FAB 2. Koetter Enters 2018 On The Hot Seat
Thankfully, the Buccaneers have dropped the “Siege The Day” slogan that they’ve used for the past two years in favor of two new and better marketing slogans – “Wreak Havoc” and “Fire The Cannons.”
Keep in mind that “Siege The Day” was a vast improvement over the ill-fated decision to go with “It’s A Bucs Life.”
But after years of buying into the hype – and promoting the hype – from PewterReport.com and other local and national media outlets about the Bucs finally turning the corner, I think the better, more appropriate slogan needs to be “No More Excuses.”
Expectations were high last season coming off a 9-7 season in 2016, but the 2018 Buccaneers are far more talented than last year’s krewe, which unexpectedly folded under the pressure of playoff talk and Hard Knocks and finished 5-11.
There is no reason why this team should have double-digit losses in 2018 – or even a losing season. I may or may not predict a winning record for Tampa Bay based on how the team performs in training camp and plays in the preseason. We’ll see.
But one thing I do know is that Bucs general manager Jason Licht and his front office is coming off a tremendous offseason in which the team acquired some star-caliber players in defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, defensive tackle Vita Vea, running back Ronald Jones II and cornerback Carlton Davis, as well as acquiring some “glue guys” – players like defensive tackles tackle Beau Allen and Mitch Unrein and defensive end Vinny Curry that bring heart, soul, toughness and leadership to Tampa Bay. Not to mention locking up wide receiver Mike Evans and tight end Cameron Brate to long-term extensions.
Why Licht himself hasn’t been locked up with a contract extension yet might be a crime. Hey Glazers, this is a playoff-caliber roster on paper. Licht has done his job.
Now it’s time for this coaching staff to live up to its reputation, starting with head coach Dirk Koetter.
There is enough talent on both sides of the ball to produce a winning record and make a legitimate run at the playoffs.
Even with a tough schedule.
Even starting the season with Ryan Fitzpatrick for the first three games while Jameis Winston serves his suspension.
This team fought hard for Koetter despite battling through a slew of injuries to Winston, linebackers Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David, cornerback Brent Grimes, right tackle Demar Dotson and others. The Glazers did entertain the notion of replacing Koetter with Jon Gruden until Gruden’s price became sky high – too high. I don’t blame the Glazers for sticking with Koetter.
And stick with Koetter they did. The Glazers didn’t fire him because they didn’t see a better candidate out there despite the likes of New England defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and Philadelphia offensive coordinator Frank Reich being available fresh from last year’s Super Bowl. Both are unproven as NFL head coaches.
Koetter did post a 9-7 record in his first season as a head coach in 2016. The only other Tampa Bay head coach to accomplish that feat was Gruden in 2002 – and we all remember how that season turned out.
But because of last year’s 5-11 record, Koetter enters the 2018 campaign on the hot seat. His Buccaneers can’t have another bad year.
Why? The Glazers have never kept a head coach who has produced back-to-back losing seasons.
Greg Schiano went 7-9 and 4-12 from 2012-13 before giving way to Lovie Smith in 2014. Smith was fired after going 2-14 and 6-10 from 2014-15.
It doesn’t matter that Koetter had a winning record in 2016. Raheem Morris was fired after going 4-12 following a 10-6 season in 2010.
Some would call the Glazers impatient. I believe they simply don’t want to settle for losing, and should be applauded for that approach.
So Koetter enters 2018 on the hot seat against New Orleans, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh without his young star quarterback. Not ideal, but not fatal.
I’ve said it before. Don’t waste your lead on penciling these Bucs with a 0-3 start. I don’t think it happens, but the coaches have to put in the right game plans, dial up the right play calls and get the most of their players.
No excuses, Dirk. It’s time to coach.
While Fitzpatrick doesn’t have Winston’s physical ability, Koetter does have a veteran quarterback who went 2-1 last year in Tampa Bay while Winston was injured, and a guy that has 119 career starts under his belt. Fitzpatrick will have a plethora of weapons at his disposal to distribute the ball to, and what looks to be an improved offensive line and ground game to lean on.
Koetter will have even more help this year with Todd Monken taking on a full-time offensive coordinator role. Monken should help Koetter with play-calling recommendations, especially in the red zone. That in turn should free up Koetter’s mind a bit so he can become a better game situation-manager on the sidelines.
On the defensive side, coordinator Mike Smith didn’t forget how to coach. Smith was hamstrung without effective proven pass rushers outside of Gerald McCoy, and a secondary that lacked experience and playmaking ability outside of Grimes.
Tampa Bay’s defensive line went from being nearly empty cupboard except for McCoy to a pantry full of talent in just one offseason. Not to mention the addition of new defensive line coach Brentson Buckner that everyone at One Buccaneer Place is raving about.
The Bucs secondary should also be improved as young players like cornerbacks Vernon Hargreaves III and Ryan Smith, as well as free safety Justin Evans, are more experienced heading into this season. Adding two young talented cornerbacks in Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart in the second round of the draft only helps.
Having a viable pass rush and more talent in the secondary should aid Smith in opening up the defensive playbook. Smith’s defense should be less predictable and more aggressive in 2018 as a result.
As long as Koetter and the coaches do their part the Bucs should bounce back to at least .500 this season. If Koetter goes 8-8 or 9-7 again this season but the Bucs fall short of the postseason that should get him off the hot seat because he will avoid the dreaded back-to-back losing seasons that doomed Schiano and Smith.
If the Bucs finish 8-8 or 9-7 it will simply be a judgment call by the Glazers as to whether they believe Koetter can deliver a long-awaited playoff berth to Tampa Bay and whether he is the long-term answer at head coach, but I would think he gets the benefit of the doubt in that case, as a three- or four-win improvement is a significant improvement.
Koetter’s fate in Tampa Bay resides right there on his play-call sheet, just as it does for Smith. With a roster that should be able to go toe-to-toe with the likes of New Orleans, Atlanta and Carolina, there are no excuses this year for Koetter or Smith.
It’s time to once again prove that they can be damn play-callers and truly maximize the talent they have on the Bucs roster to get off the hot seat and stay in Tampa Bay for the long haul.
I believe they can do it.