FLOWERY BRANCH – Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan couldn’t figure out why offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter repeatedly turned down his invitations for a round of golf.
The two needed to bond professionally and personally, and a golf course seemed to be the perfect place to lay the foundation for a mutually beneficial partnership.
But Koetter, hired by the Falcons in January, knew the young quarterback had a motive.
“He kept asking me to go golfing with him because he wanted to take my money,” Koetter said. “I was a little smarter than that. I just kept making excuses for why I couldn’t go.”
When told of Koetter’s dodging, Ryan put it together.
“No wonder he didn’t play with me,” Ryan said. “He must have been scared or something.”
While Koetter was careful not to play Ryan, who has a strong golf game, the two made it a point to extend their professional relationship into their respective personal lives.
After several team events and fundraisers, they fostered their relationship.
“I think that it was extremely important,” Ryan said. “You’ve got to know each other when you’re going into a game, you really do because Sundays kind of brings out everybody’s alter ego.
“You want to have that rapport to the point where you both know each other pretty well. I think we’ve done a great job of that. I feel very comfortable with Dirk, professionally and personally. I think both of those things help.”
Koetter wanted to make sure the relationship was sound.
“I think that it is real important that the quarterback and the play-caller are on the same page and can communicate,” Koetter said. “I think that’s one of Matt’s best traits. He’s a great communicator, and he can tell me what he likes and doesn’t like and why. Yet he’s still open to coaching.”
As a rookie in 2008, Ryan played immediately under former offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey and quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave. When Musgrave left to become Minnesota’s offensive coordinator after the 2010 season, Bob Bratkowski became the quarterbacks coach.
Last season, under Mularkey and Bratkowski, Ryan passed for a franchise-record 4,177 yards and tossed a career-high 29 touchdown passes. He also had the most attempts (571) and completions (357) in team history.
So finding the proper coaches when Murlarkey and Bratkowski left for Jacksonville, was very important for Ryan’s continued development.
Falcons coach Mike Smith felt that Koetter, whom he worked with for one season (2007) in Jacksonville, was a perfect fit for the job.
If the exhibition season is any indication, Koetter and Ryan appear set to re-write more franchise records. Ryan was third in the NFL in passing yards, playing in only three of four games.
“I’m very impressed with how quickly they’ve gotten on the same page,” Smith said. “The one thing I think about both Matt and Dirk is they’re very collaborative.”
Koetter has been rather flexible with Ryan.
“Even though he’s a proven player, he’s open to the way I see it and my experiences,” Koetter said. “It’s been a give-and-take relationship. We’ll see how it plays out, but I’m happy with where it’s at.”
Ryan believes that the time spent away from the team was very important.
“We had a number of different events that we went to with and for the Falcons where we got to spend some time away from football and got to know each other,” Ryan said. “I’ve met his family. They all seem very, very nice. He’s a family guy, which is one of his best attributes.
“Just a number of different things, seeing him outside of the facility, outside of the football arena, both of us got a good feel for each other. I think those kinds of personal relationships help. Having good personal relationships, a good locker room and a good mix among the coaching staff and players is important.”
Ryan needed some new friends, too. The personnel in the quarterback meeting room has been overhauled since his rookie season.
“I’m thankful for all of the people that I’ve worked with before because they’ve certainly helped me get to the point where I’m at,” Ryan said. “But I like the new guys that we have around, too.”
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