If a football team is in need of a makeover, it can always fire its head coach. But if that’s not the preference, the next best thing is to have a change at the coordinator positions.
The Atlanta Falcons have a unique opportunity to change both the offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator, as Mike Mularkey conveniently left to be the new head coach in Jacksonville, while Brian VanGorder took off to run Auburn’s defense.
Conveniently is the appropriate word, since no one is crying about Mularkey’s departure. Ask most Falcons fans after Mularkey’s offense was shut out last week by the New York Giants, and most of them would have offered to drive Mularkey to Jacksonville.
Ironically, he has been replaced by Dirk Koetter, who was the Jaguars’ offensive coordinator the past five seasons. It’s hard to gauge Koetter based on Jacksonville’s stats, since they weren’t very impressive. But the Jaguars were making the transition from David Garrard at quarterback to rookie Blaine Gabbert.
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I’m not sure if Koetter is the best person for the job or not. We may have to see him for a season to know completely. But Atlanta head coach Mike Smith worked with Koetter when Smith was the defensive coordinator with the Jaguars before he took the Falcons’ top job. So he knows Koetter and was obviously impressed enough with what he saw first-hand to be comfortable with Koetter joining his staff.
Koetter said all the right things in his news conference Monday. He likes the running game. He likes a vertical passing game. That’s what we needed to hear. The Falcons, and particularly Smith, like to run the football. And we all know after this season they need to throw the ball downfield a bit more.
There are a few things Koetter must do. First, he has to establish a great relationship with quarterback Matt Ryan. They have to be on the same page. They need to almost complete each other’s sentences when talking football. And hopefully Koetter will allow Ryan to have a bit more say in what he needs to do to make Atlanta’s offense work.
Plus, Koetter must be imaginative and creative. Isn’t it funny that when a fan base gets on an offensive coordinator, those two words are usually used? See Mike Bobo. But Koetter needs to not get locked into a philosophy and instead see the weapons this franchise has and create plays to use them in different ways.
Mularkey lost that creativity for some reason. It took him too long to figure out how to correctly implement Julio Jones into Atlanta’s offense during the regular season. And then when the Giants pushed the offense around in the playoff game, there was no adjustment.
Hopefully, Koetter can find that middle ground that will still see running back Michael Turner get his 20 carries per game and at the same time allow Ryan to find Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez.
Former 49ers head coach Mike Nolan is an interesting choice as the new defensive coordinator. Like Koetter, Nolan worked with Smith before, so there is a comfort level there. Nolan is known for using a different scheme (the 3-4 defense) than what Smith prefers, but they’re sticking with the 4-3. Nolan’s experience will be very valuable, and his insight could present interesting changes for the defense.
There’s nothing wrong with adding a new voice to a coaching staff. This head coach has been here for four years now, and the Falcons have yet to win a playoff game. So hearing someone else’s perspective could be helpful.
Even though Mularkey and VanGorder left on their own, after what we saw in New York last week, no one is upset the Falcons have a chance to make changes. Usually, changing coordinators is a last resort before a head coach is shown the door. And let’s be honest, even though we appreciate what Smith has done the past four regular seasons, another playoff loss next year could see him moving on, as well.
But let’s first see if these new voices can make a difference.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com.