Cover 3 is a weekly feature column written by PewterReport.com’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat writer Trevor Sikkema published every Tuesday. The column, as its name suggests, comes in three phases: a statistical observation, an in-depth film breakdown, and a “this or that” segment where the writer asks the reader to chose between two options.
Sikkema’s Stat of the Week
“And now, the end is near
And so I face the final curtain
My friend, I’ll say it clear
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain
I’ve lived a life that’s full
I’ve traveled each and every highway
And more, much more than this
I did it my way”
Like the tone of the famous Frank Sinatra tune, it seems as though time is running out for Dirk Koetter as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – unless they go on one heck of a winning streak at the end of the season that nobody sees coming.
For this, you can point to a few reasons. First of all, the team has not won under Koetter’s leadership, and that is truly where evaluations start and finish. At 3-6, Koetter is now 17-24 (.414) as a head coach. After missing out on the playoff following a 9-7 season, he has since gone 5-11 – with what was proclaimed to be perhaps the most talented team the Buccaneers have had since their Super Bowl era – and is now poised to repeat such a record, with even more adjustments and additions made to both the coaching staff and the roster.
Koetter has failed, in that regard, but that is not the only area he has come up short.
When it comes to talent evaluation, both he and general manager Jason Licht have dropped the ball. How much each man has to do with decisions of ultimately bringing guys in or signing them to extensions is unclear, though Licht, by title, likely does most of the heavy lifting, and shall get his own share of blame in all this. But players like cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, kicker Roberto Aguayo, defensive end Noah Spence, defensive Vita Vea and tackle Ronald Jones all look like misses on the draft scene in the first two rounds, while players like defensive tackle Chris Baker, safeties T.J. Ward and J.J. Wilcox, and kickers Nick Folk and Chandler Catanzaro hurt as free agents.
Then you have to talk about talent outlook, an area that has also been shaky at best. The team decided to give big payouts to players like defensive end William Gholston and tight end Cameron Brate for contracts they will likely not live up to (not all the player’s fault). There’s also been the unrealistic optimism for guys like left tackle Donovan Smith, former guard Kevin Pamphile, guard Caleb Benenoch and cornerback Brent Grimes. Players that were kept around because the staff and the front office believed their own lies that they could make players into something they’re not.
But not all of that is on Koetter. Some of that falls on the failure of his staff to properly develop players. But that, too, is a problem, as it is his staff.
Defensive line coach Jay Hayes coached the Buccaneers into the worst defensive line in the NFL two years ago – and it took them 40 days after the season to fire him. George Warhop has been the offensive line coach for even longer than Koetter has been head coach, and yet the Buccaneers offensive line continues to be underwhelming, and has never gelled as a unit, under his tutelage.
Defensive coordinator Mike Smith not only had one of the worst defenses in the league for the last three seasons, but was also the highest paid coordinator while doing so. Change there didn’t come until it was too late. Quarterbacks coach Mike Bajakian has been with the team since 2015, and with him, quarterback Jameis Winston’s progression has been so meaningless that he sits on the bench.
And that brings up another area where Koetter has failed, likely the most important of them all: how he’s dealt with Winston.
The entire reason Koetter was hired was because Tampa Bay thought they would lose him to another team in the offseason and wanted to keep consistency with him and Winston as Winston progressed from his rookie season. I don’t know if Koetter ever really believed in Winston or what, but it’s clear now that Winston was not his choice. If he was, he’d be his guy right now, even in the struggles.
As a first-time head coach, Koetter is truly realizing what it takes to be the unquestioned leader of a team. He has delegated more duties than he likely has wanted to. He’s also had to make decisions that appear to be over his head or out of his area of expertise. Head coaches have to be managers more than anything else. They have to know how to deal with and evaluate players and people on levels coordinators don’t have to. It’s a bigger jump than you think, one that appeared to be too big for Koetter.
This Monday, Koetter made it loud and clear that he’s had enough. He made it clear that if this is it, if he’s going down, then dammit, he’s going to do it his way.
Long-term, there’s no reason for Winston to not be the starting quarterback this Sunday in New York. There’s no excuse for it. It makes absolutely no sense for a team that is all but mathematically eliminated from playoff contention to keep playing a 35-year-old quarterback when the 24-year-old franchise hopeful sits on the bench. The only way it makes sense is if Koetter believes that it’s his best chance to win a singular football game with Fitzpatrick with zero sight or care into the future beyond the next Sunday. And it appears like that’s what he’s doing.
It does not make sense for Koetter to take back play calling the way he did against Washington, and it makes even less sense for his reasoning. Koetter has said the Buccaneers have needed to run the ball more after their loss to Pittsburgh – a game that I believe shook him as a coach.
All week the Buccaneers talked about the physicality of Washington being their strength. So Koetter took play calling back to run the ball more? Right into their strength? Knowing full well that one of their starting corners was hurt and they had a new safety? And not to mention the fact that if they passed and score more that meant the Bucs defensive line could stay on attack mode against a beat up Washington offensive line, and it could get Washington’s best player off the field (Adrian Peterson).
How did that make any sense? It didn’t. Sense isn’t the right word. Stubborn is. It was Koetter wanting to do it his way.
Koetter recently said it is undecided whether or not he’ll call plays against New York. Todd Monken had great success as the play-caller early on, but the second adversity struck, Koetter panicked. If I were a betting man, I’d tell you Koetter got a lot more involved in play-calling decision making long before that Washington game.
Take play-calling back for the rest of the season, Dirk. That’s the decision you made when you took it back to face Washington. It has bothered you since after the Steelers game. The emphasis on controlling the game and running the ball has not worked, but it is what you continue to want to do. So you did it.
You don’t trust Monken. That message was perfectly clear. Don’t pretend like you do. It’s your ship. Sail it to treasures or go down as it sinks.
I think that’s what he’s doing. I think in Koetter’s mind, he is tired of the people he’s delegated decisions to costing him his job. Make no mistake, Koetter is fully to blame here, too. I’m not trying to say he isn’t. But him telling the media he didn’t really have a message for the team after their 16-3 loss at home where they broke an NFL record for least amount of points score with over 500 yards gained told me all I needed to know.
Koetter isn’t an NFL head coach.
You are hired for that exact reason. You’re hired to be able to look at that locker room, with all that talent and resources brought in, and be able to give them a message for them to believe in and a speech to stay the course. If you didn’t have a message for the team last week, if there weren’t any positives to be said, then why is Fitzpatrick starting at QB on Sunday going to give you the best chance to win?
I don’t think Koetter believes this team can win many more games – players failing to execute has a lot to do with that, too. Too much back-and-forth going on with too much uncertainty. But whatever the results, he’s going to do it his way.
You never know whether or not a guy is ready to be a head coach until he is, but it’s not like there are proven head coaches just sitting on the streets. The Bucs took a chance on Koetter and it failed. It was the right call to try him in 2016, but it just hasn’t worked out. Koetter couldn’t handle the adjustments needed for success. He had his way and he didn’t budge, at least not enough. Koetter is a good offensive mind, but the head coaching responsibilities have proven to be too much, for whatever reason.
But, while he is the coach for a little while longer, he’s going to do things his way, and you know what? I respect him for that. I respect him for not wanting to take any credit or blame that he doesn’t deserve either way. And as this Buccaneers season goes down as another failure, that’s exactly what he’ll do.
He’s done delegating.
He’s done hearing “you have to do this” or “you have to do that.”
He’s the captain.
Whatever comes at the end of his road and however quick it comes, he’ll do it his way.
In a way, he always has.
“Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew
But through it all, when there was doubt
I ate it up and spit it out
I faced it all and I stood tall
And did it my way”