FAB 3. If Koetter Flames Out, What’s Next For The Bucs?

The Indianapolis Colts made quite a save in hiring Philadelphia offensive coordinator Frank Reich after being jilted by New England’s offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who agreed to take the job prior to the Patriots’ appearance in Super Bowl LII, but never signed the contract.

McDaniels spurned the Colts, opting to stay with Bill Belichick in New England at the last minute in a move that drew widespread criticism from around the league, especially since three of the assistants he hired had already signed their contracts with the Colts. Reich filled the final vacant head-coaching job in the NFL for the 2018 season.

Former Bucs head coach Jon Gruden - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Former Bucs head coach Jon Gruden – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Reich becomes the seventh new NFL head coach this year, joining Steve Wilks in Arizona, Matt Nagy in Chicago, Matt Patricia in Detroit, Pat Shurmur with the New York Giants, Jon Gruden in Oakland and Mike Vrabel in Tennessee, and it makes me wonder what happens if Dirk Koetter can’t get Tampa Bay back to its winning ways in 2018? You see I liked Patricia, McDaniels and Vrabel as head-coaching candidates in Tampa Bay if the Bucs were going to make a move after last year’s disappointing 5-11 record. But Patricia and Vrabel are off the market, and one has to think that McDaniels is waiting to replace Bill Belichick in New England.

The Glazers attempted to get Gruden to come back to the Bucs this year to replace Koetter, but instead he opted for the money and long-term job security his 10-year, $100-million contract bought him. I can’t blame the Glazers for not matching Mark Davis’ offer to Gruden because that is quite the financial commitment for a guy that has been away from the NFL sidelines for nine years. But, if Gruden comes back to Oakland and takes the league by storm and wins a Super Bowl in the near future, the Glazers might be kicking themselves, especially if 2016 was a one-year wonder and Koetter doesn’t pan out. If that happens I don’t know where this franchise goes from here.

You have to give the Glazers credit. They’ve pretty much covered all the bases when it comes to hiring head coaches over the last decade.

After firing Gruden, the team’s Super Bowl-winning coach after the 2008 season, the Glazers went the route of the young, hotshot defensive-minded assistant coach in Raheem Morris as his replacement. The hiring of Morris also checked the box of going with an in-house candidate rather than going outside of the organization.

When Morris was fired after three seasons because he ran too loose of a ship the Glazers hired a polar opposite in Greg Schiano, checking several boxes with him, too. Schiano was defensive-minded, but so was Morris. Yet Schiano ran an ultra-tight ship, which was a huge pendulum swing from the loose “Youngry Buccaneers” culture that existed under Morris. Schiano was also from the college ranks, so that box was checked, too.

Ex-Bucs HC Lovie Smith - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Ex-Bucs HC Lovie Smith – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

After two years with Schiano, the Glazers went back into their past to get former Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith, who was on Tony Dungy’s original staff back in the 1990s as the team’s linebackers coach. The defensive-minded Smith had taken the Bears to the playoffs several times, and even the Super Bowl, but his Tampa 2 system was too outdated and led to his tenure coming to a quick end after just two years. Smith’s Bucs teams played more like early 1990s Tampa Bay teams than late 1990s squads.

The Glazers saw how Koetter, the team’s new offensive coordinator, produced the league’s top 5 offense – a franchise high water mark – in 2015, and decided to fire Smith and again hire from within. After three straight times of going with defensive-minded head coaches – without very good results to show for it – the Glazers switched up and went with an offensive-minded head coach in Koetter, who qualified as another in-house candidate, like Morris was in 2009.

Offensive-minded head coach. Check.

Defensive-minded head coaches. Check.

Black guys. Check.

White guys. Check.

Young coach. Check.

Older coaches. Check.

In-house hires. Check.

Unproven coordinator hire. Check.

Coach from another organization. Check.

Coach from the college ranks. Check.

Former coach from the glory days. Check.

Disciplinarian. Check.

Players’ coaches. Check.

So, if Koetter flames out this year, where do the Glazers go from here? After checking virtually every conceivable box, at some point they are going to be repeating themselves in the hiring process. But, will the Bucs be repeating the same results, which is yet another couple of years without a trip to the playoffs?

Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter and the Glazers - Photo by; Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter and the Glazers – Photo by; Cliff Welch/PR

Of course the best-case scenario is for the Glazers’ plan of avoiding change and maintaining the status quo when it comes to the coaching staff to pay off, as Koetter and coaches turn the corner and get back to the winning ways of 2016. The only thing the Glazers haven’t tried until now is patience, and that’s hard for them because they have been generally impatient in years past, churning through three coaches in the span of seven years before getting to Koetter, who has a record of 14-18. But they are trying patience now.

Yet if significant strides aren’t made in 2018, Koetter and his staff will likely be fired and the Glazers will go back to square one – only this time they won’t have any new avenues to explore. But who is on the horizon for 2019, assuming that Koetter doesn’t get the job done this year?

Some of the more buzz-worthy candidates over the past couple of years, including Patricia, McDaniels, Vrabel, Shurmur and Reich are off the market. Jack Del Rio, who has had head-coaching stops in Jacksonville (2003-11) and Oakland (2015-17), could be sought after, and the same could be said for Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who has head coaching experience in Detroit (2009-13).

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh and Stanford’s David Shaw have been recruited for years by NFL teams but have rebuffed those advances. That could continue in 2019.

If the Bucs want to go with the coordinator/unproven head coach route again, Tennessee offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur, who was the Rams’ quarterbacks coach in 2017, could be sought after, in addition to Minnesota offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, who was Philadelphia’s quarterbacks coach last year. On the defensive side of the ball, former Bucs defensive line coach Todd Wash has done wonders with Jacksonville’s defense over the past two years. Expect Wash to become a buzz-worthy candidate in 2018 if the Jaguars defense continues to play at a high level.

Jaguars DC Todd Wash - Photo by: Getty Images
Jaguars DC Todd Wash – Photo by: Getty Images

If the Glazers want to continue in their role as trailblazers in the minority community when it comes to head coaching hires, there are plenty of worthy African-American candidates. Harold Goodwin, 44, who served as Bruce Arians’ offensive coordinator in Arizona from 2013-17, interviewed with the Bucs in 2016 prior to the hiring of Koetter due to his connection with Licht. On the defensive side of the ball, Denver defensive coordinator Joe Woods, who was a former Tampa Bay defensive backs coach (2004-05), and Atlanta defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel are young and have shown a good deal of promise as first-year coordinators.

The best-case scenario in Tampa Bay is that the Glazers’ patience with Koetter pays off and he rewards them with a winning season and perhaps a long-awaited playoff berth in 2018. There’s nothing better than stability within a franchise, and having blown through four different head coaches since 2011, the Bucs can definitely use it – especially with so much uncertainty in the potential head-coaching candidate pool in 2019.

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Scott Reynolds is in his 24th 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 son's Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]

32 COMMENTS

  1. Don’t worry Scott, we won’t forget which Bucs site was touting Vea first.

    By the way Jimmy Lake, defensive coordinator at Washington, is completely convinced that Vea will be selected before the Bucs at #7. Seems like his current rise up draft boards even before the combine takes place might support that conviction. I guess we’ll see how it plays out soon enough.

    One positive is if Vea does end up being drafted before the Bucs that means another elite prospect falls into the Bucs’ lap (just like last year with OJ Howard). There’s only so much room in those first 6 picks for players to “jump” ahead of the Bucs. Not concerned one bit.

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    • I think it sounds like his coach is just trying to talk up his former player. Vea may be rising slightly but him being taken before 7 is ludicrous. That only happens if a team (mistakenly) thinks he is Aaron Donald. Which he is not.

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  2. The Glazers have checked all the boxes because they hire & fire coaches almost on pace with Cleveland. Since Dungy & Gruden I would say that the choices & patience has been a garbage pit. They blew the thing up & hired Morris, meh, then they brought in the A-hole, yuck, then Lovie, boy, and finally Koetter. Koetter is the best of of the bunch since Gruden and I as a fan call for some patience & stability. This team was years & drafts away when Lovie was hired, and are still I think 2 draft classes or 3 years from being in place. Once you have a team and the coach can’t get you over the hump (Dungy to Gruden) make the move.

    Which leads me to Licht. He is a good GM, period. Who have we had in TB that has been better? Rich? Licht is a good scout, he is gatherer of talent, and has drafted pretty darn good. He swung for the fences on Roberto, and Roberto turned out to be a head case flame out. IF Roberto turned out to be Automatica would the cry’s be so loud, don’t think so. A GM has to take some risks, and risks are what they are…risks. His hit rate is good, and his undrafted FA pick-ups are money. Stability with a solid back office is very important. Look at some of the clown GM’s on other teams, TB stay the course.

    PS- I honestly believe that part of the problem last year was hard knocks. This team was not mature enough for that, pumped expectations too far, and made them believe they were better than they were. Fun to watch but I rather have a play-off team.

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  3. Aside from A kicker and VH3 Licht has drafted well.

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    • VH3 was the best pick at that spot. It was the correct pick. But yeah grabbing Aguayo with Byard and Ngakoue still on the board is not great.

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      • Sorry he WAS NOT.

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  4. Thanks Scott for addressing the bucs pitch to free agents. I hate it when people say stuff like “why would anyone want to sign with Tampa?” theres a lot of reason why a free agent would want to sign with the bucs and you made some good points.

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  5. I hear you Scott but I just can’t see the Bucs drafting a DT that high with such low production. When you picking in the top 10 the selection has to be a game changer and Vita Vea is not that. A trade down is the only way you draft Vea. Losing team draft players based on how good they perform at the NFL Combine. I still can’t get over 9 1/2 sacks in 3 years, and you mocking him to the Bucs at 7. I say once again, I can’t wait until your next mock draft after getting intel from the combine. I expect you to have another player mocked to the Bucs.

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  6. Could we please wait until Koetter has a few games under his belt in 2018 before we start talking about life after he leaves?

    Kind of a downbeat fab five in many ways. Strange spin on free agency. Why wouldn’t free agents want to sign with the Bucs? The Bucs have money and plenty of talent and a great draft position. With all the QBs going early the Bucs effectively have a top three draft pick. They were a half dozen scores and a kicker away from making the playoffs this year. They’re not the Browns.
    FAs realize the Bucs are a pretty good place to go.

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  7. Nice work on the trailblazer piece, Scott. I look forward to Mac-commentary? As far as Koetter, the jury is still out; can he adapt? Can push a little harder in the offseason? Can he make more in-game changes? We’ll see.. As far as Meathead is concerned; I’ve always been a fan. All GMs have hits and misses, but when you look at the overall picture, he has restocked this team with talent in his tenure. I think that he’ll get extended. I still like a trade down scenario with the Bills and with their two first rounders, picking up Billy Price & Da’ron Payne.

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  8. The Glazer sons have checked every box when it comes to hiring coaches except one: Get someone besides the Glazer sons to do the hiring. They are the common denominator in the lousy direction this team has taken since they started calling the shots in the mid 2000’s: From the HC to the GM to the team record to the ugly uniforms to the ticket prices.

    They need to either hire an outside firm to hire a President/CEO to run the team who can hire the GM and coach (making the Glazers silent owners) or sell the team.

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    • Pinkstob, that just isn’t going to happen. It’s a family business and it will stay that way as long as they choose to make hundreds of millions off their investment.

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      • With enough pressure from the fans and local media you can make change happen in the sports world, even all the way to ownership…if you apply the pressure for long enough. The owners are human, they can be embarrassed just like us…only for different reasons. Again, they can transfer power to a President/CEO without selling the team.

        If guys like SR and other local media condemn the Glazers consistently for the product they have produced we have a chance at seeing positive change. If the fans and local media defend them for trying we’ll never win another Super Bowl. Remember, the Glazers boys weren’t running the team when we won the Super Bowl.

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  9. Love the bit about Licht, not enough credit for at least giving us talent and holding onto it than we’ve been able to in a long time. But are we so sure that Dirk was Licht’s guy all the way, wholeheartedly? I somehow get the feeling that he wasn’t. Either way he’s stuck with him and if he has another good offseason, he should be free to bring in a whole new coaching staff of his own.

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    • I totally agree with you Charlie. I think Licht has done an excellent job in the draft outside of Roberto Aguayo of course.

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  10. Thanks for recognizing what the Bucs have done in their personnel with African Americans, great nugget with Parnell Dickinson, many people didn’t know he was the first black QB to start for the Bucs, I believe he is still part of the community there. They have also given opportunities to fornmer GaTech QB Joe Hamilton was on the roster.
    On note of correction I believe Jacksonville had Leftwich, David Garrard and Quin Gray on the roster all at once as well.

    Unfortunate for all three coaches unable to finish the job, but I believe Raheem is a better coach now because of his experiences, Tony D. was always class and Lovie, I think with time we would’ve been competitive, I mean, I don’t think we would’ve drafted a kicker over a defensive lineman.

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  11. OK, So E you want the black guy to comment on the Glazer’s trailblazing with black coaches and QBs. Lol. Actually I’m not a black guy, I’m simply sporting a full body freckle. Lol. For those of you new to PR, some time back I posted a photo (age 45) of me so everybody knew the nutcase that posted the long posts. Well now I’m really 68 and having a great time and hope all of you are too!

    Now my take on the subject. I think the Glazers were trying to get the best players/coaches that were available. They were ahead of the Rooney Rule but I don’t think they were thinking color – they are first and foremost businessmen. Things were changing, colleges were starting/featuring black QBs and the HBCUs had long been providing talent to the NFL. They like all NFL owners wanted people of color and women to fill seats too.

    Big ups to them and other NFL teams for seeing and acknowledging that trend. Now the trick is to hire/draft/sign anyone of any hue or persuasion that can win. Now let it be said that even though they had the will to hire, never have they been hesitant to fire anyone that didn’t work out regardless of color. Fortunately, that’s not an issue today – we’ve (you/me/us/them) have come a long way.

    Now I have to warn you after this post I will be going back to my Alfred E. Neuman avatar. I have no intention of being taken seriously and hope you guys are having as much fun as I am. Go Bucs! Old Dudes Rule! Lol.

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    • Ha ha! I’m must say that you display impressive freckling skills. Maybe by not thinking of color, they were ahead? You know that there are a number of people that look forward to your posts; freckled or otherwise… 🙂

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    • You sure are one handsome guy macabee. We’re both the same age and, from the looks of your photo, like me, you still have all of your hair and teeth. I love your sense of humor, your often sarcastic remarks, but most of all your in depth knowledge and perspective of all topics.

      Me, I’m just a smart ass with a relatively quick wit. Wish you were my neighbor. Love to meet you someday.

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  12. Amen. Mac, you’ve got a few years on me, but we’re not that far apart. My Take – If we just focus on what a coach or player can produce the rest should take care of itself. Ability is the best and should be the only qualification.

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  13. For all of you who think Licht’s done a good job, don’t look at the many needs we still have, just look at our won loss record during his tenure.

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  14. A GM’s job is not to make “good” draft picks. A GM needs to build a winning roster. In four years, he has not done that. He has neglected the D line almost entirely, and the offensive line only has two solid draft picks and he has mostly struck out on free agents. Maybe Licht figures it out this off-season and drafts purely trench guys, and signs some more. But his four years here have been mostly hot garbage.

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  15. Scott’s argument for FAs coming to Tampa:

    Think what you want about his coaching job in 2017, Koetter became only the second head coach in Bucs history to win in his first season at the helm in Tampa Bay other than Gruden…

    Koetter is already winning the offseason by moving on from former defensive line coach Jay Hayes

    There are a host of very talented players on this team…There are teams with less talent in the league that can’t make their roster a selling point. Tampa Bay can.

    Who wouldn’t want to live in sunny Tampa, Fla. where it’s beach weather about eight months out of the year?

    Raymond James Stadium always has the top playing surface as voted on by NFL players

    Yet the biggest pitch the Bucs can make is in dollars and cents…Money talks in free agency, and free agents can keep more of their own money in Tampa Bay without paying state income tax.

    ———-

    This is one of the most pathetic SR/PR articles I’ve ever read, which is saying a lot. Free agency….Is it about Ownership? Nope. Culture? Nope. Community? Nope. Proud history? Nope. Commitment to excellence? Nope. Coaches and players who know how to win? Nope.

    It’s, come to Tampa, our coach doesn’t suck as bad as most of them have, it’s sunny and warm and the grass is soft, and since it’s all about the cash anyway you’ll get to keep more of it here.

    Absolutely freakin’ pathetic!! How can you write this bull——? Instead of pumping your customers you should be outraged by the epic incompetence of this franchise and the gross negligence of its idiot owners and the people they hire. Until leadership changes we’re doomed to mediocrity, I’m twisting in agony and you’re sending out the Pom-Pom girls to distract the patrons from their watered down drinks.

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  16. Well, Mac, I have a couple of years on you. You have a deeper football knowledge than I, however. I love your positive attitude and enthusiasm as a fan.

    I fell for some of the hype last year. But I still see the team as having made steady progress under the current regime. I still think the Bucs are set to become a playoff team.

    I see Winston as breaking through to elite status this year. I think he was a little young in years and a bit of a kid when he arrived. I look for him to really blossom in his 4th year rather than his 3rd year as a result. What think you?

    ___________
    Go Bucs!!!

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  17. I’ll get serious for a moment. My last post, and Honey Bears were critical of Licht, and got half negative votes. Just proves people believe what they want to believe. Fake news I guess but what I said was fact. Licht’s won, loss record is bad, we have many needs in many areas, after being here four years our pass rush is worse then when he got here. If you consider that a success enjoy losing.

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    • Surferdudes,. Agree with you. This has to be a make-or-break season for Licht .

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    • OK surferdudes, I’ll give you the fact that we haven’t won a lot lately and our pass rush is worse than when he got here, but…
      You have to take into account that we have had a VERY young QB over that span, hard to win a lot of games with a rookie/young QB in this league. Also, you have to admit that even though our pass rush is worse, our QB, WR’s, TE’s, and LB’s are all vastly improved over that span too. You can’t fix everything at once. Light has just concentrated on other positions.

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  18. Horse, Surferdudes, and Honeybear are right on the money. Licht is the CULPRIT folks. Just go back to his first statements of how he operates when he was hired. He believes in getting good value deals on free agents that are not the most expensive. On drafting he wants the BPA irregardless of needs as the best way to build teams. And what did the Glazer Boys do but open up the pocket book and he had Carte Blanche. Just look how many free agents he got to hire when he started. The problem was he was an awful chooser of talent and there were so many busts can you blame the Glazers from then not letting him blow out their wallets every year? Yes, he has found some talented players taking BPA instead of our needs. He has not filled our line needs on either sides of the ball and failed to get us a great RB when there were a lot of them in the last draft. The reason the Jaguars rose way up in just one year was their brilliance in getting as their GM the former Giant’s Coach who had beaten the Patriots in the SB by building up the needs of his lines first and added an outstanding RB, and he did exactly that again for the Jaguars taking the top RB in the draft, then building up their OL and DL and having good pass rushers like Campbell. He did just the opposite of Licht!!!
    If you keep Licht you will never get out of the cellar because he will get out smarted by every other GM in our Division just like he did in 2017. He keeps fooling the Glazier Boys but their Daddy would have already sent him packing.

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  19. Glazer boys are the problem, not Licht. Their dad would have given him better support so thus far. The kids meddle too much with coaching decisions they know nothing about. Like seriously Dirk doesn’t want to run the ball, period. He says he does, but doesn’t. The glazers picked him like they try to pick every coach not licht.

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  20. You have to compare Licht to other GM’s in the Division first then the league, not to Mark Dominic and his sorry drafting record. Licht has pissed a ton of money away on free agents and doesn’t seem to be able to get it fixed. Now it’s time to go shopping again and frankly I have zero confidence in him getting the right guys. If he doesn’t get at least 3 free agents to come in and start and play well, we need to find a new GM.

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  21. Licht also has to draft for our needs for the first time here, not BPA. Fix our trenches and get a top RB. Fix the backfield and Special Teams with Free Agents unless you can get the Gators Place Kicker in the Fifth or later in the draft.

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  22. They’re great at hiring, but quick to fire, since all those examples turned out to be a train wreaks in the end. Some did it to themselves, others weren’t given enough time. Nice article anyway.

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