Dirk Koetter a big reason for Falcons’ early success

Dirk Koetter has been drawing up plays since he was eight years old. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Dirk Koetter has been drawing up plays since he was 8 years old. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Some parents keep finger paintings from when their children were young. Some keep report cards or little league trophies. The Koetters of Pocatello, Idaho, kept a scrap of paper with an offensive formation that little Dirk scribbled when he was 8 years old.

“He has all the players lined up right and everything,” Jim Koetter said by phone. “They’re all going in the right direction. It’s hanging on the wall in the basement.”

The Falcons are 7-0 in this season. Dirk Koetter is one reason why. The team’s new offensive coordinator is doing imaginative things with the same players that Mike Mularkey too often hit a wall with. As it turns out, it pays not to be predictable. Go figure.

In last week’s win at Philadelphia, a fake screen to Julio Jones suckered in the defense and left Drew Davis wide open for a touchdown pass (leaving only one unanswered question: Who’s Drew Davis?). On the next possession, also a touchdown, Koetter called a little slip screen over the middle to Jason Snelling, the only receiver the Eagles had not accounted for near the goal line. The first six Falcons’ drives resulted in scores.

These aren’t new plays. “They’ve been in our playbook for five years,” offensive tackle Tyson Clabo said. But the plays either never left the binder or they were used once, failed and forever buried.

Koetter’s unpredictability is one reason why Mike Smith thought he could help Matt Ryan and the offense. He sat next to him in press boxes when both were assistants in Jacksonville. He saw how he related to players. He was confident the struggles the Jaguars had last season — they ranked 32nd in offense – had little to do with the play-caller.

Notice how wide open Drew Davis was in Philadelphia last week? (AP photo)

Notice how wide open Drew Davis was against Philadelphia? (AP photo)

“I knew when we first got him everybody was looking at his numbers wondering, ‘What the hell is this guy doing?’” Smith said.

Jacksonville was a mess. Koetter spent five seasons there as offensive coordinator. But personnel eroded, head coach Jack Del Rio was fired with five games left in the season and the team was sold.

“That’s as tough as it gets, to have your coach fired with five weeks left and knowing that you’re out of a job at the end of the year,” Koetter said. “That’s when you have to call on every ounce of professionalism you have to come in and do your best every day. I never even met [new owner] Mr. [Shahid] Khan. Didn’t shake his hand one time. The guy who hired me sold the team. The head coach that hired me was fired. The general manager wasn’t there. It was a difficult time.”

Part of him wondered how much a bad season would hurt his job prospects. “The NFL is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league,” he said.

But he knew he had a solid resume. He coached offenses at UTEP, Missouri, Boston College and Oregon, becoming known as solid tutor of the vertical passing game. He had head coaching jobs at Boise State and Arizona State, before Del Rio brought him to Jacksonville in 2007. In his first season, the Jaguars’ offense ranked seventh in the league.

If X’s and O’s seem to come easy for Koetter, it’s because he has been at this for a while. He was a high school coach in Pocatello at the age of 23. He is the son of a football coach. Jim Koetter coached for 25 years in high school, eight at Idaho State.

Dirk knew he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps since he was 6. Or, “Whenever it is that you get over that, ‘I want to be a fireman’ stage,” he said.

He would go to his father’s practices, shag balls and carry cups of Gatorade. “I got run over a few times on the sideline,” he said. “But I loved it. I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

He remembers his father lugging home the 16 mm projector to watch game film. All of the coaches would come over.

“I’d fall asleep on the floor listening to them talk about the game,” Koetter said.

He laughed when asked about those first “plays” he drew up: “They probably didn’t make any sense.”

After playing at Idaho State, his first coaching job came at Highland High School, his alma mater. The running back was Merrill Hoge (later of the Pittsburgh Steelers). The quarterback was Steve Kragthorpe (now an LSU assistant). Not bad.

Koetter has excelled with the Falcons at moving players around, putting them in positions to succeed. He has helped Ryan on where the ball needs to go against certain coverages.

Probably no coincidence: Ryan has the highest completion percentage (68.7) and quarterback rating (103.0) of his career through seven games.

“The NFL is a copycat league — every play out there has been used somewhere by somebody before,” Koetter said. “So when you run a play and it works — yeah, you feel great. But it still all comes down to, did you win the game or not?”

The Falcons are doing the latter in part because Koetter is accomplishing the former.

Just guessing: That play hanging on the wall in Pocatello probably would’ve worked.

By Jeff Schultz

Earlier: Weekend Predictions: Smelly, incompetent, soft Bulldogs win again

76 comments Add your comment

Buckeye

November 2nd, 2012
5:16 pm

One game at at time!

Buckeye

November 2nd, 2012
5:16 pm

Yo dogs, First.

Buckeye

November 2nd, 2012
5:17 pm

Sorry Schultzie, couldn’t resist.

Buckeye

November 2nd, 2012
5:17 pm

Jeff Schultz

November 2nd, 2012
5:24 pm

Lilly is free. And asleep. Again.

CaliDirtyBird

November 2nd, 2012
5:28 pm

As Aurther Blank said at the State of the Falcons meeting said something similar to the pro UGA comment above.

This is about the FALCONS! Go Falcons! 19-0!

CaliDirtyBird

November 2nd, 2012
5:31 pm

And yes I’ll take a Superbowl win over 18-1 and losing the big game any day but how great would it be to make that kind of statement for all the haters!!!!

2 > 7

November 2nd, 2012
5:37 pm

With this season’s success, will Falcons need to look for new coordinators next season?

FalconUGAFan

November 2nd, 2012
5:41 pm

Jeff working kinda late for a Friday…I understand, just got some work to my boss under the deadline.

Anyway..always like to see this side of coaches and players..Seems pretty down to earth. Smitty was right when he mused we were wondering what he was doing when he hired this guy…but glad he did and glad I’m not the coach.

B

November 2nd, 2012
5:55 pm

Great article. Thanks!

Nite Owl

November 2nd, 2012
5:56 pm

No, no, no, Jeff, you’ve got it all wrong. Matt Ryan has a noodle arm and we should’ve drafted Joe Flacco. Dirk Koetter isn’t qualified, and 7-0 is a fluke because we’re 0-3 in our last three playoff games. Don’t you read the comments? It’s so obvious.

But seriously, I can’t wait for the chance to put this group of coaches up against whomever in the playoffs. Yes, the Niners, Giants, Bears, and Packers are stout, but we are starting to look pretty stout, too. Mularkey led the offense that got shut out by the Giants, and he’s gone.

For so long, the Falcons management was so bad. The Smith family, the coaching carousel, the wasted draft picks, the good players that got away because we wouldn’t pay them. On and on.

Now, slowly but surely, we get the right pieces in place. Arthur Blank, Rich McKay, Dimitroff, Mike Smith…then after realizing Mike Mularkey is respectable but not great, and that Van Gorder is, ahem, not the right fit here…we get two fantastic coordinators who know what they’re doing—and the players love playing for them. And I’m guessing our new line coach is an improvement, too.

So finally, from top down, we’ve got the right management. I’m looking forward to respectability and relevance for a long time with these guys.

CajunBurnt

November 2nd, 2012
5:57 pm

Sounds like he just needed a break with some good players, other than just a good running back. Good to see and glad to have him.

Nite Owl

November 2nd, 2012
6:04 pm

@ 2.> 7:

Great point. I’m thinking Nolan would get offered first, with his experience. Hopefully we get a couple more years of Koetter.

But more importantly, hopefully our management has learned what kind of guy and what kind of philosophy we want to bring in.

No more passive-aggressive ammonia sniffers who would rather be in Seattle (Mora), or spineless college coaches who should’ve just stayed in college because you can get away with treating the players like dirt there (Petrino), or guys doing their best Sam the Eagle impression (Mularkey), or guys who don’t realize how many of his players want to take a swing at him (Van Gorder).

Just no-nonsense football minds who treat players with respect, and for whom players would run through a wall. (Although I think Alge Crumpler would have run through a wall if Petrino was on the other side, just to get his hands on him.)

Carson

November 2nd, 2012
6:20 pm

No I don’t think Nolan gets offered an NFL job next year. He already was the head coach of the 49ers and failed miserably at that. Koetter is showing what he can do with a quality roster and not the Jags bunch of no names. He would struggle if he was brought in by say a Kansas City as a head coach.

Carson

November 2nd, 2012
6:21 pm

here’s to hoping they stay here for a while!

Boise Dawg

November 2nd, 2012
6:33 pm

I had a feeling Koetter would work out for the Falcons. While he didn’t have much success at Airzona St., Koetter is a big reason behind all the continued success at Boise State over the years. He worked with Chris Petersen at Oregon and Koetter is credited for being the architect of the Boise State offense.

Jason

November 2nd, 2012
6:38 pm

It’s funny to see Falcons fans respecting an awesome coordinator… I can’t forget all the comments when he was hired!!! You guys talked so much trash on him…wasn’t going to give him a chance and he turned our offense into common sense football unlike the prior coordinators! Look at him now…WINNING!!!

atlfalconsfan0125

November 2nd, 2012
6:48 pm

The Hawks tip off tonight. Finally have something to do between Sundays.

tiberius

November 2nd, 2012
6:51 pm

But still as always success in NFL is about consistency, from the top(Mr.
Blank) to the newsest member of the organization, Its about players making plays and as the last Five years of this wonderful run the Falcons have been on, Winning it all is about who is hot at the right time when the playoffs start. the regular season is really nothing but a warm up for getting to the big dance, so i’ll lookig towards late December and hopefully see some Magic come Jan, and
febuary,” GO FALCONS ” cause “I BELIEVE!!!”

Whopper Dawg

November 2nd, 2012
7:15 pm

Nice article Jeff, and isn’t Ryan having the season of his life.

So far so good, definitely not pulling my hair out on most of the calls like last year,

Arno

November 2nd, 2012
7:45 pm

Delightful– no other way to describe those TD plays to Davis and Snelling.

Longtimefan

November 2nd, 2012
9:18 pm

I wonder if MCR is on vacation the last month? Or did he realize he is starting to sound like an idiot with his Matt Ryan comments and the Falcons 7-0 start.

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

November 2nd, 2012
9:58 pm

Ryan still sucks! HAHAHAHAHA :)

7-0 and you think he’s gonna win a playoff game! Wait till the playoffs and he’ll do what he always does. Choke! HAHAHAHAHA :)

There's Choke

November 2nd, 2012
9:59 pm

Ahh, there’s choke

georgianabulltiger

November 2nd, 2012
10:05 pm

Yeah, it’s great, Jason, get a grip.

georgianabulltiger

November 2nd, 2012
10:07 pm

Hey, Choke, the truth of suffering is the first Noble Truth.

You may attain enlightenment by the end of the season.

GB's Hamburgers

November 2nd, 2012
11:21 pm

The guy is doing a great job. I loved some of those plays he pulled out last week. He’s gotten Ryan looking like and elite quarterback.

the silverman

November 2nd, 2012
11:47 pm

Koetter has been great so far. His family sits next to me at the games and they seem really nice. One of things I really enjoy about his offense is how he uses the middle of thei field more than Mularkey did. Hopefully his success continues and we can put up some big numbers this weekend.

Thomas Brown

November 3rd, 2012
1:32 am

____________________________________________
“As it turns out, it pays not to be predictable. Go figure.”
____________________________________________

We’ve all seen, whether it is in college, or the League, that successful plays are against the grain.

Sargent Carter

November 3rd, 2012
2:32 am

The O coach seems to be doing well, but I must admit I was one who, like Coach Smith said, was wondering what the heck the Falcons were doing. It is good that someone in this town knows what to do with their pro franchise….oh, about the playoffs…

heartofdarkness

November 3rd, 2012
2:40 am

The Falcons appear to make in game adjustments better this year on both sides of the ball. I thought they might tune up the running game a little during the bye week, and it appeared that the backs were successfully attacking the line of scrimmage at angles not seen in previous weeks and were finding holes in the defense with more regularity.
Defensively, they seem mentally tougher this year and so far, they seem to know and play their assignments consistently.

falCANS

November 3rd, 2012
3:07 am

Love my falcons mgt. Tean.!!!!

Singletary

November 3rd, 2012
3:34 am

Just a note about next year. These coordinators will have to keep it fresh. Remember, in 2009 we had a drop off — not just because of injury — but because they had multiple films to look at. (That, and the previous two could not adjust their way out of a paper bag.)

Smooth Operator

November 3rd, 2012
8:05 am

@Matt “CHOKE” Ryan

“Jealousy is the tribute mediocrity pays to genius.”

Thomas Brown

November 3rd, 2012
8:06 am

I just hope that our Offensive Coordinator can do the unexpected the rest of the year, incuding today at 3:30 everyone having their Red Solo Cups out all day until 3:30 and again afterwards tail-gating with those Ole Miss Rebels.

Interesting. I guess I had seen some analysts point out parenthetically that Florida is still in it; but, until I read your succinct post, I missed it. I realized your test against FSU is non-conference and I think that is part of it that I still count that a loss, too – although they are ACC and gracious Will Muschamp and Florida have big-time wins this season against teams like Florida’s win over # 8 now South Carolina and against teams like Florida’s win over # 5 LSU. But, you know that win you have in game 2 this season too, at Texas A and M – while impressive at the time because it certainly does seem that Texas A and M’s stadium is most assuredly SEC caliber – that win since has grown hairs for Florida, another great win for Will Muschamp and Florida 2012 over now a really impressive Texas A and M team who has a big-time chance today to make a big impression again as # 15 Mississippi State takes on # 16 Texas A and M.

Still, Mississippi State’s and Texas A and M’s wins are all like Georgia’s wins all year too except for our defense shutting you guys out, while our offense came to life and punched in that early TD, a FG and that back-breaking 45-yard passing TD to Malcolm Mitchell with the downfield block by TE Artie Lynch. There is just no substance in those wins, and then you look at what Florida has done, and you know ? You’re right Jimmy W Barbee, you guys deserve great R-E-S-P-E-C-T. You are still in it, aren’t you ?

With all Florida has done this season, now that Georgie exposed you as we do, you have no football game left until your bowl game – unless UGA loses today to Ole Miss.

I can imagine you’ll be in there watching us at 3:30 pm, and quickly turn the set off, and try to ignore that you don’t have any football left in 2012 worth a damn.

Sorry about that. Could happen to a better group of jort-wearing bragging fans who said all week we had no hope against you and that Aaron Murray would not get the job done, again, against you, and that Todd Grantham had not held a good team under 33 points, and that Todd Gurley would get nothing against your great defense, while your special teams ate us up.

Oh, did I say thank you Florida fans ?

Thank you thank you thank you for running that full-page ad in the Red and Black Student Newspaper here at UGA extolling the virtues and superiority PRE-GAME against us.

That was REALLY SMART.

Paddy

November 3rd, 2012
8:11 am

atlfalconfan0125…….if watching the Hawks play is your definition of something to do, you must be a house-bound shut-it! Hope you get well soon. You would have more fun watching the strippers paint the asphault.

Paddy

November 3rd, 2012
8:14 am

‘Choke’…..you need some new material, you are not even worth hating anymore.

Smooth Operator

November 3rd, 2012
8:26 am

2 > 7
November 2nd, 2012
5:37 pm

With this season’s success, will Falcons need to look for new coordinators next season?

_____________________________________________

Incredibly pragmatic and abstruse. Please post more of your recondite comment.

Smooth Operator

November 3rd, 2012
8:30 am

atlfalconsfan0125
November 2nd, 2012
6:48 pm

The Hawks tip off tonight. Finally have something to do between Sundays.

________________________________________

Informative. http://tinyurl.com/d6qw67j

Paul

November 3rd, 2012
9:11 am

These two experienced NFL coordinators came to Atlanta for one reason and one reason only. To win a Super Bowl! Both saw, perhaps at the same time, the opportunity of a life time! Talent on both sides of the ball that were being mis-managed (coached) by a stone headed OC who still thinks it’s the 1950’s (How’s that Jacksonville gig working out for you, pal?) and a DC who is a porn star wanna be who couldn’t even coach at the college level! (How’s that Auburn gig working out for you there, pal?. Gave up 61 points last week, did you? Oh, the pity.) If Mike Smith will stay out of these guys’ way, I think both will stay until they have that ring. If it’s this year, that is fine by me. After that, who knows?? GO FALCONS!! Stick around for two or three in a row????

drew

November 3rd, 2012
9:12 am

Thomas Brown, (aka wannabe sports analyst), unless you have something to say about the topic at hand, please take your little novellas over to a UGA blog. Your bloviating might be appreciated over there.

Smooth Operator

November 3rd, 2012
9:25 am

@Thomas Brown
November 3rd, 2012
8:06 am

____________________________________________

Parenthetically? Succinct? Are you trying to use big words again?

Scrumpy

November 3rd, 2012
9:25 am

Probably going to win my fantasy leagues this year ’cause of this article back in JULY! Solid new website and owners very interactive.

http://www.toptierfootball.com/mattryan.html

Smooth Operator

November 3rd, 2012
10:05 am

Paddy
November 3rd, 2012
8:11 am

atlfalconfan0125…….if watching the Hawks play is your definition of something to do, you must be a house-bound shut-it!

____________________________

It’s shut-in.

Esquire

November 3rd, 2012
10:16 am

Koetter and the Falcons offense be doin’ it!!!

rick

November 3rd, 2012
10:20 am

Hysterical the idiot posting uga crap on a falcons blog and even more hysterical mocking uf fans when a fan from ur team nearly killed a uf fan AND a few years ago 3 of ur rabid rednecks did kill a uf fan and now they sit in prison. Uga is the cesspool of the south

rick

November 3rd, 2012
10:22 am

Uga FANS r the cesspool. Bamas aren’t too far behind

True Falcon Fan

November 3rd, 2012
12:44 pm

8:06 am —- You sound jus like a drip on this blog known as the “ZERO” —- You by chance live up in Canton, Ga w/Momma?? You found that pawn shop yet?? Or did you move back to SF or was it LA, hopefully you’re gone for “GOOD” this time.

Go Falcons — CaBoys next —- Bet the over Falcons “WIN” 32 —- CaBoys 27 —- Caulk it!!!!!!!!! Falcons 8 – 0 Sunday Midnight

There's Choke

November 3rd, 2012
3:18 pm

DieHardFalconsFan!!!!

November 3rd, 2012
5:59 pm

Falcons-35 Cowgirls-21 RISE THE FxxK UP!!!!