Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio talked openly in his end of season news conference about how he has grown as a coach over the past eight years, with one of the main developments being his growing trust in his staff.
It's easy to build trust when you have one of the NFL's top offensive minds in Dirk Koetter directing the offensive side of the ball. Koetter, who was recently a finalist for the Denver Broncos head coaching position, has the Jaguars offense ranked among the NFL's best since he arrived in 2007.
The Jaguars rank seventh in the AFC and 13th in the NFL over the last four seasons with an average of 338.6 yards per game, and sixth in the AFC with 152 total offensive touchdowns.
Koetter came to Jacksonville after six seasons as the head coach at Arizona State, where the Sun Devils averaged nearly 30 points a game and ranked in the top 20 in the nation in passing offense for five of those seasons.
While the NFL is a different game, Koetter has obviously adjusted. He was billed as a passing guru on the collegiate level but he has taken the Jaguars to new heights on the ground as well. The Jaguars established a team record this season with four 200-yard rushing games.
In four seasons under Koetter, the Jaguars have produced 400-plus yards of offense in 14 games. Prior to 2007, the Jaguars had only nine games in 12 seasons with 400-plus yards. The Jaguars have compiled two of the three highest rushing totals in franchise history under Koetter and have ranked in the top 10 among NFL teams in rushing three of the last four seasons.
"I think Dirk had a really good year as an offensive coordinator for us," Del Rio said. "I really encourage him to build on that and grow going forward. I think he was a strength for us."
Further proof of Koetter's influence is being seen now on a national level.
From 2002-06, the Jaguars did not have an offensive player voted to the Pro Bowl. In just four seasons, Koetter has coached four different players who have earned a total of five Pro Bowl selections during his stint as offensive coordinator. Running back Maurice Jones-Drew (starter) and tight end Marcedes Lewis were both named to the Pro Bowl this season.
The one player who has thrived the most under the guidance of Koetter is quarterback David Garrard. In Koetter's first season with the Jaguars, the team set a franchise single-season record for points scored (411, 25.7 avg.), touchdowns (50) and touchdown passes (28). In 2009 the Jaguars set a single-season record with six plays of 60-plus yards.
"David is a big, tough, mobile quarterback," Del Rio said. "He is an accurate passer and I do believe our system and him having the continuity with Dirk and our offensive staff, I do believe that allows everything to slow down for quarterbacks later in their career, and that's why you see quarterbacks play at a high level later in their careers. I think there's an opportunity to build on the things we've done and do some better and continue to push."
Garrard set the single-season franchise record with 23 touchdown passes in 2010 despite missing two games. He also established the single-season record with a 64.5 completion percentage which ranked seventh in the NFL. Three of his top four career games for passer rating came this past season.
"I think this year David took a step forward in terms of the way he approached the game, the time he put in, the commitment level he had was at an all-time high, and we're going to go back and demand even more," Del Rio said.
No one will demand more from the entire offensive unit than Koetter.