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SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL.

FAB 1. Will Bucs Choose Koetter Or Gruden?

With a loss to the New Orleans Saints, who will be gunning for the NFC South division title on Sunday, the Tampa Bay Bucs will end up with a 4-12 record due to five straight losses to end the year.

Win or lose – expect a close game from these Buccaneers.

Why? Because the players have had every incentive to mail it in down the stretch and haven’t.

That bodes well for head coach Dirk Koetter.

His team hasn’t quit on them the way the Buccaneers did for Raheem Morris in 2011, for Greg Schiano in 2013 and perhaps even Lovie Smith in 2015.

The Glazers are taking notice.

Tampa Bay was starting three offensive linemen out of place in Green Bay, and missing starting running back Doug Martin and took the Packers to overtime before losing on the road by six points. Since then, the Bucs have suffered three consecutive losses by three points to Detroit, Atlanta and Carolina. The Bucs were in each of those games until the last minute.

This Bucs team has kept fighting.

Has it been because of the players’ own pride, or is it because they are playing hard for embattled head coach Dirk Koetter? That’s probably something the Glazers are trying to determine right now as they will decide Koetter’s fate next week.

“I am going to say this about Coach Koetter – and this is no knock to anybody I’ve ever played for – head coach-wise, Coach Koetter and Coach [Bob] Stoops are on the same level to me for guys that I’ve played for,” said Bucs Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. “Just for who they are and what they’ve been to me and just how they are as coaches. I love Coach Koetter. I love his family – his family is great people. Every now and then I slip up and call him Dirk and I apologize for that because I don’t want to call any of my coaches by their first name, but Coach Koetter – I love him. That’s all I can say… I will say this. Our coach has all of the support of us, this locker room, everyone around here and Gerald personally. I love Coach, I really do.”

Because of how hard the team has played and the amount of injuries the team has sustained, it is not a foregone conclusion that Koetter will be fired after Sunday’s game.

Unless the Glazers want to pursue former head coach Jon Gruden, offer him the job and he accepts, I don’t necessarily believe Koetter may be fired.

I don’t see a clear-cut upgrade out there aside from Gruden, and perhaps the Glazers don’t either.

Gruden may be putting feelers out there that he wants to coach again, and that his preference would be the Buccaneers, but would he actually pull the trigger and come back to the sidelines after nine years? We’ll have to wait and see. We’ll find out by next week.

Former Bucs head coach Jon Gruden - Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR
Former Bucs head coach Jon Gruden – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR

And would the Glazers want Gruden back? Despite the victories he produced, Gruden wasn’t the easiest coach to work with the first time around with high-profile spats with former general manager Rich McKay and wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson. Perhaps they feel Gruden belongs in the Bucs Ring of Honor at the stadium rather than on the sidelines.

Or perhaps the Glazers know that bringing Koetter back after a disappointing 4-12 or 5-11 season would be a very tough sell to the fan base in the offseason and that Raymond James Stadium certainly wouldn’t be more full in 2018 as a result. Heck, even the Stick Carriers are off the Koetter bandwagon.

Gruden’s return would electrify the fan base and likely raise the level of play among the Buccaneers players, too. He’s a master motivator and I have little doubt that he could take the Bucs to the next level. I’m not sure Koetter can.

But if Gruden doesn’t come back to coach in Tampa Bay either because he wasn’t asked, or he said no, then prepare for Year 3 of the Koetter regime.

“Let’s make one thing perfectly clear – these guys have played their asses off in terms of going out and giving the effort that you need to win,” said Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith. “Unfortunately, there [have] been a handful of plays that have not allowed us to do that. We’ve got to find a way to make those plays or coach those guys better.

“It’s unfortunate in terms of how this league is in terms of three or four weeks still to go in the season and they are talking about this and they are talking about that. All it is is talk. That’s what it is and you don’t listen to it because it is just talk. It is just freaking noise. We’ve got to go out and we’ve got to prepare each and every week no matter what is being said outside the building. It is what we do inside the building. These guys have played their tails off and I’m not going to have anybody ever say anything different to this group of guys because that’s what they’ve done. We haven’t won, but they have played hard.”

Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

That’s a fact, and that’s a positive for the “Keep Koetter” cause. But if Koetter does return, it’s highly likely that the Bucs would have to make some changes on the coaching staff, especially on the defensive side of the ball where defensive coordinator Mike Smith and defensive line coach Jay Hayes – and perhaps others – would likely have to fall on the sword for the radical drop in sacks this year and the awful play of Tampa Bay’s defense.

Bucs general manager Jason Licht appears to be returning for at least the 2018 season due to the fact that the Glazers picked up his option for next year, but the decision on whether or not Koetter stays will largely come down to the Glazers, as it does for every head coaching hire. The owners own the team, and ultimately they decide who runs it.

Aside from the team still playing hard, Koetter has another big factor in his favor. Jameis Winston, the team’s franchise quarterback and the most important person at One Buccaneer Place, has played much better since returning from his three-game hiatus when he was resting his injured shoulder.

When Winston was playing while injured in Weeks 6-9 when he played against Arizona, Buffalo, Carolina and New Orleans, he completed 65-of-105 passes (61.9 percent) for 722 yards with three touchdowns, three interceptions and a QB Rating of 79.9. Since returning to the lineup against Green Bay, Detroit, Atlanta and Carolina, Winston has completed 95-of-132 passes (72 percent) for 1,221 yards, with eight touchdowns, two interceptions and a QB rating of 114.5. His 302 yards per game average ranks first in the NFL ahead of Tom Brady (292 ypg).

Winston seemed to have Koetter’s back this week, and discussed what he’s learned in his three years playing for him.

Bucs QB Jameis Winston and head coach Dirk Koetter - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs QB Jameis Winston and head coach Dirk Koetter – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

“A lot – I always talk about the situational-type of things of when to protect the football, or when to scramble and when to get down,” Winston said. “Just kind of my development as a true professional has [come] a lot from him and Coach [Mike] Bajakian. As far as terminology and concept-wise, I had great, great coaching at Florida State. But again, it’s a different game. It’s a different game being up here on this level and you will be put in a lot of different situations. Dirk has been here [since] my first year. He came in – then he was the OC – as the head coach, it has been kind of different, but Dirk is the man. I think he has taught me a lot, especially just me playing quarterback. You just don’t understand that relationship in that quarterback room. We spend so much time together – me, him, Coach Bajakian [and] those other quarterbacks – it’s like a family. Everybody has their different characteristics, but at the end of the day we all love each other.”

I don’t know if the 9-7 season a year ago was the anomaly under Koetter, or if the double-digit losing record this year is? I doubt the Glazers do, either.

After two years I don’t know what the Bucs exactly have in Koetter. And again, I doubt the Glazers do, either.

How much will the outcome of Sunday’s game against New Orleans mean to the Glazers as they decide Koetter’s fate? How much will Winston’s recent performances influence their decision to keep Koetter or look elsewhere? How much will Gruden’s supposed interest in the Bucs head-coaching job play a factor?

In the end, I don’t think there’s a clear cut reason to fire Koetter given the injuries and the close losses other than the fact that scoring is down two points from the 22 points per game Tampa Bay put up last year despite more weapons this year. Outside of some game/clock mismanagement, that’s been Koetter’s biggest sin.

Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

If there are some significant changes to the defensive staff – except for linebackers coach Mark Duffner, who has done an admirable job and deserves to stay on – I could see how Koetter could survive for one more year. The Glazers know they have to create some stability and they can’t keep churning through coaches every two years. At the same time, if they don’t feel like they have the right guy it makes sense to move on.

Yet outside of Gruden, I don’t know if there is any sure-fire upgrade over Koetter out there this year. I’ve written about New England’s Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia before, but I can’t say that either would be a guaranteed success as Tampa Bay’s next head coach.

A phone call to Gruden after Sunday’s game (assuming there hasn’t been one already) could ultimately be the determining factor whether Gruden returns or Koetter continues on as head coach in Tampa Bay.

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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: [email protected]
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Pete Wood

I don’t want to fire Koetter or Smith. The only change I want is for Koetter to turn over play calling to OC.
I do not think Gruden is the answer.
Okay. I’m waiting for the angry villagers to storm my house with pitchforks and torches.

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Darrell

Who are the stick carriers? I wish y’all at PR would have a general consensus about this subject. Some say he’s definitely gone and now maybe not. I was hoping you had more insight than the rest of us lol.

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tpeluso

My feeling all along has been exactly what you said here and what the Pewter Poll should be changed to reflect: The ONLY reason to fire Koetter is if Gruden is already boxed, wrapped, tied up with a bow and waiting for us under the Christmas tree the day after Black Monday. If Gruden decides not to leave ESPN or chooses another team for his comeback, then Koetter should stay with appropriate changes (turning over play-calling, a new DC that runs a 3-4 that fits our defensive talent better).

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Ken Grant

Our personnel does NOT fit a 34 front. Spence on the edge is about it. The rest are pure 43 guys. Awful idea.

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BucWild02

I disagree with you Mr. Ken Grant. The Bucs have beef up front in McCoy, Baker, and Golston. Plus they will get Stevie Touiloulou(sp?) back next year and have Siliga currently. At LB, the Bucs have David, Alexander, Beckwith, and Spence. Thats a pretty good 3-4 lineup. Bucs could bring pressure from all over and finally(!!!) get their sack numbers up.

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surferdudes

Scott you contradict yourself a lot. You mention not having Martin for the G.B. game, yet admit he’s not very good anymore. Like having him that game would’ve made a difference. You want Smith, and Hayes gone, but want to keep Licht who hasn’t given them any help up front. Our D line sucks, that’s on Licht, he hasn’t paid much attention to that unit. You’re expecting Smith to get blood from a stone. I’m for cleaning house. Licht’s record speaks for itself, he’s been out drafted by all of our South counter parts the last four years. Koetter won’t… Read more »

Horse

Surderdudes, what is your real condifence percentages Gruden will actually Coach in Tampa? I’m about 10%. Even Scott has pulled back based on this weeks FAB 5.

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chipbuc

Scott the problem with keeping Koetter and firing Smith is, i don’t think any good defensive coordinator is coming in for maybe a one year stint if the bucs have another bad year. If your going to change the D coordinator i think you almost have to bring in a new head coach to bring in a quality coach to run the D.

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macabee

Sometimes you should just say nothing. The smart thing to do is to wait until Monday. However, perhaps inviting the wrath of my friends surferdudes and matador, I will say again, I will have no objection if Koetter is given another year as HC, but not if he refuses to change the DC. I have no expertise selecting DCs, but I can read. The consensus is that John Fox will not return as HC in Chicago. Fox has had a top 10 defense at Carolina, Denver, and Chicago. And he has expertise coaching the 3-4 scheme. Fox would be my… Read more »

Horse

Macabee; right with you.

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MudManVA

Amen mac

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MudManVA

Thanks Scott for the enjoyable read once again. I do think the Bucs best option is a 3-4 with all its talent at LB and Spence. The McCoy could be a beast at DE. I share the same thoughts as my PR readers above that we hoped you had insight into the coaching situation. You have been pretty hard in your stance that koetter would be fired & Gruden would be back up until this article. NOW you are backpedaling like our soft corners!!! LoL I would like stability at TB but I don’t think our current staff is the… Read more »

Horse

Koetter should stay only if he fires his DC and much of that coaching staff. I’m for changing to a 3-4, but I don’t see Spence in either the 3-4 or 4-3. He’s too small to play the 4-3 and not talented enough to play the 3-4 as he’s not that quick when it comes to reacting. Golhston is still aproblem whether it’s a 3-4 or a 4-3; he’s really just a rotational guy at best. We need two DE’s regardless of a 3-4 or a 4-3 in the very early rounds regardless of who we might sign in Free… Read more »

nitey

I’ve been in Koetter’s corner mostly up to the last game. He either needs to be Head Coach and give up play calling or resign himself to being a OC somewhere else. It’s apparent he can’t do both. I also believe if Koetter is retained it’s apparent his play calling hasn’t put his offensive players in their best position to succeed. His use of Jackson and Martin this season is more than enough evidence that he just didn’t do well enough. He speculated at his season ending conference last year that maybe he should give up play calling and if… Read more »

devasher

12/24/2017 – Scott Reynold’s 2-Point Conversion “STATEMENT 1: Gruden Returns In 2018 Notice how this is under the “Big Statement” section rather than under the “Bold Prediction” department? That’s right. This is a statement, not a prediction anymore.” QUESTION 2: What Happened Before Halftime With Koetter’s Clock Management? But the biggest factor in my opinion came in the first half when the Bucs had to settle for three field goals in the red zone. Yes, Koetter did stink in the red zone, and that’s been a recurring theme over the past two years, but in 2017 especially as the Bucs’… Read more »

JustaBuc

Dude, you beat me to quoting those exact quotes myself. Scott’s been riding Gruden’s jock all year and I hardly find it a coincidence that he SUDDENLY walks back on all of it when it’s heard that Koetter is coming back.

I wish I could be in the room myself if Reynolds and Koetter meets up. Scott gambled and lost big like I thought he would when you don’t put yourself on the team’s pulse and instead make conjectures. Learn your lesson Scott! Sources!

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stlbucsfan

Definitely disagree that there aren’t other candidates that can do a better job. I’ve mentioned Harbaugh on several occasions and think he’s 10x the coach Dirk has shown himself to be. I use the same logic with my Bucs as I did with my Gators. Why keep an offensive minded HC when the offense is trash/unproductive. With all the tools we have I’m sure Jeff Fisher could stumble through the season with similar results. You don’t fire a coach bc “well Im not sure what else we can get” you fire a coach bc he is not doing his job.… Read more »

Ken Grant

There is some truth here. Fab1 feels like some serious backtracking from the 2-pt. conversion piece.

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devasher

Scott could have just admitted he received information that he was wrong and stood on his previous critiques about Koetter, many of which are very reasonable. Scott could have pointed to things he was hopeful Koetter would improve on and how to get there, he could have discussed how the OC/DC’s of New England were great candidates that he still stood by but the Glazers were rumored to be interested in one more year with the current regime. But instead Scott spun like a top only 5 days after guaranteeing that Koetter would be fired, nary a mention about why… Read more »

JustaBuc

Amen yet again. Couldn’t have said it better myself devasher.

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Ken Grant

Gotta say Fab1 gives some excuses for Koetter that I don’t think hold up. Was the team hit with a sizeable amount of misfortune? Sure. Did Koetter make the appropriate adjustments both throughout the season and during games. Not ever close. We have watched conservative decision making, erratic play-calling, and stubborn gameplan approaches doom this team to loss after loss. Remember when in 2016 the defense “turned the page” and was allowed to speak up and communicate with each other and adjust the scheme to their strengths? Anyone wanna tell me why 2017 felt like deja vu only this time… Read more »

FilmBuc

Ok. Firing Smith for a guy like Horton – who has NEVER had an elte defense – makes zero sense. Smith has had better success in the past than Horton at almost every stop. Scott made a lot of excuses as to why Horton didn’t succeed in Tennese and why he was fired after one year stints TWICE – but doesn’t afford the same level of excuse for Smith who not only was not given any aditional pass rushers this offseason, but lost the only sem–mediocre ones he had to injury. I completely agree that Koetter should only be fired… Read more »

jongruden

I said from the start I did not think Koetter is head coach material I knew him well from his days here at ASU, Gruden has a resume which includes 3 division champs and a sb winner, I know he was successful in Oakland don’t know the exact record. This is not even a debate how could it be when comparing Gruden to a “hasn’t done squat coach” in Koetter? Gruden does well with vets and I would consider by next yr we have vets at key positions like Qb, WR, DT, LB O line etc he would bring a… Read more »

Horse

It’s been awhile Jon Gruden; now that we know he isn’t coming, hope to hear from you again. Where have you been?

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cgmaster27

This one is tough for me as I do like Koetter and I think Jameis can benefit from constant stability, but as some stated above, there would have to be other things in place. Mike Smith will clearly have to go and I really like Mac’s idea of getting John fox in there. Great idea Mac! Koetter would also need to give up play calling. His play calling in the red zone has been awful for the last two years for sure. That was he can focus on improving things more on his end of the time management side of… Read more »

drdneast

You mentioned three coaches the team has quit on since firing Gruden but you left out one very important coach in theat equation. Jon Gruden himself. As I recall, after Monte Kiffen announced he wouldn’t return to the Bucs the next year, the Bucs, who were 9-3 at the time, rolled over and played dead by losing four straight, including the final game against probably one of the worst QB’s ever in the NFL and a third or fourth string RB. The Bucs defense has been the overwhelming reason the Bucs have lost this year and Koetter has had no… Read more »

scubog

We always seem to agree on football related topics. If not Jon Gruden (mostly because of the “juice” his hiring would inject in the fandom), keeping Koetter and bringing in an entirely new defensive staff and maybe even some new special teams coaches is probably the right direction. I too don’t think Donovan Smith is anywhere near as bad as he’s portrayed; although he did struggle a bit against the Panthers. The O-line’s problem is in the middle.

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e

Nice article Scott… I don’t envy the position that the Glazers are in on Monday. I’m a fan of consistency, but what other names could be out there by weeks end? There always seems to be a big surprise at the end of every coaching carousel. As far as the 3-4 change… I could see that turning into a lost season of acclamation for the players on that, even though it makes sense on paper. Happy New Year’s to you, Mark, Trevor and staff and keep up the great work in ’18! Rate this item:Thumb UpThumb DownSubmit Rating00 No votes… Read more »

surferdudes

Horse my feeling on Gruden is about 90% he returns to coach the Bucs. I don’t see him wanting to leave for another city with his son entering his senior year. This is his home. I think he’s had his fill of broadcasting, and at his age, it’s now or never. The guy is a competitor, it’s his passion, said it himself a few weeks ago. Gruden has never said it publicly, but he’s heard it forever, he won with Dungy’s team. I think that statement sticks in his craw. Should he take over a 4-12 Buc team to winning… Read more »

macabee

Come on PR report the latest news. The Glazers have named Dirk Koetter as the 2018 Bucs head coach.

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martinii

Mac, I haven’t posted anything because I am reading this late in the day and don’t want to bust anybody’s bubble.

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Jake from state farm

Stupid idea. Make Gerald McCoy a 2 gap defender? His strength is his get off and penetration skills. Making him a two-gap defender negates that. That’s just not using players to their strength. Hense, the reason why we are where we are always.

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buddah

Finally a balanced assessment. Good analysis. I prefer Koetter but would root for Gruden. All teams in today’s NFL are flawed. jo

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GoldsonAges

Thank God Koetter is coming back. Maybe PR can hit on a 2 point conversion because ever since they started up the Gruden hype the articles have been unreadable trash, coming from a life long PR fan

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