In hiring Koetter, Mike Smith deserves the benefit of the doubt

His name is Dirk, and his responsiblity he won't shirk. (AP photo)

Slogan suggestion: His name is Dirk, and his responsiblity he won't shirk. (AP photo)

Flowery Branch – No, it doesn’t look so good: An offense that couldn’t manage a point in losing its playoff game has been handed to a man whose most recent unit finished last in the NFL. Why not hire Darrell Royal and have him install the Wishbone?

But here’s where we take a deep breath and say: Dirk Koetter isn’t as bad as all that. For what the Atlanta Falcons need in the year 2012, he’ll be better than Mike Mularkey. (Though you know that Jacksonville fans are thinking what we around here were wondering when the Jaguars made Mularkey their head coach: Is that team nuts?) And here’s where we must take a bunny-hop of faith.

At Falcons HQ Monday, Mike Smith stuck his head in the hallway where the media relations staff has its offices and was spotted by this correspondent, who posed three questions.

Is Koetter the guy he wanted? “Yes,” Smith said.

Is the head coach comfortable that Koetter is indeed the right guy? “Yes,” Smith said.

Is the head coach confident this offensive coordinator can lead the Falcons upward? “Absolutely,” Smith said.

And there you have it — yes, yes, absolutely. Skeptics among us will sneer: “So what did you expect him to say? ‘I hired a moron’?’ ” But ultimately every hire in every profession comes down to one thing: Do you trust the guy doing the hiring?

Me, I trust Mike Smith.

He knows Dirk Koetter (pronounced “Cutter”) better than you or I, having worked with him in Jacksonville in 2007. Smitty also knows his personnel better than you or I, having watched every move made in a practice or a game both live and on tape. The latest numbers don’t flatter Koetter, but let’s ask this: After seeing the Jaguars lose 41-14 here in December, where should that offense — with a rookie quarterback and receivers Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson was overheard to call “jokes” — have ranked?

Another stat to consider: The 2010 Jaguars, as coordinated by Koetter and with a quarterback (David Garrard) who would subsequently be cut in training camp, finished 8-8 but outgained — by two yards over 16 games — a Falcons team that finished 13-3 and had Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez.

With the Falcons, Koetter will have access to better players than he ever did in Jacksonville, and if he hadn’t managed to articulate a coherent vision regarding those players he wouldn’t have gotten the job. This is the biggest hire Smith has made since he first arrived, much bigger than having to replace Brian VanGorder as defensive coordinator. (The defense wasn’t the unit that grossly underperformed in the Meadowlands.) He didn’t hire Koetter because the guy once bought him lunch at Wendy’s. He hired Koetter because he believes this is the man he needs.

Speaking with the Atlanta media via a conference call Monday, Koetter said some of things you hoped he’d say: That he “believe(s) in the vertical [passing] game”; that he was prodded by Smith to make the Falcons “a better screen team” and that he’s “a big believer in the screen game.” He also extolled the virtues of offensive “balance,” which is as sexy as suggesting that veggies are good for you, but he also made a salient point.

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“It’s easy to say it’s a passing league and that defense doesn’t matter and running doesn’t matter,” Koetter said, “but look what happened this weekend.”

The Packers and Saints, the NFC teams who sling it best, were undone in the playoffs by more prosaic opponents. Koetter again: “Ask any defensive coordinator, and he’ll say the hardest thing to defend is balance.”

Little about Koetter’s background suggests he’s a stick-in-the-mud. He worked on a three-man staff with Andy Reid, who’s one of the NFL’s better schemers, at San Francisco State. As head coach, Koetter had consecutive 10-win seasons at Boise State before anybody cared about Boise State. He spent six seasons as Arizona State’s head coach, and the Pac-10 was always ahead of the national curve offensively. Also this: He has spent 25 years calling plays.

No, Smitty didn’t hire the mad scientist we around here were hoping he would, and yes, it looks a little funny for a team desperate to win a Super Bowl to turn to a guy whose staff got fired in Jacksonville, but let’s recall: In 2008 Mike Smith hired four assistants — Mularkey, Keith Armstrong, Terry Robiskie and Glenn Pires — who had just overseen a 1-15 season with Miami. That foursome helped the Falcons go 43-21 over the best four-year run in franchise history.

Lest we forget, Smith himself wasn’t the hottest name on the market four Januarys ago, but he has spent four seasons earning the benefit of the doubt. Here’s where we need to extend it.

By Mark Bradley

254 comments Add your comment

Barb

January 16th, 2012
2:16 pm

Mark Bradley

January 16th, 2012
2:19 pm

Kudos, Barb .

Michael

January 16th, 2012
2:21 pm

If there’s one thing that sports fans have been able to say about the Jaguars over the past several years, it’s that they are an offensive juggernaut. Great, great hire by the Falcons. Smith just better hope Koetter doesn’t take his job by mid-season!

Benjamin

January 16th, 2012
2:21 pm

Poll needs a “willing to wait and see” option, MB.

I’m willing to wait after initially being disappointed…

A

January 16th, 2012
2:23 pm

Thank you Mr. Bradley, for making me wiki Darrell Royal

Apathetic Fan

January 16th, 2012
2:25 pm

Do you & Schultz take turn playing good cop/bad cop?

Jesse

January 16th, 2012
2:26 pm

Doesn’t matter who your OC is if the line can’t pass block and the QB can throw vertically. Right? Oh, and they’d need a RB who can catch screen passes. Go get Matt Forte.

Big Ray

January 16th, 2012
2:31 pm

Apathetic Fan…..the answer is yes. ;)

Weaseal

January 16th, 2012
2:33 pm

To early to judge we would all want the benefit of doubt if we took a new job Best of Luck !!!! Look at Green Bay anything can happen!!

Mr. Smith goes to ?

January 16th, 2012
2:35 pm

Next time around it’ll be the HC that goes thus he better hope the OC works out and they hire a good DC.

JackA770

January 16th, 2012
2:35 pm

Always enjoy your columns, Mark. How do you think Newt will fair in South Carolina?

@DanWeiner

January 16th, 2012
2:36 pm

No, for someone to play “bad cop” that would require them to criticize management more often than once every three years.

The Burner has flamed out

January 16th, 2012
2:40 pm

Agree with Jesse completely. Have loved The Burner, but he just doesn’t have much left in the tank. Doesn’t move the pile like he did and has lost at least a step. Also has terrible hands. Need a new starting RB and a new left tackle (the Baker/Svitek combo just ain’t cutting it).

Big Ray

January 16th, 2012
2:41 pm

Doesn’t matter who your OC is if the line can’t pass block and the QB can throw vertically. Right? Oh, and they’d need a RB who can catch screen passes.

True, O-line needs work. Ryan needs to work on the deep ball (but can’t, if the O-line can’t protect). Brees is good at the deep ball because he has 10 freakin’ seconds to release….

As for a RB who can catch passes, we already have one – name’s JaQuizz Rodgers…

Rtruth

January 16th, 2012
2:41 pm

I don’t trust Smith or TD decision making. They haven’t made very good decisions lately.
But, if this turns out to be a bad hire they both need to go next year.

dtanner

January 16th, 2012
2:43 pm

wanted brian billick,that would have excited the fanbase,dirk koetter?who cares.

Falcons4Eva

January 16th, 2012
2:44 pm

So Mark, is it a safe bet to categorize Mike Smith as officially being put on the proverbial hot seat with this stretch of a hire and now that his insulation of OC and DC has been removed?

I give him 2 years at best…Reason being….The Saints and Packers are not falling off no time soon. The Lions and 49ers have in some ways surpassed us. The Eagles and Bears will be better next year. And the Giants will be strong again and the Panthers are closing fast.

Its a very real possibility the the Falcons will miss the playoffs all together next year. Hiring Koetter is a huge risk Smith took.

JB

January 16th, 2012
2:44 pm

OK, maybe not in business or sports, but follow this thought……………..Your Arthur Blank still at Home Depot. Your sales in your Georgia stores are really struggling. Just under performing. You ask your VP/GM to address it……..He brings in the area manager of the only other stores in the chain doing worse than Georgia, from Florida…………And reports back to Blank that we should see a big difference soon in the Georgia stores………………. Not much difference here in what Mike Smith had one. Jags had worst offense ” stats” in the NFL last year…..

Jim

January 16th, 2012
2:45 pm

We need a left tackle (and maybe a center), a linebacker, two safeties and a corner!

todd grantham

January 16th, 2012
2:47 pm

So now Smitty’s hired ole Dirk
who Bradley says his job he won’t shirk
Arthur says Dirk better perform
or the staff he’ll reform
and on his face he’ll wear a big smirk

Matt from MN

January 16th, 2012
2:48 pm

Wondering where all the ‘Aints fans/trolls are today.

As for this hire, color me underwhelmed, but I’m willing to give Coach Smith the benefit of the doubt. That being said, he better PRAY that this hire works out, or he’s the next guy outta here.

Durrtydogg

January 16th, 2012
2:49 pm

Im not concerned about big names. I just want someone to fix the problem. I remember this fan base hated Gregg Knapp at one time. They even gave him nicknames like Gregg take a Knapp and all that. Now he is in Houston and people were saying they should have been a Super Bowl contender. All Im saying is, slow down people. A lot of the OC on the board were flawed as well. Dont give me that Brian Billick crap. He was an offensive guru but couldnt do a thing with B-Mores offense when they won the Superbowl. You have to have players first.

rainman

January 16th, 2012
2:52 pm

You just can’t make-up anything stranger than this hire (albiet Smitty’s affinity for the JAX connection never seems to end).
When they hired MM after our offense didn’t score a single point in the playoff game — we all had a good chuckle. Well, now we take their OC who had the worst ranked offense in the league.
The best part, in my opinion, is that Smith and TD have put their rear-ends on the hot seat – where they belong.

Falcons4Eva

January 16th, 2012
2:53 pm

@ Big Ray

January 16th, 2012
2:41 pm “As for a RB who can catch passes, we already have one – name’s JaQuizz Rodgers…”
—————————————————-
Agreed. Also. Take a look at the size and stature comparison between Jaquizz Rodgers and Maurice Jones Drew. Almost identical. Therefore, I would expect this to be the year JR is featured more so. Turner should move over to fullback at this point given his weight.

Also, moving Turner closer to the line of scrimmage as full back, it won’t take him nearly 2 weeks to get to the hole and 4 hours to get through it once he gets there. The duded to too slow given our weak offensive line inability to hold blocks long enough to create lasing holes. Need JR to hit it quick.

todd grantham

January 16th, 2012
2:55 pm

with the hiring of OC Koetter
the fans ain’t exactly aflutter
his offense ranked last
but Smitty says that is past
and Arthur can only mutter

George

January 16th, 2012
2:55 pm

Average. That’s where I place this hire. The Falcons need better than average to turn things around – better than average in many positions, not excluding the head coach. Teams that win in the playoffs and win Super Bowls have better than average coaches and players. So look for an average 2012 season with a few exciting wins to go with too many depressing losses.

Explosive Explosion

January 16th, 2012
2:56 pm

The 9-7 Giants dominated the 15-1 Packers.

Falcons4Eva

January 16th, 2012
2:58 pm

rainman

January 16th, 2012
2:52 pm

“The best part, in my opinion, is that Smith and TD have put their rear-ends on the hot seat – where they belong”
—————————————
Indeed. That will make this season worth watching…

But on another note…Arthur Blank is a sucker anyway….(Pertrino schooled him), (Jim Mora tricked him), (Thomas DimWit and Rich McKnucklehead took advantage of him after the Vick fiasco).

todd grantham

January 16th, 2012
2:58 pm

Arthur said who’s this guy Koetter?
who’s costing me guns and butter
Smitty says he’s awfully deft
and the best of what’s left
but Arthur replied with a splutter

JB

January 16th, 2012
2:59 pm

I think the bye week hurt the Packers….Just me. Too much time to kill and lose that edge.

Brian 98

January 16th, 2012
3:00 pm

My question is if Ryan can have a vertical passing game, don’t ya think MM would have installed it here???? Do you really think he’s so dumb he wouldn’t even attempt it? The coons don’t pass that way cause Ryan doesn’t have the arm or knowledge of how to. Look at him compared to alex smith, eli, rodgers brees, etc. He looks like a deer in headlights when his 2 seconds to pass are up. He has no scrambling ability. And the o line is a joke. But even when the o line was solid 4 and 3 years ago, he still was this way. It’s all about the qb. And get rid of turner. That guy has no game left and falls over like he’s a 160 pound 16 year old.

P.T. Barnum

January 16th, 2012
3:00 pm

This hiring of Koetter proves my point: “There’s A Sucker Born Every Minute”

Brian 98

January 16th, 2012
3:02 pm

Give me a break about the bye week crap. Sure didn’t affect the patriots. The giants are tough on the d line. They got pressure on ar. What I do think played into it was the oc’s sons death and how that affected the team and it’s practice. Not a friggin bye week. It’s not like college where you get 35 days off!!

G. Tanner

January 16th, 2012
3:03 pm

I trust Smitty, too. If he says it’s a good hire, I’m happy to wait for the results … which is my only option anyway.

Disappointed does not cut it!

January 16th, 2012
3:03 pm

I don’t care what you say, I DO NOT LIKE THIS HIRE! Mark, are you now on the Falcons payroll with DLED?

Herschel Talker

January 16th, 2012
3:04 pm

MB:

Koetter’s hire is a moot point if we don’t get the o-line upgraded in a hurry. What a disaster that unit is.

HT

Dumbo

January 16th, 2012
3:05 pm

I dunno MB….I really dunno………

Conan

January 16th, 2012
3:08 pm

As was said in a Clint Eastwood movie aptly fits here ” Don’t piss on my leg and tell me it’s raining”. This hire sucks but that’s ok, Smith has made his good ole boy hire and next year they will all be gone.

Our OL not strong enough

January 16th, 2012
3:08 pm

Terrible choice
We are watching the destruction on a team

Roark

January 16th, 2012
3:10 pm

Nice corporate spin MB with the benefit of the doubt angle….but ATL just hired an OC who was dead last in offensive production among his peers this season.

At least, assuming the Smith/Koetter offense make a playoff appearance, they can do no worse than the recent showing – what an “offensive” hire!

punt block

January 16th, 2012
3:15 pm

Aweful choice!

Runnin with the Dawgs

January 16th, 2012
3:18 pm

I look at it this way. How could it be any worse than it was with Mularkey. Koetter says he will employ more screen plays. This blends well with our type of offense and our QB. I can see how this could work out to be a good move. Time will tell. GO FALCONS!

DetroitBraves

January 16th, 2012
3:19 pm

Clabo is awful in Madden 12. Or maybe I’m awful. Or maybe it’s the combination of me and Clabo that is awful. It’s hard to tell for sure. But one thing is certain: Clabo is awful in Madden 12.

Opie Taylor

January 16th, 2012
3:20 pm

MB, I disagree with you. The AJC goes out of it’s way ro pacify this organization with weak interview questions in fear of not having access to the team if you state the obvious. Mike Smith has an 0-3 playoff record. He was clearly out schemed and out coached in all three games. No, he does not get the benefit of doubt for beating sub 500 teams for four years. Do you think Walmart will go and hire an Executive from Montgomery Wards who has failed to produce and company is closed due to poor performance? No, they would not. Why would you hire a guy who finished last in offense last year? It’s idiotic!! Excuses, blame Blaine Gabbert and the players, Jim Harbaugh inherited the same team Mike Singletary had and is performing at a high level with Alex Smith at quarterback, Why, because he is the opposite of Mike Smith!! He knows how to use the personnel he was presented with, he has the palyers playing to their strengths. They call that COACHING, not making excuses and blaming your coordinators for your failures as the Head Coach!!

Successful teams improve and adjust, the Management team of Blank, Dimitroff, and Smith are great at buzzwords, The Process, Explosiveness, Football Intelligence, Spirited Souls, which is the code word for drafting safe mediocre players. Who cares if Dimtroff drafts College Team Captains every year if they can not perform on Sunday. He has spent four years drafting players that are supposedly opposite character guys from the days of Vick. He needs to get over the Vick Era and draft the best players available.

Management can not continue this vanilla scheme, choir boy, play not to lose approach. It is not successful. Every year there is a different excuse, Ryan needs more explosive receivers, yet he can’t throw the ball downfield. The offensive line is bad, yet he was the six least sacked over the past four years. Where is the accountability? Mike Mularkey and Brian Van Gorder were not the Head Coach of this team. Mike Smith and Thomas Dimitroff are responsible for drafting mediocre players like Sam Baker, Peria Jerry, Garrett Reynolds, Joe Hawley, Curtis Lofton, Kerry Meirer, Lawrence Sidbury, Christopher Ownes, the list goes on and on. This newspaper never calls them out on these stupid decisions!

Curtis Lofton is one of the most overrated middle linebackers in the league, he piles up meaningful tackles after contact and he cannot cover running backs and tight ends, Dunta Robinson is a villian on these blogs, but do the bloggers realize he is a cover corner and Mike Smith has him playing in a zone. Stupid utilization of talent and scheme, which is Mike Smith’s responsibility to place the players in favorable postions the plays to their strengths, not weaknesses

When he hires the 32nd ranked DC, one of his buddies from Jacksonville, a team that has not won anything since Tom Coughlin was the head coach, I guess you will make excuses for Mike Smith again?

Big Dawg

January 16th, 2012
3:31 pm

Bad Choice….. and no he does not deserve anything! We are way past that! This decision will help sink him here in Atlanta!

Van Brocklin

January 16th, 2012
3:33 pm

The Falcons have deserved
the ‘ benefit of the doubt ‘
since 1966 (46 years ago), . . . still waiting.

lanier

January 16th, 2012
3:33 pm

I think Bradley better be worried that the AJC is gone before Mike Smith

G. Tanner

January 16th, 2012
3:33 pm

Opie shot his credibility in the $cr0+um when he called Curtis Lofton a mediocre player.

slydog

January 16th, 2012
3:35 pm

Mark, in order to counter, I do not trust Mike Smith. I don’t care whether he knows Dirk Koetter or his wife better than Jesus or his players talents better than Jehovah himself, he has not earned trust. Why? Because he is the best coach in Falcons history? This is the same grandstanding that keeps the University of Georgia from even competing for national titles in football. If I remember correctly, the owner of the team said he plays and spends money on championships. Well, Mr. Blank, how about finding ONE champion to put anywhere in this organization. The only one is Dimitroff, and he was a scout at the time, if not cutting grass. And no, I’m not a part of the Mike Martz crowd either. But it would have at least had a “sniff” of trying to bring more to the table. The Falcons need an exceptional play-caller more than a redesigned offense. We all know Martz can at least do that. So why not hire an OC with some proven results on this level, not 6 years ago at Arizona State. BTW, he was fired from that job and never won the PAC-10 either. The argument about him having better tools does not wash either. Any OC who just coached the 32nd ranked offense in the league is bound to do at least what Mularky did with the Falcons. The question is, can he do better and be more decisive when it counts. You, I , and Mike Smith will take Maurice Jones-Drew over Michael Turner any day of the week. So why does it matter if Koetter is big on screens? Turner is too fat and not explosive. He’s not turning the corner on anybody. Coaches like Mike Smith have the Norv Turner disease: They will take experience and familiarity before taking any risks that will produce “championship” results.

suwaneefalcon

January 16th, 2012
3:36 pm

The guy loves to pass the ball and he loves to throw screens. Screens for God’s sakes! I agree with you Mark, I trust Smith over the arm chair coaches and GM’s that come on these sites. I think he and TD may know a little more about the game then we do. Now tell Schultz his atricle yesterday was a joke.