Cover 3 is a weekly feature column written by PewterReport.com’s Tampa Bay Bucs 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 Story of the Week
He didn’t say “we.”
When Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter was asked about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ future game overseas last week, as it was announced by the NFL for the first time, his answer was pretty standard. He sort of laughed and said that all it means is that one game will be overseas. You could get the feeling that he didn’t love the idea – I’m sure no coach does. But then he went onto just saying that his team is focused on the upcoming game against Baltimore.
However, there was a little add-on at the end of his answer that raised some eyebrows.
“I’ve been associated with games out of the country before and when you get to them, I think the players do enjoy that week – when you actually get over there,” Koetter said. “Trips are long. Usually you’re rewarded on the back end with your bye week. Once you’re over there, it’s football, it’s new and it’s different. I think for right now, we’re trying to focus on Baltimore. We’ve got our hands full with Baltimore. That’s something that’s going to happen in the future and when the Bucs get to that point in the season next year, I’m sure it will be good.”
He didn’t say “we.” He said “the Bucs.”
The Buccaneers’ 20-12 loss in Baltimore at the hands of Lamar Jackson and the rest of the Ravens’ roster all but sealed the fate of Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter, but perhaps that quote the week before hinted that he’s seen the writing on the wall himself before that result even came to fruition.
Koetter is a no B.S. guy. He doesn’t lie well, especially in the moment. I’m sure that was a trait general manager Jason Licht really liked about Koetter when he was considered as a head coach. Licht probably didn’t want a company man. He didn’t want a “yes” man. He didn’t want someone who was afraid to say the things that needed to be said or do what needed to be done. Koetter has certainly done that, in some ways. He’s been aggressive in how he’s built his offense, and benching Jameis Winston when he thought it was the right move. But in other ways he hasn’t, say not being aggressive enough to move on from Mike Smith sooner.
When it comes to how he handles questions from the media, Koetter still wears what he thinks on his sleeve; he doesn’t hold back or back down from questions nearly as much as other coaches do around the league. Because of that, sometimes you can pick up little hints. I think last week’s hint of him not saying “we” by default or by second nature wasn’t just a slip of the mind or “not anything to write about”. I think he really has doubts he’ll be back. I don’t blame him.
I do not know what was said between Koetter, Licht and the Glazers this offseason. I do not know if there were ground rules of what Koetter knew he had to accomplish to remain the head coach. After a disappointing 5-11 season the year before, Koetter even called the move to retain him “courageous” of the team’s ownership to give him another year – this likely due to the swirling Jon Gruden rumors near the end of 2017. But whatever it was, they did or did not say to him aloud, the Bucs finish in 2018 – whatever it may be – likely falls short of what he needed to do, especially the way it was done.
Koetter’s built-in excuse going into the year could’ve been that they didn’t have their starting quarterback for the first three games. But once the team won its first two in dramatic, NFL-record setting fashion, that excuse was no more. Instead he then had to juggle quarterbacks. I thought he made the right choices at each turn, but the results were not on his side, regardless. Then there was the defense. After a year where the Bucs were the worst defense in the NFL, it seemed as though Koetter never even considered moving on from Smith, and when he did you could tell there was some nudging to do so, even though Koetter said there wasn’t.
Now the problem is the offense. Not only is Koetter, an offensive-minded head coach, no longer considered the best play-calling option on his own staff, the Bucs’ best option, as it has been proclaimed, can’t even score more than three points in the last two second halves of football they’ve played. And before that, they scored just three points with 500 yards of offense against the Redskins.
All of that goes through Koetter’s mind. He’s human; he knows.
That’s why his brain didn’t tell him to say “we.” His brain can’t lie on a whim like that. It’s just not Koetter.
This past game against the Ravens was actually the least at-fault of the recent nails in his hypothetical coffin as Buccaneers head coach. The conditions were awful and, boy, did his players let him down big time.
But that’s just the thing. Week after week, someone lets Koetter down. Not that he hasn’t been to blame for this season, too, but there are a few games this year where he’s taken to the podium afterwards and you can just tell he wants to say out loud “What more can I do? I can’t go out there and suit up myself!”
But ultimately that is on him, too. A coach must get his players to respond to the coaching, and when you don’t have answers in the post-game speech to your team or at the podium to the media – your players just won’t respond. Teams often take the identity of its coach. When the Buccaneers have won games, it’s easy to see why players fight for Koetter. He enjoys it just as much as they do; they take that part of his personality on.
But after two straight seasons of disappointment, and disbelief and hollow words spoken more than actual adjustments that work, the players have take on that identity of Koetter, too. And they’ve done a lot more losing than they have winning.
If Koetter’s teams were winning, this is a coaching staff and a roster that could really catch fire with momentum and confidence, but it hasn’t happened – and I’m afraid it never will.
Because soon it won’t be “we.”
It will be “the Bucs.”