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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.