Falcons: Evaluating the hires of Dirk Koetter and Mike Mularkey


As initially reported by D. Orlando Ledbetter of the AJC, The Falcons came to an agreement with Dirk Koetter to return as the offensive coordinator in Atlanta where he last served from 2012-14.

The Falcons also hired former Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Mularkey as their tight ends coach. Mularkey never had much success as a head coach in those three places. But let’s face it, the Bills, Jaguars, and Titans have not been breeding grounds of success since the turn of the century. Like Koetter, Mularkey was once the Falcons OC from 2008-11 before Koetter took the job.

Had the Falcons brought in Mularkey as their OC again, fans might have started a riot, but bringing in a former head coach to be a tight ends coach is quite a move, especially considering Dan Quinn will need some extra mindpower around him as he takes the reigns of the defense once again. The addition of Mularkey gives the Falcons four current or former head coaches on their coaching staff (Quinn, Koetter, Mularkey, and Raheem Morris). Surely, one of those three guys will be able to aid Quinn with his egregious clock management tactics.

When Dan Quinn talked about the hiring process surrounding the offensive coordinator position, he mentioned ‘adaptability’ as the critical factor over familiarity. With Dirk Koetter, the Falcons appear to have found both.

In Koetter’s first stop in Atlanta, he took over for Mike Mularkey. Mularkey’s offenses are famous for their power-running style that Michael Turner performed so outstanding in during his time in Atlanta. Koetter was asked to keep around some of the same schemes that Mularkey had in the running game, while also incorporating his pass-happy tactics, and nobody benefitted from it more than Matt Ryan.

Ryan’s success under Koetter

Before 2012, the first year under Dirk Koetter, Matt Ryan’s career-highs were as follows:

Completion percentage: 62.5%

Yards: 4,177

TDs: 29

Passer Rating: 92.2

These were Matt Ryan’s stats in 2012: 

Completion percentage: 68.6% (led league)

Yards: 4,719

TDs: 32

Passer Rating: 99.1


In Ryan’s three years under Koetter, he threw 73 total touchdowns and made two of his four Pro-Bowls, finding a new level of confidence. And by all accounts, Ryan was 100% on board with the hiring of his former OC. While Quinn was hesitant on admitting that Ryan would have a say in the appointing of the new OC,  acquiring someone Ryan was comfortable with had to be a primary factor. Koetter will be his third different OC in four seasons and fifth of his career (if you count Koetter twice).

Adapting to the Scheme

Once again, the adaptations for Koetter will lie in the running game. The Falcons brought in Koetter to make the Falcons a more explosive passing attack but also help resurrect this rushing attack.

Quinn said there would be no ‘wholesale’ changes to the Falcons scheme, meaning they plan to continue to utilize a lot of inside and outside zone runs.

In 2018, Atlanta finished 27th in the league in rushing despite averaging 4.5 yards per carry (13th). Dan Quinn has emphasized establishing their physicality on offense through the running game. That’s another reason why the Falcons turned to Mike Mularkey as their tight ends coach, who is known for his physical offensive style.

Other Candidates

The most infuriating part for Falcons’ fans will be the coaches the Falcons, not only did not hire but didn’t even interview.

Per ESPN, The Broncos blocked the Falcons from interviewing Gary Kubiak. While Kubiak would have been an ideal replacement to run the style of offense the Falcons are going for, he is under contract with the Denver Broncos, and there is nothing Atlanta could have done about it. The report also suggested that Kubiak wanted to remain in Denver anyways.

Other intriguing options included former Dolphins head coach, Adam Gase, and former Browns offensive coordinator, Freddie Kitchens.

Gase has garnered the reputation of a quarterback whisperer as he was promoted from quarterbacks coach of the Denver Broncos to offensive coordinator in 2013. In his first year in the position, the Broncos finished first in total offense and points per game. They inched back slightly to fourth in total offense and second in points per game in 2014 before Gase went on to be the OC for the Bears in 2015 and ultimately take the Miami Dolphins head coaching job in 2016.

Gase made the playoffs in his first year with the Fins, but an injury to Ryan Tannehill that year never allowed the Dolphins to reach their full potential in the playoffs. Injuries were the theme for Tannehill under Gase. He would go on to miss the entire 2017 season and play just eleven games in 2018.

Needless to say, it’s almost impossible to succeed in the NFL without your starting quarterback, which is why Gase remains one of the most coveted offensive minds in football. If he’s not in the running for another head coaching position, it’s a bit puzzling as to why the Falcons didn’t at least give him an interview. However, it is worth mentioning several players in Miami had no problem outing their former head coach, which is never a promising sign.

Atlanta fans had the opportunity to see Freddie Kitchens up close when the Falcons met the Browns in Cleveland. He put together a splendid offensive gameplan that completely shredded the Falcons defense. Although, there are two pretty obvious reasons the Falcons didn’t go this route.

One, Kitchens just landed the Browns head coaching job. And secondly, Quinn made it evident he did not want to bring in someone new with little experience. Which is what Kitchens is – a 44-year old coach with one year of OC experience.

The Falcons made two quality hires

As mentioned in the opening, adding a former head coach as your tight ends coach is a quality move. Mularkey also fits the identity Dan Quinn has preached throughout the beginning of this offseason. But he isn’t going to be the one under the microscope.

That will be Dirk Koetter, and I have high hopes this offense can return near its peak level in 2016. Say what you want about Koetter as a head coach, but his offensive numbers speak for themselves.

In Atlanta, Koetter finished in the top 10 in total offense twice. He went to Tampa Bay to be the offensive coordinator in 2015 and finished fifth in total offense with a rookie quarterback. In the last seven seasons, Koetter’s offenses have finished in the top five, five times. The Bucs were third in total offense last year, and that was with a mix of Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jameis Winston at quarterback.

In Atlanta, surprisingly, he will be walking into a situation where he has even more talent than he did back in 2012. This group is going to move the ball, and they are going to score a lot of points in 2019.

I’m intrigued to see how the Falcons plan on incorporating a physical running style with Koetter taking over, as that has never been his forté. But his familiarity with Matt Ryan and his overall success as an offensive coach in the past should give fans plenty of reason to remain upbeat as the Falcons begin to prepare for next season.

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