Dirk Koetter was Atlanta's offensive coordinator for two seasons.
Photo: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Why Dirk Koetter? Because he’s good. Because he fits

Dirk Koetter will hit the ground running. He knows the way to Flowery Branch. He knows Matt Ryan. There will be no time of transition. This will be a case of a proven professional picking up where he left off.

The Falcons confirmed Tuesday that they hired Koetter as their offensive coordinator, which is what he was from 2012 through 2014. Sometimes an obvious choice is the best choice. This is such a time.

The job of being the Falcons’ OC is both easy (you have a lot of good players) and tough (middling results with good players isn’t acceptable). Koetter knows this. He was here when the Falcons almost made the Super Bowl, and also when most everything around Ryan fell apart and the Falcons were 10-22. Even at the end, Koetter’s offense ranked No. 8 among NFL team in yards and No. 5 in passing yards. He wasn’t the problem.

The catch with firing Steve Sarkisian was that it would leave Ryan, who’s the franchise, working under his fifth OC in 12 years. Koetter leaves the number at four. That’s a major consideration. Indeed, of the four coordinators charged with Maximizing Matt, Ryan seemed to enjoy his time with Koetter the most. (We say “seemed” because the man himself would never confirm as much for public dissemination.)

Mike Mularkey, the most buttoned-down of the four, was good for Ryan the rookie, but Ryan the established quarterback outgrew Double-M. Koetter was a bit less arrogant, a bit more player-friendly, and the results showed. Mularkey’s final game was the regrettable 24-2 playoff loss to the Giants; Koetter’s first game saw the Falcons score 40 at Kansas City.

(In a back-to-the-future double dip, the Falcons announced they hired Mularkey to coach tight ends. Guess someone has to.)

Koetter’s best wasn’t as good as Kyle Shanahan’s best – Shanahan in 2016 might have had the greatest play-calling season in NFL annals, right up until the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl – and Ryan won MVP in large part because of his OC. But the first season under Shanahan was wobbly. You might recall the clip of Ryan telling Shanahan in Year 1 that once the Falcons learned his system, nobody would stop it. By Year 2 they’d learned, and nobody did.

Sarkisian had an unbelievably tough act to follow. He had some good games. Heck, his offense finished in the NFL’s top 10 both years. That said, this offense should have been top-five at worst, and the losing streak that doomed this season saw the Falcons go five jaw-dropping games without managing more than 20 in any one.

Not to belabor the point, but Sarkisian never seemed to find a groove. Example: Taylor Gabriel became a key contributor in the run to the Super Bowl, scoring seven touchdowns (one rushing); a year later, he scored one and was deemed superfluous to needs. Heck, even Julio Jones stopped scoring touchdowns in Year 1 under Sark.

To say that Koetter wasn’t the answer as Tampa Bay’s head coach falls under the heading of “no duh.” After going 5-11 in Year 2, he was lucky he was given a Year 3. Then again, if he’d fired Mike Smith – his former Falcons boss – after the second season, the third might have yielded a playoff run.

Even with the Buccaneers juggling quarterbacks because of Jameis Winston’s suspension and then his inefficiency, they finished third in total offense, trailing only the Chiefs and Rams. Poor Smitty was canned as defensive coordinator in October, whereupon the defense perked up.

Sarkisian had never been an NFL coordinator before being hired here. Koetter has been an NFL play-caller for 11 seasons, including his first two as Tampa Bay’s head coach. He knows the business. He’ll be an upgrade over his predecessor, and he’ll also be the best possible fit. With this move, the Falcons have done well.

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About the Author

Mark Bradley
Mark Bradley
Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has been with the AJC since 1984.
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