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 KOETTER GIVE UP PLAY-CALLING DUTIES?
Say it ain’t so, Dirk.
Tampa Bay head coach Dirk Koetter created some mini-shockwaves at his season-ending press conference when he opened up about the possibility that he may turn over the play-calling duties on offense to an assistant coach in 2017 and just focus on his head-coaching duties.
“I have a lot of thoughts about it,” Koetter said on January 2. “I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I am probably not ready to make any crazy announcements on any of that today because I think about a lot of stuff all the time. I think all the time, how can I, in the stuff that I control, make us better and are there places where I am making us worse? I learned as a head coach, I’d love to have more time to get involved with individual players on a daily basis. When I do get a chance to talk to players one-on-one, I enjoy it. I enjoy the motivational part of trying to reach guys and different groups on the team.
“As far as my schedule goes, I am asking myself all the time, are the things I have to spend my time on, are those in the best interest of helping the Bucs win games or am I spinning my wheels on stuff that doesn’t really matter and what’s the most important things to helping us win? So, those are questions that don’t all have to be answered today. Because of the changeover in the NFL, we have to see how some of that shakes out as well because it might not be possible for the staff to come back 100 percent the same way. We’ll just have to see how that works out in the coming days.”
The good news for Koetter – actually the best news possible – is that Mike Smith will stay on as the Bucs’ defensive coordinator for the foreseeable future. How does that play a role in Koetter continuing to call the plays on offense or surrender those duties to someone else? It makes it more like that Koetter remains the play-caller because he has full trust and confidence in Smith, whom he has spent five years coaching with in Jacksonville, Atlanta and Tampa Bay, running the defense without any supervision.
With Smith returning for his second season with the Bucs – and the team’s entire coaching staff remaining intact – Koetter can focus solely on the offensive side of the ball with offensive coordinator and trusted friend Todd Moken. Without Smith, Koetter might have felt more compelled to turn things over to Monken so he could spend more time sitting in on defensive meetings and making sure that there was cohesion and on-going chemistry among the defensive staff with a new defensive coordinator.
Koetter hasn’t come to any conclusions about turning over the play-calling to Monken or another assistant, and indicated that he’ll continue to think about it and analyze the possibility during the offseason.
“Until September 10th next year,” Koetter said. “I have that long.”
The guess here is that Koetter continues to call the plays, and the reason he even volunteered that possibility that he might not with the media on January 2 is because he’s a straight shooter and wears his emotions on his sleeves. There isn’t much reading between the lines when it comes to Koetter. The truth is in his words. There is no coach-speak, and that’s so refreshing.
“I’ve always been a play caller,” Koetter said. “I love being a play caller. That’s one of the best things about the game, but with
being the head coach this year, I have more responsibilities and I have really enjoyed my interaction with the players. I’ve really enjoyed to go in and do the team meetings every day. That takes time. I don’t just get up there and wing it from the hip like I do in here [laughs]. It actually takes preparation time. Everything I say in front of the team. I take very seriously. So, I want to back it up, not just BS those guys. I try to never BS those guys.
“So, I ask myself, ‘If I spent more time on it, could I do a better job?’ But, at the same time, I look around the league at other, there are plenty of other coaches in the league that are doing it the way we did it here this year. You look at some of the guys I consider top play callers in this league; [Green Bay head coach] Mike McCarthy, [New Orleans head coach] Sean Payton, [Kansas City head coach] Andy Reid. They’re guys that have been the play caller, they’ve given it up and they’ve always taken it back. When that day comes when I do give it up, I don’t want to take it back. I want to be sure.”
The fact that Koetter is unsure how he would feel about relinquishing control of the offense to an assistant tells me all I need to know. He’s not going to surrender it, nor should he.
If Koetter wants to spend more time motivating players and talking to them he can accomplish a good deal of that in the offseason program now that the Bucs offensive and defensive systems have been installed and he has a year’s worth of experience as a head coach. There isn’t much time to do that during the season when Koetter is heavily involved in game-planning for the Bucs’ next opponent.
The challenge of being Tampa Bay’s play-caller and head coach for Koetter isn’t on Sunday wearing both hats. It’s in the days leading up to game day trying to split his time in different areas of the offense and the team in general.
“Oh, it’s during the week,” Koetter said. “Shoot, Sunday afternoons, if you are prepared – I definitely spend a lot of time preparing. The one thing that I wasn’t able to do as much this year as I have been in the past, is I’m in every offensive install meeting listening to the coaches. I used to do all the installs myself. The coaches did it this year. I’m right in there. I chime in from time to time. But, I’m not sitting in the quarterback meeting rooms as much as I used to just because my time won’t allow me. With that said, I also have a huge amount of confidence in the guy that’s in there running those quarterback meetings in Mike Bajakian. I think he does a fantastic job with Jameis [Winston] and with our other quarterbacks. So, for me to sit in there and listen to Mike talk for an hour and a half every day, I might have a better use of my time than that. If I’m not going to be doing the talking, I’ve got other things that I can be doing during that time as well.”
Koetter needs to realize that it was his offensive play-calling prowess and how he interacted with the offensive players and got them to follow his lead that got him the head-coaching job in the first place. The Bucs went over the 6,000-yard mark for the first time in team history in 2015 on Koetter’s watch. Last year’s production wasn’t quite as good, especially in the explosive plays department, but Tampa Bay’s offense still generated over 5,500 yards despite injuries to key weapons, such as running backs Doug Martin and Charles Sims and receiver Vincent Jackson, in addition to the team releasing former second-round pick tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins prior to Week 3.
With some more weapons, more speed on offense and the team’s young players benefitting from another year’s worth of experience, Koetter’s offense should rebound and reach new heights in 2017. Kudos to Koetter for even considering giving up the play-calling if it would benefit the team.
“I’m contemplating how does our team get better in all areas?” Koetter said. “When we look at everything, if there is someone out there that can do a better job to help us than me calling the plays, then that’s something that we definitely need to look at.”
Very few NFL head coaches would put aside their egos to give any thought about relinquishing the play-calling duties. To Koetter it’s all about getting better and winning.
Nothing else matters to him aside from winning. I know that now more than ever after getting to know him better this year.
Of course what prompted him to think about the option of just being a head coach and letting Monken, Bajakian or offensive line coach George Warhop call plays are the ones that got away. It’s always the plays that didn’t work that burn up more brain cells than the ones that did.
“Every play that doesn’t work,” Koetter said when asked which plays he wished he could have back from his rookie season as Tampa Bay’s head coach. “I’m not kidding. I’m not kidding about that.
“I joke about it, but anything that doesn’t go right or doesn’t go the way I expected it to go or I planned it to go, eats at me. But what eats at me, I hope doesn’t ever hold me back from moving forward because you’ve got to move forward, you’ve got to move on. You’ve just got to learn your lessons and move on.”
The lesson Koetter needs to realize is that he will look back on 2016 and improve as both a head coach and a play-caller, but that he doesn’t need to give up the play sheet. Nor should he because he knows he will only regret it and take it back at some point.
“It’s demanding,” Koetter said of being the head coach and play-caller. “I thought I was ready for it and still think that today, but I also believe that you learn and you’ve got to admit your mistakes and you know what? Sometimes my mistakes that I admit to aren’t the same ones you guys think I miss. You guys are still criticizing me for some that I don’t think I miss. But the ones I think I’ve made, I’ll be the first to admit them. And I’ll be better next year than I was this year and I’ll be better the year after that than I am next year.”
After talking with some Bucs sources this week about this topic I would be shocked if Koetter ends up giving up control of the play-calling on Sundays.
“I made plenty of mistakes and I’m going to do better next year, I promise you,” Koetter said.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org