Before Terrell Suggs turned in to a terror for the Baltimore Ravens, he played for Falcons new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter at Arizona State in 2001 and 2002.
Our buddy Jason Butt, a former Falcons beat writer from the University of Georgia who now covers the Baltimore Ravens for CBSSports.com, asked Suggs about Koetter for us.
“He’s very inventive,” Suggs said. “He had a lot of practices based on stopping me. I think I ruined a lot of his practices. I got pulled out of a lot of his practices because I was ballin’ in college. But he’s a good coach. He’s going to be good for Atlanta.”
Here’s the Koetter story, where others, including Eagles head coach Andy Reid and ESPN analyst Merril Hoge, checked in with us about the Falcons new offensive coordinator.
FLOWERY BRANCH — Back in 1985, Dirk Koetter decided to leave the small town of Pocatello, Idaho, to chase his dream of one day becoming like his father.
He was 26, four years past his college playing days at Idaho State. He had coached a few years in high school before going to San Francisco State to work on a three-man staff with head coach Vic Rowen and Andy Reid.
“Going to San Francisco was an eye-opener,” Koetter said.
He made his adjustment to the big city by burying himself in the playbooks that lined the shelves of the football office.
“We had a decent office,” said Reid, who now coaches the Philadelphia Eagles. “[Rowen] had playbooks from all over the country. We were well-educated.”
Determined to follow in the path of his father, Jim, an Idaho coaching legend, Koetter set off on a journey that led to him being hired last Sunday as the Falcons’ new offensive coordinator.
Reid and Koetter would stay together for nine years, going on to coach together at Texas-El Paso and Missouri.
“He was the coordinator, and I was the line coach,” Reid said. “We worked hand-in-hand. I’ve got a few years with Dirk, and we’re good friends.”
They both recall their start with Rowen as a vital first step in the profession.
“He was a great coach of coaches,” Reid said. “A lot of guys came out of there and moved on to nice college jobs and into the pros. He taught us well.”
While some questioned the Falcons’ hiring of Koetter because Jacksonville’s offense ranked 32nd in the NFL in total offense last season, Reid believes the move was a stroke of genius.
“I would tell you that No. 1, he’s brilliant,” Reid said. “He’s got a great offensive mind.”
Koetter watched his father coach in high school and then at Idaho State. Things didn’t go well at Idaho State, and the elder Koetter was fired after posting a 23-32-1 record from 1983-87. When his dad went to coach at another local high school, Koetter’s respect for him grew even greater.
“At this point in my career, I’ve seen a lot of coaches on a lot of levels, and my dad is one of the top two or three coaches that I’ve come across,” Koetter said. “He’s a better coach than I’ll ever be.”
Koetter studied his father’s organizational skills, how he handled people and the offseason weightlifting program he implemented before that was in vogue.
“I knew I wanted to be like him,” Koetter said.
The elder Koetter is 73. He and Koetter’s mother, Barbara, still live in Pocatello. They watch Koetter’s games on satellite television.
“I’m sure they’ll be signing up to get all of the Falcons games now,” Koetter said.
One of Koetter’s first star pupils was Merril Hoge, at Highland High in Pocatello, where Koetter was his offensive coordinator.
“He was forced to run the Wing-T,” Hoge said. “He doesn’t tell anybody that. In the first offense he coordinated, his halfback threw more touchdowns than his quarterback, and that was me. He’ll never share that. He’ll keep that a secret for the rest of his days, but I love him.”
Hoge went on to play for the elder Koetter at Idaho State. He played eight seasons in the NFL after being selected in the 10th round by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1987.
“Him and his dad are two of the greatest football minds that I’ve been around,” said Hoge, currently an ESPN analyst. “I throw Chuck Noll into that category along with Ron Erhardt, Tom Moore and Bill Cowher.”
He credits the Koetters for his professional career.
“I knew the pro game,” Hoge said. “I knew how to pass block. I knew how to run routes. … We were doing pro-style stuff in college and high school.”
After his stay at Missouri, Koetter was hired by Tom Coughlin to be Boston College’s offensive coordinator in 1994. They never worked together because Coughlin left to become the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Former Falcons coach Dan Henning succeeded Coughlin, and Koetter worked for him.
Years later, when Coughlin was in Arizona to play the Cardinals and Koetter was the head coach at Arizona State, he apologized to Koetter for hiring him and then bolting for Jacksonville.
After his Boston College stop, Koetter went to Oregon and later landed his first head coaching job at Boise State, where he laid the foundation for the Broncos’ present-day success with back-to-back 10-win seasons and two bowl trips.
“We got that Boise State thing going,” Koetter said. “I was the head coach there for three years and had an awesome staff. When I left, Dan Hawkins took it. Dan had been on my staff. Chris Peterson and I were together at Oregon. Chris took it from Hawk.”
He left Boise State for Arizona State, where his offenses continued to put up big statistics, but couldn’t topple the powers of the Pac-10, now the Pac-12. His 2-19 record against ranked opponents was cited as one of the reasons for his firing in 2006.
The next year, he was hired as Jacksonville’s offensive coordinator.
Talent on hand
One undercurrent to Koetter’s career is that he has never had top-shelf talent.
“He’s got more out of nothing than I’ve ever seen,” Hoge said.
While the Falcons appear set to revamp their offensive line, Koetter has never had the collection of offensive stars that he will have at his disposal with the Falcons — tight end Tony Gonzalez, wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones, running back Michael Turner, fullback Ovie Mughelli, right tackle Tyson Clabo and quarterback Matt Ryan.
“People don’t realize that the quarterback they had in Jacksonville last year [Blaine Gabbert] was horrible,” Hoge said. “It’s hard to coach somebody who’s scared.”
Koetter looks forward to the challenge.
“How everything fits together, that will be stuff that we’ll be working on,” Koetter said.
–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog