Falcons hire Koetter from Jags to head offense

ATLANTA — The Atlanta Falcons took less than a week to replace outgoing offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, as they announced on Sunday that they had hired former Jacksonville Jaguars offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter.

Falcons head coach Mike Smith worked with Koetter when the two were members of the Jaguars staff. Smith was defensive coordinator there before becoming head coach in Atlanta in 2008.

After cutting veteran starting quarterback David Garrard just days before the start of the regular season and making the decision to go with rookie Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville’s offense ranked 32nd in the NFL this season under Koetter at 259.3 yards per game, but it also produced the NFL’s leading rusher this season in Maurice Jones-Drew.

Smith had said the Falcons were going to hire someone who made it a priority to win the line of scrimmage, as Mularkey had. Mularkey was named Jacksonville’s head coach on Tuesday, so the Falcons, in effect, traded offensive coordinators with the Jaguars.

In a statement, Smith said that Koetter “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. 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.”

Falcons owner Arthur Blank, in a news conference on Wednesday, had emphasized the importance of having a new coordinator who would bring fresh ideas and be “totally objective, cold-hearted and unemotional” in evaluating players and scheme following the team’s disappointing 24-2 loss in the NFC wildcard playoffs to the New York Giants.

Koetter’s challenge will be to integrate all of the Falcons’ offensive weapons – wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones along with tight end Tony Gonzalez and running back Michael Turner – into a cohesive and explosive unit. Mularkey seemed to struggle with that this season after the Falcons traded up in the draft to take Jones sixth overall in April.

Koetter, the former head coach at Arizona State, will need to hire a quarterbacks coach, which will be the third for Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan in three seasons. Bob Bratkowski, the Falcons quarterbacks coach last season, is going with Mularkey to Jacksonville as offensive coordinator. Bill Musgrave, who had worked with Ryan in his first three seasons, left about a year ago to become the offensive coordinator with Minnesota.

One position coach who would seem likely to remain on the Falcons’ staff would be offensive line coach Paul Boudreau, a long-time NFL veteran who would have worked with Koetter in Jacksonville along with Smith. While the Falcons’ offensive line took a step back in 2011 as a result of numerous personnel changes, it allowed only 13 sacks in the final 13 games and helped to make Turner the NFL’s third-leading rusher.

The Falcons, 10-6 last season despite being picked by some as a Super Bowl favorite, still need to hire a defensive coordinator to replace Brian VanGorder, who left last Monday for the same position at Auburn University.