FAB 4. Koetter Remains A Well-Liked Players’ Coach
Tampa Bay head coach Dirk Koetter appeared to be on the ropes during a disappointing 5-11 season in 2017 – a year in which expectations were sky high. The Glazers were flirting with former head coach Jon Gruden, but ultimately decided to stick with Koetter for one big reason.
The Bucs players genuinely liked Koetter and continued to play hard for him down the stretch. In a four-week span, Tampa Bay lost by six points in an overtime game at Green Bay, followed by three-straight three-point losses to Detroit, Atlanta and Carolina before upsetting NFC South champion New Orleans in the season finale.
Koetter continued to earn the players’ respect by keeping offensive coordinator Todd Monken as the play-caller during the start of the regular season after exceling in that role in the preseason. Then he opened some eyes by soliciting every player for feedback during the Bucs’ bye week.
“In a couple of areas – I’m not going to tell you the areas, but just some areas that I felt like I wanted to see,” Koetter said. “When you’re a college coach and guys aren’t leaving town, you from time-to-time meet with every guy on your team. Well, I didn’t have time with everybody leaving last Tuesday for six days to meet with every guy. I put together just a very short thing that I asked the guys to give me some feedback and they did an awesome job. I really appreciate their honesty because sometimes honesty can be self-defeating – make yourself look bad – but I appreciate their honesty. The communication I think both ways – player-coach, coach-player – was good.”
I asked new Bucs defensive tackle Beau Allen, who has played for two other head coaches in Chip Kelly and Doug Pederson in Philadelphia, if he has ever had a coach ask for that type of input from the entire team.
“Teams always do a lot of self scouting, self evaluation and stuff like that during the bye week,” Allen said. “I guess from that point of view it’s not new to me, but I think the way he approached it was good. A lot of times coaches will ask senior, veteran players stuff like that for answers but he asked everybody, which I thought was cool. Because you never know what you’re going to get from younger players or what you can learn from anybody really. You never know what’s going to help you out so I think that’s a good thing.
“He’s willing to learn, man, and that’s a good thing. We talked about that in the offseason a lot. I think it’s good to see that from your head coach. I think that sets a good example for us that it doesn’t matter who you are, you can always learn from anybody. That’s a good thing. I like him. I think he’s a good coach. I’ve never had any problem approaching him or having a conversation with him about anything, really, whether it’s football-related or not football-related. I think he does a good job of cutting through the BS and saying what needs to be said and that kind of thing. That’s one thing I appreciate as a player is that’s when coaches are direct with you, and they don’t hide from things, they don’t sweep things under the rug. I think with what we were talking about earlier, him figuring out what we need to do better during the bye week, I think that’s a good example of that.”
Bucs defensive end Will Gholston, who has also played for Greg Schiano and Lovie Smith in Tampa Bay, appreciates Koetter’s approach.
“I think that’s great, and it shows that he really cares what we think,” Gholston said. “Because we are basically a family, and we’ve got to work together. So him coming to us and asking us how we feel, what we feel we can do better, what we feel we need to do more of or less of – I think that helps a lot and that made me feel comfortable.
“From all of the coaches I’ve had, there’s always been a different type of culture atmosphere with him, and I appreciate that. It makes you run through a wall for somebody when you know that they care about what you think.”
Koetter continued doing the right thing for the team this week by holding off on voting for team captains until a few games have been played. That’s never been done before in Tampa Bay.
Koetter has previously picked game day captains through the first four games of the season, and that practice will continue on Sunday in Atlanta. But Koetter will have his players vote for team captains soon.
“There’s going to come a time where we can’t do that anymore because the league to wear the ‘C’ on your chest, there’s a deadline,” Koetter said. “I definitely want our guys to have that experience. It’s important to them. That deadline’s coming up, so we will – the plan all along – we will have the players vote for season captains.
“I didn’t want this to be a popularity contest. I wanted there to be some games played and ups and some downs in the season to let the players really decide who they think the real leaders are instead of just maybe guys that are perceived as leaders. It still might end up the same way, and I’m fine if it does. It’s their vote. I’m not going to sway that, but that’s why I did it that way.”
Last year’s team captains were quarterback Jameis Winston and wide receiver Mike Evans on offense, and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebackers Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander on defense and former gunner Josh Robinson on special teams.
Will those same captains – except Robinson, who is not on the team anymore – get re-elected? Or will a player like defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who leads the team in sacks and gave an impassioned speech on the sidelines at Chicago unseat a fellow defender – perhaps McCoy?
We’ll have to wait and see.
Koetter is very well liked by the players in the locker room, and I think that he has been making a lot of the right moves this season – the latest of which is waiting until the second month of the season to vote on team captains. It will be interesting to see how the voting shakes out.