When the Falcons announced the hiring of Dirk Koetter to replace the recently-fired Steve Sarkisian as offensive coordinator, I was fairly indifferent.
Anyone who has been following my thoughts on the OC search would know that I was a big proponent of trying to free Gary Kubiak from Denver. With Elway and the Broncos blocking Kubiak from interviewing elsewhere, my first choice—and the first choice of many fans—had been erased from contention. It now appears that Kubiak will become the offensive coordinator for the Broncos, who are hiring Bears’ defensive coordinator Vic Fangio as their new head coach.
With Kubiak gone, attention then turned to three possible candidates: ex-Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, ex-Bucs’ head coach Dirk Koetter, and ex-Titans’ head coach Mike Mularkey. It was later announced that the team might also consider ex-Dolphins’ head coach Adam Gase as well. Between all these candidates, the one that made the most sense to me—and apparently to the Falcons’ brain trust—was Dirk Koetter. Mike Mularkey also ended up here in Atlanta, but as the TEs coach.
In case you only recently became a Falcons fan, both Koetter and Mularkey have pretty extensive histories in Atlanta. Both served as OC for several years, and both have a lot of experience as head coaches. Neither has been overwhelmingly successful on their other coaching stops, but they do have existing relationships and comfort with both GM Thomas Dimitroff and QB Matt Ryan.
When fans think of Dirk Koetter’s history in Atlanta, the shining achievement would have to be that magical 2012 season that nearly ended in a Super Bowl berth. Of course, like most things related to the Falcons, it ultimately ended in disappointment. Still, Koetter’s 2012 offense ranked 8th in total yards and 7th in total points scored and carried the team a long way—though one could certainly make the argument that the combo of Ryan, Julio, Roddy White, and Tony Gonzalez had more to do with that than the scheme.
Outside of 2012, Koetter had a down year in 2013 (when the Falcons were ravaged by injuries) and an above-average one in 2014 (8th in yards, 12th in points). Still, even a statistically good season couldn’t save Koetter’s job when Mike Smith was fired after the 2014 season, and Dan Quinn decided to bring in his own choice at OC. I remember the fanbase being fairly divided on whether or not Quinn should’ve kept Koetter around, but hindsight tells us that going with Kyle Shanahan was the right decision.
Things have now come full circle, with Koetter getting his chance to return to the Falcons and work with Dan Quinn. The question is, does Koetter really move the needle for Atlanta in a meaningful way? Will he provide any sort of upgrade over Steve Sarkisian?
We obviously don’t know the answer to that yet, but in my mind, this hire says a few things about the Falcons and their mindset going into 2019.
The Falcons want more consistency on offense
One thing Sarkisian never really demonstrated was an ability to gameplan consistently. Some weeks, he’d come out with a great scheme and the Falcons would level the opposing defense. Other weeks it seemed like the team was clueless: trying to “establish the run” against teams with strong run defenses, and failing to take advantage of obvious mismatches in the passing game.
Koetter’s scheme certainly has some weaknesses: he’s never been great at generating a rushing attack, and I myself have criticized him in the past for being too predictable. That predictability also lends itself to more consistent offensive performances, however, and that seems to be more important to the Falcons at this point. If Quinn can coordinate the defense to a top-10 level, the team would probably benefit more from an offense that consistently scores 24 or more every week than an offense that might score 30+ sometimes but less than 20 at other times.
Atlanta wants Matt Ryan to be comfortable and happy
While I’m not sure how much the Falcons actually consult with Matt Ryan, you have to believe his comfort and happiness with decisions—particularly with a position as important as offensive coordinator—are considered. Bringing in someone like Dirk Koetter, who Ryan has a lot of history with, makes a lot of sense if keeping Ryan comfortable and happy is a priority.
I know many fans have noticed that Ryan has gone through a ton of offensive scheme changes throughout his career. Ryan, for his part, always manages to learn the new system and execute it at a high level. But there is almost always a “transition” season, and with Ryan and Julio firmly in their prime, wasting a year with another scheme change just doesn’t make any sense.
With Koetter, Ryan gets to go back to a scheme that he’s clearly very comfortable in. Will that translate to a good or even great offensive season in 2019? That’s still TBD, but there should be a much easier “transition” time than there has been in seasons like 2015 and 2017.
Does Koetter provide an upgrade over Sark?
This one is hard to answer, and we won’t know for sure until we start seeing results on the field. My take is that Koetter is less of an obvious upgrade and more of a “side-grade”. That’s a term I discovered in video games, where an object—say, a piece of armor—isn’t necessarily better or worse overall than another object, but better in certain areas and worse in others. I think that’s what Koetter will end up being for the Falcons.
Under Koetter, I expect a more consistent offensive approach with fewer peaks and valleys than we saw with Sark. That means we might be less likely to see the explosive outputs, but also less likely to see the terrible showings against tougher competition. Hopefully, with an improved defense, that more consistent style will lend itself to more wins for the Falcons in 2019 and beyond. That’s certainly what Dan Quinn is hoping for with this hire.
What are your thoughts on the hiring of Dirk Koetter? Do you think he will be an upgrade over Sark, more of a “side-grade”, or even a downgrade when it’s all said and done?