On Wednesday Dirk Koetter sat down for an extended interview with Jason Cole of BleacherReport.com, where Cole focused his questions on the Bucs head coach’s journey into football, his success with quarterbacks and his trusted system that finally landed him the opportunity to lead an NFL team. The interview, fittingly, started from the beginning.
A native of Pocatello, Idaho, Koetter grew up the son of a multi-sport coach, though football was always No. 1. It was his dad’s collection of books and hand-written notes that introduced him to the game and kept reading – of all kinds – an important part of his methods and teachings to players.
“Around that family room was all football stuff,” Koetter said. “Every football book ever written, and I can visualize in my head the Glenn “Tiger” Ellison book you mentioned, the cover of that. Every book ever written (about football) and there were tons of yellow legal pads sitting on every table with drawings.
“When my dad wasn’t around, I’d be picking up those notebooks and looking at those pictures and flipping through those books.”
Koetter would go with his dad to practice, handling the team’s equipment and serving as their water boy. From there, he never left the field, becoming a quarterback and playing four years at Idaho State University before returning to become head coach at his high school, Highland High, in 1983 at age of 24.
Before long, Koetter found his way into the college ranks at UTEP as offensive coordinator under Bob Stull. While the Midwest area wasn’t typically known for its elite level of football at the time, it produced a number of successful coaches – Dennis Erikson, Marvin Lewis etc. – and Koetter believed the strategy and style of play was ahead of its time.
“The Big Sky Conference, back in the day, was a real powerhouse when it came to I-AA football,” Koetter said. “At one point, Boise State won a couple of National Championships. Chuck Pagano coached out of there. Marvin Lewis was up there with us, myself. Then Erickson had all his guys who were spread around. With the Montana schools, Marty Mornhinweg is out of there and coached a bunch of places.
“I think that conference was ahead of the game as far as throwing the ball. You kind of had some of the stuff that has morphed into the spread and the quick game.”
Perhaps it was the conference’s pass-heavy style that molded the coach Koetter is today. An offensive-minded guy, Koetter has built a reputation as a quarterback-guru, leading veterans like David Garrard and Matt Ryan through some of the best years of their career, while also receiving a great deal of praise for Jameis Winston’s rookie campaign.
While Koetter is always quick to deflect credit – “First of all, all three of the guys you mentioned are excellent quarterbacks,” he told Cole – he broke down his simple process of building a trust with his quarterback.
“It’s really not a big secret. You take what guys are good at and you build it around that and try to avoid what they’re not so good at,” Koetter said, explaining that it’s all about seeing it through your quarterback’s eyes. “You listen to them. You get to know them. They know what they’re good at and what they’re not good at.
“So as you build your stuff through the week—your game plan—they’ll tell you they don’t like that. You might say, “I think this would be really good this week,” and they might say, “I don’t like it.” Maybe we try it in practice; maybe we don’t.
“I’ve switched systems—not concepts, but systems—a lot,” Koetter continued on changing his system to fit the quarterback. “I know how to teach concepts, but systems are whether you call it “brown” or “black.” To me, it really doesn’t matter what you call it, and that’s why I can learn to call stuff different, but the concepts don’t really change.”
In many respects, only the terminology changes from one team to another, Koetter explained. In his case, the Jauars to the Falcons and the Falcons to the Bucs.
“When I went to Atlanta, they had been very successful before I got there. I was the only new guy there,” Koetter said. “Why would you have Matt Ryan change the terminology he knew? Look, everybody in the NFL is running roughly the same plays, give or take. It’s how you teach those plays and the details and how the quarterback calls it that are different. Some plays and concepts that I totally liked in Jacksonville, they just changed names when I got to Atlanta. We made them into their terms.”
The interview then shifted to the upcoming season, Koetter’s first as an NFL head coach. While certain aspects will be different, like having a “game management” coach by his side, Koetter will try to keep the same relationship with Winston while still serving as the offensive play-caller.
His outlook on overall game management, which he compared to playing blackjack, was a particularly interesting segment of the Q&A. The in-depth interview touched on topics ranging from the importance of a Dr. Suess book in his life, to his biggest critiques of Winston last year, and everything in between.
To read the rest of Cole’s interview of Koetter on BleacherReport.com, click here
Zach is entering his 3rd year covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a writer for PewterReport.com. Since 2014, he's handled a large part of the beat reporting responsibilities at PR, attending all media gatherings and publishing and promoting content daily. Zach is a native of Sarasota, FL, and a graduate of the University of Tampa. He has also covered high school football for the Tampa Tribune and the NFL for Pro Player Insiders.
Contact him at: email@example.com