columns, and features honorable mention. Guilbeau completed a book in 2022 about LSU's five-time national champion coach - "Everything Matters In Baseball: The Skip Bertman Story" - that is available at www.acadianhouse.com, Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble outlets. He lives in Baton Rouge with his wife, the former Michelle Millhollon of Thibodaux who previously covered politics for the Baton Rouge Advocate and is a communications director.