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Former 49ers coach Steve Mariucci reflects on giving Dan Quinn his NFL shot

Steve Mariucci still laughs today when he reflects on how the scenario unfolded.

Back before the 2001 season, Mariucci, then the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, conducted numerous interviews for a defensive assistant/quality control coach position. He wanted someone willing to "grind" through the underappreciated aspects of NFL preparation.

The one person who stood out above both the veteran and inexperienced coaches interviewed was 30-year-old Dan Quinn, an assistant coach at the same Hofstra University (Hempstead, N.Y.) that produced then-49ers cornerback Lance Schulters and the team's 2000 third-round draft pick, quarterback Giovanni Carmazzi.

So Mariucci, obviously impressed with the energetic Quinn, prepared to offer him the job. Quinn was the defensive coordinator and defensive line coach at Hofstra at the time and still on the East Coast with his wife, Stacey.

"When he left the building, I told him, 'I'll call you tomorrow,' and I didn't call him back until very late at night," Mariucci said. "When I called him at like 10 o'clock at night, he picked up the phone and I said, 'Dan, this is Coach Mariucci. Can I talk to Stacey?' So he gave the phone to her.

"Then I said, 'Stacey, would you be excited about moving?' She had a job, so I said, 'Are you willing to move to the West Coast?' And she said, 'Absolutely I am, Coach.' Then I offered Dan the job. I wanted to make sure he was OK in moving cross country without leaving (her) behind or getting homesick. That's kind of how it all started."

Fourteen years later, Quinn is in his first season as a head coach and will take his 6-2 Atlanta Falcons out west Sunday to face the 49ers (2-6) -- the same franchise where he got his NFL start. Quinn really established his name as the Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator the last two seasons, winning a Super Bowl along the way.

"At that point, it wasn't like, 'We just hired a future head coach,'" Mariucci said. "Guys move up the ladder in their careers because they do a good job and what's expected of them at the lower levels. Then they take the next step as a position coach and do a good job. Then they become a coordinator and do a good job. Now, they have track record of doing well. That's been his resume and his path to becoming a head coach. He's done everything required."

Quinn's job requirements that initial year, according to Mariucci, included breaking down opponents and importing it into computer files, completing self-scouts by noting defensive tendencies, submitting draft-related evaluations, and assisting on the field with the defensive line.

"He was a workaholic-type guy," Mariucci said. "He was willing to learn our system and do whatever you asked him to do. He was just a perfect fit. He came in and certainly didn't disappoint. He just kept his nose down and was grinding.

"Another thing I really learned about him once he hit the ground was that he was a good evaluator. He sat with the coaches and scouts in the draft meetings and he could articulate evaluations very well. He was clear in his explanations of what he thought of a player's ability."

Naturally, Mariucci liked what he saw from Quinn on the field in his ability to teach the fundamentals. Quinn's daily approach never wavered. And just like he does now, Quinn would put on the cleats and get involved in drills alongside the players.

There was one other aspect that really caught Mariucci's attention during that first year.

"He was one of those guys who would run the bleachers before the game," Mariucci said. "I think he still does that, too. I'd be at the hotel watching the pre-game shows, and he'd be out there running the bleachers."

Mariucci was let go by the 49ers following the 2002 season, so he wasn't there to see Quinn ascend to San Francisco's defensive line coach in 2003. Mariucci did, however, want to hire Quinn when he became the Detroit Lions coach in 2003, but the 49ers wouldn't allow it.

Quinn and Mariucci maintain a close bond to this day. Quinn, who previously admitted to "wearing out" ex-49ers defensive coordinator and one-time Falcons head coach Jim Mora Jr. about that quality control position, never forgets to credit Mariucci for his development.

"It's nice to hear that, but he's the guy who did the work," Mariucci said. "I gave him a chance, like John Robinson gave me a chance with the Rams. I'm really proud of Dan. There's a couple guys I brought in that I watched grow, like Adam Gase (Chicago Bears offensive coordinator) and Jason Tarver (49ers linebackers coach).

"As you grow, you have to go through some adversity. You see that right now with Dan and the Falcons. But he's the right type of coach. He has the right personality to handle adversity. He's got that constant demeanor and is just pretty steady."