First-year special teams coordinator Keith O’Quinn has moved through the coaching ranks the old-fashioned way.
He started at the bottom and worked his way up.
O’Quinn, who takes over for Rich Bisaccia (who left for the same position with the Raiders in January), is no stranger to the Dallas Cowboys. He was Bisaccia’s assistant the past four seasons and before that coached the wide receivers in 2013. O’Quinn got his start in the NFL with the Cowboys’ scouting department in 2006. He left for a one-year stint as the Browns director of pro personnel but returned to the Cowboys in 2010.
“Everyone was mad at me for a while but I had to take advantage of the opportunity,” O’Quinn said of his families’ reaction to the brief move to Cleveland. “I enjoy being a part of this organization. And I came back as soon as I could. This is my home, Dallas, Texas.”
Texas is definitely home for O’Quinn, who grew up in San Antonio, attended San Antonio Madison High School before playing football at North Texas. He got his start in coaching at Argyle Liberty and had stints at multiple schools in DFW, coaching football and serving as head baseball coach at Dallas Adams and Kaufman. He also coached tight ends at Abilene Christian for three years.
His former special teams coach at North Texas, Jeff Ireland, hired him as a pro scout for the Cowboys in 2006.
“My mindset was if you’re going to do something, you want to do it at the highest level,” O’Quinn said. “You never know what that is. You just work to progress and as opportunities present themselves you take advantage of them.”
Evaluating talent as a scout serves him well on the field as a coach, O’Quinn said.
“The carryover from personnel to coaching was a huge advantage for me. A big part of what we do is the evaluation process,” he said. That eye for talent is already helping him piece together who to best utilize on special teams in 2018.
“By and large, those guys we drafted and the free agent signings, they’re a bunch of guys who seem really mature,” he said. Among the rookies he expects to see play vital roles on special teams are linebacker Leighton Vander Esch and tight end Dalton Schultz.
That’s what Schultz wants to hear.
“I’m trying to do all I can. Especially on the punt return stuff, I feel like I can shine there,” said Schultz, whose girlfriend just had their first child, Theodore James, last week. “I’m really looking forward to it. At this level, you watch the special teams play, it’s balls out, pure effort. Coach O’Quinn is awesome. He knows his stuff.”
Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said the plan to move O’Quinn into the special teams coordinator role was in the works five years ago.
“A few years ago we put him into that assistant special teams role really with the idea that, ‘learn this, get good at it and there’s going to be an opportunity for you down the road.’ ” Garrett said. “He really embraced every part of it, really was a strong contributor to our staff and to our team the last few years in that role. And then we had the opportunity to move him up and he’s done a heck of a job.”
O’Quinn’s background in scouting, Garrett said, has served him well.
“There’s a lot of players in special teams, whether they’re on your team or other teams that you’re playing against, what are their strength and weaknesses, and he’s very good at that,” Garrett said. “He does a good job with understanding where to put guys to maximize their strengths and limit some of their weaknesses.”
Not bad for a former high school baseball coach.
“The knowledge is there,” Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey said. “Special teams coaches usually carry that fiery attitude, but that’s not really his persona. He’s just a personable guy but he has high expectations for everyone.”