The Buccaneers fired Lovie Smith on Wednesday night after a dismal 8-24 record in his first two years as Tampa Bay’s head coach. The Glazers have put general manager Jason Licht, who was hired by Smith, in charge of finding his replacement.
Licht won’t have to look to far as the next head coach of Bucs is already on staff.
As PewterReport.com first reported, offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter is the leading candidate to take over in Tampa Bay. But first Licht, who will be addressing the media on Thursday afternoon at One Buccaneer Place, must interview at least one minority candidate before making a hire, according to the NFL’s Rooney Rule.
Bucs OC Dirk Koetter – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
However, there will be other candidate names tossed around by fans and the media.
Chip Kelly, who spurned the Bucs in 2012, and was hired by Philadelphia in 2013.
Tom Coughlin, two-time Super Bowl winner with the New York Giants.
New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who spent time with Licht with the Patriots.
Adam Gase, Chicago’s offensive coordinator and a hot commodity in NFL circles.
But Koetter, who has been in the NFL since 2007 when he was the offensive coordinator in Jacksonville (2007-11) before moving on to Atlanta (2012-14) and then to Tampa Bay, seems like the right fit for this team right now.
It took the Buccaneers 40 years to find their franchise quarterback, but they finally did in Jameis Winston, who was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2015. Koetter, who has groomed David Garrard in Jacksonville and Matt Ryan in Atlanta, oversaw Winston’s development and helped transform him into a 4,000-yard passer and a leading candidate for the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award. The Bucs want to keep a good thing going.
That’s why when Philadelphia and Miami started talking to Koetter about becoming their head coach, Licht and the Glazers realized that Koetter was more important to the Bucs franchise moving forward than Smith and his failed defense were. In danger of losing Koetter, Smith was fired to create a head coach opening in Tampa Bay, too.
Keeping continuity with the Bucs’ improving offense led by Koetter and Winston is of supreme importance to Licht and the Glazers. The Bucs had the league’s fifth-ranked offense, averaging 375.9 yards per game last year, but need to improve in the area of scoring offense, were Tampa Bay was ranked 20th, averaging 21.4 points per game.
Bucs OC Dirk Koetter – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Still, there was a lot of improvement on the offensive side of the ball with Koetter’s influence. Tampa Bay had the league’s second-best running back in Pro Bowler Doug Martin. Backup Charles Sims led all running backs in yards per touch, and totaled 1,000 yards of total offense while tied for the lead in Tampa Bay in touchdown receptions with four.
Wide receiver Mike Evans had his second 1,000-yard season in as many years. Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins doubled his touchdown production from a year ago with four scores despite missing nine games due to injury, while reserve tight end Cameron Brate developed into a receiving threat with three touchdowns of his own.
The Bucs offensive line featured two rookie starters in left tackle Donovan Smith and right guard Ali Marpet, as well as two veteran newcomers in center Joe Hawley and right tackle Gosder Cherilus. Left guard Logan Mankins returned to form and was a Pro Bowl alternate at age 34.
There is some risk with hiring Koetter as he doesn’t have any NFL head coaching experience, and Tampa Bay’s offense did sputter down the stretch, especially in point production. But the truth is that no one has any NFL head coaching experience until they get their first opportunity. It’s time to give Koetter an opportunity.
Koetter did have head coaching experience at Boise State (1998-2000) where he compiled a record of 26-10, and at Arizona State (2001-06) where he was 40-34 and produced winning seasons his last three years. And his leadership style on the offensive side of the ball, his charisma and his enthusiasm on the practice field and in the meeting rooms were well noted by Licht and the Glazers throughout the season.
“It’s easy to play for a guy like Dirk,” Evans said. “He’s a fun guy to be around. When he demands something we’re going to do it because he’s a good guy. He calls great plays and he believes in us. He’s easy to play for. It’s fun talking with him and listening to him. As a coach he’s not boring. He’s fun. I guess that helps. He makes football fun.”
The energetic Koetter laughed when told that the players appreciate his sense of humor and desire to lighten the mood around One Buccaneer Place.
“Some days it’s fun,” Koetter said. “I do try to keep it fun. Football is a game number one. These guys all started playing the game when they were young because it was fun. We sometimes forget that because now we do it for a living and it’s a business. When you get to the NFL we are in meetings forever. We meet with those quarterbacks for three hours a day. All of our guys are willing listeners and willing learners, but I can’t sit through a three-hour lecture myself. When you have coaches up there it can sound like the same old “blah, blah, blah.’
Bucs OC Dirk Koetter – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“So where we can, we put unique things into our power point presentations. We have a guest coach – which is a player – every Friday where we put up a picture of a guy and he has to come up and explain something in front of the team. We sometimes take liberties with pictures and we sometimes put our guy’s head with another guy’s body. If there is an opportunity to get these guys to smile I think that’s good.”
It didn’t take long for Tampa Bay’s players to realize that Koetter would make a significant difference on offense. The tight end position would no longer be ignored in the passing game. The Bucs running backs would also be utilized in the passing game with screen passes and wheel routes. Tampa Bay would both run and pass on first down and the play-calling would no longer be predictable.
“You could tell from the moment we brought him in the kind of impact he was going to have on our team,” Bucs quarterback Mike Glennon said. “You’re seeing the results right now. We’re playing really well. The coaches coach and the players play, but there is something to be said about the job he’s done. He’s done a great job of calling up the plays at the right time and the right situations. As an offense we’re executing better, but a lot of it is him.
“Dirk makes things fun. Our meetings are fun with him. He does a great job of that. He’s got the right personality for the job. Not only is he good with the X’s and O’s, he does a great job of relating to the players. He’ll poke fun at guys in meetings and keeps your attention – keeps it light. His personality fits that mold. He’s the right man for the job and he’s really helping us out. It’s fun around here.”
The old football cliché about players willing to run through walls for their coach definitely applies to Koetter. The man is absolutely loved and adored by his players and you’re seeing the results of their strong bond on the field and on the scoreboard.
Lovie Smith and OC Dirk Koetter – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“Dirk means well and he’s so dedicated,” Bucs receiver Donteea Dye said. “He’s got a game plan and he’s going to go with it and attack it. He attacks everything with a passion. He’s got a great scheme and he gets the ball out fast to our playmakers. It’s a great offense to be in and Dirk is a great guy. He just makes it fun around here.”
Funny pictures of the Bucs players make offensive meetings and team meetings fun, but Koetter knows that there’s a time to play and a time to work.
“The only time that having fun can be a problem is when guys don’t know when it’s time to work and time to have fun,” Koetter said. “We really don’t have that problem, though. I try to give them a little bit of leeway on that. I try to keep it light.
‘Your job, my job or anyone’s job – it is drudgery if you are looking at your watch, saying, ‘When’s quitting time?’”
With the gregarious Koetter in place leading the offense this past spring, OTAs and mini-camps were fun. Training camp was fun last summer. Putting up 31 points on offense against Jacksonville and 38 points on offense in Philadelphia was fun this fall.
Winning is fun, but the Bucs didn’t do that enough in 2015.
Bucs QB Jameis Winston – Photo by: Getty Images
If Koetter is hired to replace Smith, he’ll have to find a way for Winston to reduce his number of interceptions down from 16, and improve the points scored upward to 25 points per game in order for the Bucs to get into serious playoff contention in 2016.
More importantly, Koetter and Licht would have to fix the Buccaneers defense, which will need a new defensive coordinator and likely some new position coaches, especially in the secondary. Linebackers coach Hardy Nickerson and defensive line coach Joe Cullen are definitely worth keeping, though.
The 2016 draft will have to be loaded with defensive players, but Koetter and Licht will need to find at least a stud speed receiver to help Winston stretch the field vertically and take some of the attention away from Evans in the passing game. Having Koetter on board probably helps Licht’s chances of re-signing Martin before he hits free agency, too.
There are no guarantees that Koetter will be successful in Tampa Bay, but the Glazers had already deemed that Smith was unsuccessful due to his 8-24 record – and rightly so.
Give Koetter a shot. His energy and charisma will quickly win over the defensive players provided he hires them a very good defensive coordinator.
Bucs OC Dirk Koetter, GM Jason Licht and Jon Robinson – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Licht has been an unabashed Koetter fan since he was hired by the Bucs in January after he was let go in the Falcons coaching purge in Atlanta.
“If we wouldn’t have signed or drafted any player, we still think we are a better team than we were last year,” Licht said in the offseason. “And that’s because of the addition of Dirk Koetter.”
As word of Smith’s sudden firing quickly spread on social media, Tampa Bay tight end Brandon Myers chimed in on Twitter to say “Dirk has been the man since he walked in the door.”
Sounds like Licht has already found the Buccaneers’ next coach.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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