That’s my reaction to the news that Mike Smith is reuniting with his former Jacksonville compatriot Dirk Koetter, who the Falcons head coach just hired as his new offensive coordinator. They worked together during the Jaguars 2007 season that saw the team make the playoffs, knock off the Steelers in the wild card round, and then be upended by the then-undefeated Patriots. That year, the Jags offense ranked sixth in scoring.
It’s defense, on the other hand, ranked 10th in points allowed per game, which, perhaps begs the question: Was Mike Smith ready to be a head coach at that point, if Koetter apparently was not? Though, I think he’s done well, to-date, this is obviously the equivalent of a contract year for Smitty with the Falcons. Fail to make the playoffs? My guess is he’s gone before (or as soon as) the season ends. Lay an egg in the first round? There might be some discussion, depending on the circumstance, but I’d surmise he’d be gone in that instance, as well.
So, with the pressure of a roster that’s aging in key spots, specifically on the offensive line, at tight end, at defensive end, and running back, was Smith right to hire his old crony in lieu of someone splashy. Other names believed to be under consideration included Green Bay QBs coach Tom Clements, former Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress, former New York Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, and former Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick (which actually would have been a marquee name and an instance of cronyism/nepotism since Billick is Smith’s brother-in-law).
The big issue with Koetter is that he’s coming off a season where his offense was ranked 32nd out of 32 teams. (His offenses have been trending downward since the ’07 season.) It’s partially understandable, given that the tools he was given to work with in the passing game amounted to a cruel joke, but one has to ask how much recent track record impacts these hiring decisions. After all, Mike Mularkey, who was lambasted for his predictable milquetoast play-calling all year and engineered zero points in the Falcons playoff game, became the Jaguars head coach last week. The team as currently constituted does very vaguely resemble the 2008 Falcons, with a reliable running back, a young QB, and a young receiving corps—so, maybe, Mularkey is the right person to get the Jags back to the playoffs (where they’ll promptly get blown out).
Looking more closely at Koetter’s NFL resume, he’s never really been at the helm of a well outfitted passing attack. So, now he is. And he’s been told to use screens, which will immediately add a new wrinkle to the Falcons playbook. I’m happy to give him a shot. I’ll also happily admit that I would have been at best ambivalent about anyone they’d have brought in. At the end of the day, we’ll just have to see what the guy can come up with, given the array of weapons at his disposal.
But, mark my words, my eyes will roll out of my head, if we can’t figure out a way to better incorporate players like Jacquizz Rodgers and Harry Douglas into the offense. Talk all you want about the Julios, Roddys, and Gonzos, any Super Bowl-bound Falcons team is going to have to learn to utilize these speedy skill players.