I’ve long made it a practice to not pre-judge coaches. We’ve seen enough examples of guys who can win the press conference but lose on the field, and vice versa.
That said, the Falcons’ hiring of Dirk Koetter as offensive coordinator isn’t going to spark any block parties.
Koetter has been working for the Jacksonville Jaguars, who this season finished 32nd in total offense, 32nd in passing and 28th in scoring – which wouldn’t be so bad if the NFL had, say, 100 teams and not 32. The assumption in Flowery Branch must be that there’s only so much a coach can do with Blaine Gabbert.
Koetter has been a known candidate from the outset. The news of his hiring leaked out Sunday morning and later was confirmed by the Falcons, although Koetter said he was under instruction from the team not to comment.
The second sentence of Koetter’s bio in the Jacksonville media guide begins, “Known for his expertise of the passing offense …” In his first season as Jacksonville’s offensive coordinator in 2007, the Jaguars finished seventh in total offense, 17th in passing and sixth in scoring. That also was Mike Smith’s last season in Jacksonville, before he was hired as Falcons’ head coach.
But this is what has happened to the Jaguars’ offense since:
• 2008: 20th total offense (15th passing), 24th scoring.
• 2009: 18th total offense (19th passing), 24th scoring.
• 2010: 15th total offense (27th passing), 18th scoring.
• 2011: 32nd total offense (32nd passing), 28th scoring.
The Jaguars have had some obvious personnel deficiencies. The organization was a mess and head coach Jack Del Rio clearly had lost his effectiveness. But it’s safe to conclude Koetter was not viewed as anybody’s “hot” candidate.
Two factors may have played into this hiring: 1) Smith wanted somebody he is comfortable with, and in this case that’s somebody he has worked with; 2) The Falcons’ third straight immediate playoff exit has, for the first time, put some heat on Smith, and that perceived uncertainty sometimes affects a team’s ability to hire a high-profile candidate.
That said, Koetter had a solid offensive reputation when he was Arizona State’s head coach, and was viewed by some as one of the rising coaches early on at Jacksonville. As recently as July, an NFL.com blog on Koetter included this: “The Jaguars’ offensive coordinator is on the cusp of taking that next step [in coaching]. If he can continue to get what he has gotten out of Jacksonville’s offense without an abundance of talent, especially if he manages to get Blaine Gabbert ready to play despite this lockout, then a move up is imminent.”
It’s ironic that Koetter should come from the organization that just hired the Falcons’ recently maligned offensive coordinator, Mike Mularkey, as head coach. Mularkey might have been fired even if he had not gotten the Jacksonville job, given the predictability of the Falcons’ offense and the widely held belief that he did not fully utilize the weapons on the roster.
That’s on Koetter’s shoulders now. But it will be at least September before anybody is too excited.
By Jeff Schultz