On January 15th of 2012 the Atlanta Falcons officially opened the offseason, by replacing former offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, with former Jacksonville Jaguars offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. The move has perplexed many and has been a source of controversy. Many feel that Owner Arthur Blank and General Manager Thomas Dimitroff didn’t hold their word by bringing in Koetter. In truth they did, and despite finishing with the worst offense in the NFL last season Koetter was the best choice for Atlanta, and quite possibly the best candidate available. To understand this we have to go back to Koetter’s time with the Jaguars, a journey that began in 2007.
At that time Koetter had just been terminated from the position of Head Coach at Arizona State University, and the Jaguars were looking for someone to take their offense to the next level. Having finished 10th during the 2006 campaign, Koetter was expected to come in and help turn the Jags into a perennial offensive powerhouse. Highly regarded as a vertical passing genius, Koetter soon helped the Jags to 7th ranked offense in the NFL and a playoff birth; where they won the wild card game against the Steelers, but were bounced by the then undefeated Patriorts in the divisional round. During the season Koetter had inherited a team with 2 young talented pieces, Marcedes Lewis, and Maurice Jones-Drew. These two would become a testament in later years to Koetter’s developmental skills and offensive mind.
The 2008 season was a complete 180 from the successful 2007 campaign, the Jags finished 5-11, part in due to a string of injuries and one tragic accident that inflicted the offensive line. Both starting Guards for the Jags went down in the first quarter of the first game and didn’t return for the rest of the season. On September 2nd, 2008 the Jags suffered a tremendous setback, OT Richard Collier was shot 14 times. Collier survived but was paralyzed from the waist down. David Garrard also struggled through the year as it became clear that he was not the end all be all for Jacksonville. In 2009 Gene Smith was brought in as General Manager to help get the Jags on track but his first draft was an utter failure. Only recently has OT Eugene Monroe started to pay dividends and Eben Britton has had injury issues along with poor play. 4th round pick Mike Thomas is currently the teams #1 WR. He showed promise in 2010, but his play dropped off dramatically after getting a new deal from the Jaguars. The Jaguars decline into mediocrity continued, hitting rock bottom in 2011.
That offseason the Jaguars selected Quarterback Blaine Gabbert in the first round, deciding to part ways with tenured starter David Garrard. Gabbert initally started the season behind veteran journeyman Luke McCown. After a string of unsuccesful starts and posting the lowest QB rating in Jags history (1.8), McCown was benched in favor of the rookie Gabbert. Gabbert never had the tools to succeed with, RT Guy Whimper was abused week in and week out by opposing DEs, and the Jags WR corp consisted of Mike Thomas, Kasim Osgood, Cecil Shorts, and Taylor Price by the seasons end. Osgood for the most part of his career had been a ST player, was the Jags #2 reciever, Cecil Shorts was also a rookie late round pick, while Taylor Price was a Patriots reject picked up mid-season.
To put it simply Koetter never had the tools to succeed with in Jacksonville, the talent only got worse with each passing year, and ultimately he was fired from the position after the 2011 season. However, he did help transform Maurice Jones-Drew into a premier NFL running back. Many people had passed on him due to his height (5’7″), but he quickly proved the doubters wrong, and Coach Koetter was a key player in his success, as well as the development of TE Marcedes Lewis who is the best receiving threat the Jaguars currently have. To say Koetter was completely responsible for the Jags offensive woes is incorrect, he simply lacked the talent to develop the vertical passing game that he was known for in the college ranks. Koetter was criticized for being extremely predictable during his last season with the Jags, but how extravagant can you get when your #2 Wide Reciever was a former career ST player. It also didn’t help that the Jags had an astonishing 21 players on injured reserve, several of them being offensive players.
Here in Atlanta Koetter has all the tools to be successful; he has Julio Jones and Roddy White at wideout, a future hall of famer in Tony Gonzalez at TE, a great young QB in Matt Ryan, and a bulldozer in Michael Turner, as well as a great 3rd down piece in Jacquizz Rodgers. Atlanta’s offense was stagnant vertically, part due to the Oline and part due to inexperience with the system. Dirk Koetter brings the experience needed with the vertical passing game to Atlanta. Along with the belief that Atlanta’s main target this offseason is to address the porous Oline, Koetter should be able to help the Falcons develop their vertical passing game as well as their screen game. In Atlanta Koetter will have the tools necessary to install the offense he’s always wanted to.
Here’s an interesting piece of trivia for you. In 2005 the San Francisco 49ers finished 31st in total offense. Their Offensive Coordinator that year; Mike McCarthy. The same Mike McCarthy that has brought a golden age to the Green Bay Packers, winning a Super Bowl in 2010, and going 15-1 during 2011 before a quick exit from the playoffs. The Packers offense is considered the measuring stick in the NFL, Aaron Rodgers is setting a torrid pace in terms of statistics, and Mike McCarthy is being hailed as a genius. in 2005 the 49ers had a rookie QB by the name of Alex Smith, a WR corp featuring no one of prominence and were lead in terms of offense by rookie RB Frank Gore. Eerily similar circumstances to the ones Koetter had during his final year as Jaguars offensive coordinator. Not that this is an indicator of Koetter’s potential success/failure, but it does go to show that the numbers don’t always reflect the man calling and designing the plays.
Ultimately Atlanta’s top choices were Brian Schottenheimer, the former Jets coordinator who had been fired for the same exact reasons many wanted Mularkey gone in the first place, Brian Billick; Coach Mike Smith’s brother-in-law and the famous conductor of the 1998 Vikings, but has been out of the league for nearly 5 years and hasn’t been a coordinator for a decade, and Dirk Koetter a man who’s scheme and mind was bogged down by the lack of talent. It may not be the “sexy” big name hire everyone wanted, but it’s the hired that made the most sense, and fit Atlanta the best, and that’s why everyone needs to give Koetter his fair shot.