Relax, Atlanta, Koetter is credible

I know there are a lot of Atlanta fans freaking out that the Falcons hired Dirk Koetter as their new offensive coordinator.

I understand that it’s easy to look at the Jacksonville Jaguars offense Koetter orchestrated in 2011 and not get too excited. But I think you might want to look at the bigger picture before calling this move a huge mistake.

Yeah, the Jaguars were a bad team, but that’s not Koetter’s fault. As AFC South colleague Paul Kuharsky notes, Koetter was a good coach in a bad situation. In 2011, the Jaguars had a head coach (Jack Del Rio) who was melting down and doing desperate things. That left Koetter having to try to make miracles with rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert and a bunch of wide receivers who don’t belong in the NFL.

Don’t judge Koetter on one season because I don’t think that’s what Atlanta coach Mike Smith was thinking when he made the decision. Do you really think Smith is going to hire someone who he thinks is inept to fix his offense?

I don’t. Smith’s future depends largely on this hire and the hiring of a defensive coordinator that he’ll be doing soon. When offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey and defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder left, Smith lost his insulation. It was pretty clear in the aftermath of the playoff loss to the New York Giants that owner Arthur Blank wasn’t satisfied with the season. The coordinators are gone and that means Smith is on the hot seat if the team doesn’t meet expectations next season.

Smith worked with Koetter in Jacksonville and I’m sure Smith could have hired any number of other candidates. He chose Koetter and this wasn’t a quick choice. It was pretty well known around the league for about a month that Mularkey was going to become the head coach in Jacksonville. Smith had lots of time to think about this one and he got the guy he wanted.

“Dirk is a veteran offensive coach who will bring years of NFL experience as an offensive coordinator as well as a fresh set of ideas to our offense,’’ Smith said in a statement released by the team to officially announce Koetter’s hiring. “He is bright, he understands the intricacies of the vertical passing game, but he also wants to be able to run the football which is very important in the NFL. I look forward to working with Dirk and have tremendous confidence that he will be a great addition to our team and our coaching staff."

I haven’t covered Koetter yet, but I’ve heard very good things about him from people who have covered him, including Kuharsky. I’ve also heard very good things about him from others who have coached with him. Koetter’s respected around the league and that’s almost always a good sign. I hadn't heard the same things about some of the other names that were linked to this position.

Before this ugly season in Jacksonville, Koetter was viewed as a potential head coach. He did some good things in his first four seasons in Jacksonville. In that time span, Jacksonville’s offense ranked 13th in the NFL in total yards (338.6 per game), sixth in rushing (134.2), fifth in third-down conversions (43.0 percent) and fifth in average yards per rush (4.5). In his first season with the Jaguars (2007), Koetter directed a record-breaking season as the offense set franchise records for points (411 total and a 25.7 average), touchdowns (50) and touchdown passes (28).

Prior to that, Koetter led Arizona State to four bowl games in his six seasons as head coach and finished with a 40-34 record. He also served as offensive coordinator and helped the Sun Devils average nearly 30 points per game over six seasons, and the team was ranked in the top 20 in the nation in passing offense in five of his six seasons.

Give this guy a chance with Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez and Michael Turner and I think Atlanta fans might be pleased with the results.