This is not a call for Dirk Koetter to be fired.
This is merely a warning.
Following a 38-33 defeat in the desert in Arizona, the Bucs are now 2-3 on the season and coming off brutal back-to-back losses.
If things don’t improve – and improve quickly – the narrative in Tampa Bay will soon become “Fire Koetter.”
That’s a campaign I do not want to be leading the charge of.
Tampa Bay should have beaten New England on Thursday Night Football in a 19-14 loss, but started slow offensively, and some questionable play-calling and clock management proved to be costly – in addition to Nick Folk’s three missed field goals. Then after having 10 days – TEN DAYS – to prepare for the Cardinals, the Bucs looked completely unprepared and out-coached as they trailed 24-0 at halftime.
“It’s disappointing and it’s embarrassing and it starts with me,” Koetter said.
Once again, some very questionable decisions by Koetter, such as not going for a field goal before halftime and opting for ill-advised two-point conversions instead of extra point kicks proved to be costly for the Bucs. Instead of being down a touchdown after Lavonte David’s forced fumble and fumble recovery for a score in the fourth quarter, Tampa Bay trailed by 11 points.
Instead of having the score tied at 38-38 with just over two minutes remaining, the Bucs trailed by five points. Koetter was chasing points the entire second half, and he’s done that too much in his year and a half on the job in Tampa Bay.
Would a field goal and those extra points have mattered in the long run the way the Bucs came out and trailed 31-0 early in the third quarter? Sure looked like it, but Koetter didn’t seem to think so.
“We would have still been short,” Koetter said. “We were down a long, long ways. We didn’t get three, so add three more points on there and we’re still short. You just can’t spot them like that.
“We had an opportunity to score before the half, and felt like we needed to score a touchdown at that point. It didn’t work out. It starts with a stop and a score. We were able to build on a little bit of it from there, but that’s not the story. The story is that you can’t spot an NFL team 31 points and think you are going to come back.”
Koetter’s right. A team with playoff expectations shouldn’t be trailing anybody 31-0.
That’s what the Glazers have to be thinking right now, too.
Is Koetter better than Lovie Smith was? Heavens yes.
I called for Smith to be fired and Koetter to replace him after the Collapse at the Capital when the Bucs blew a 24-0 lead during the 2015 season in a 31-30 loss at Washington. This game – the Ambush at Arizona – was the exact opposite where the Bucs didn’t blow a lead, but rather spotted the Cardinals 31 points before a second half rally that came up painfully short.
Is Koetter better than Raheem Morris and Greg Schiano were? The fact that he is the only one of two men in team history to begin his head coaching career in Tampa Bay with a winning record suggests that he is indeed better.
But is Koetter better than Jon Gruden?
You remember Chucky, don’t you? He was the guy that delivered the Bucs its first and only Super Bowl championship in his first season. Obviously, Gruden is the other guy that posted a winning record in his first season in Tampa Bay.
Gruden is also going to be the next guy going into the Bucs Ring of Honor in December after finishing as Tampa Bay’s all-time winning coach. You might have seen him on ESPN’s Monday Night Football or pitching Coronas on TV commercials.
Gruden has made amends with the Glazers, who welcomed him back with open arms during training camp and held a press conference for him to officially announce his induction into the Bucs Ring of Honor.
Gruden was also the guy the Glazers fired after finishing 0-4 down the stretch of the 2008 season, as a 9-7 record wasn’t good enough to make the playoffs that year. Since then Gruden hasn’t coached a down anywhere other than Carrollwood Day School in Tampa, and has turned down a plethora of college head coaching jobs and passed on a few opportunities in the NFL, too.
Is he ready to return to the NFL? As you may remember, Gruden told me that he was preparing for a comeback in my pre-training camp SR’s Fab 5 that made national news.
“Just about every year I talk about coming back to coach,” Gruden said. “I’m not in here every day at 4:30 or 4:00 in the morning watching pinball. You know? I’m preparing myself to come back. I am. Every day. I’m preparing to come back.”
Gruden’s dream job would be the Buccaneers, those closest to him tell me.
Gruden still lives in Tampa. He still roots for the Buccaneers. Gruden still considers himself part of the franchise, as he should.
Gruden, who has stayed current with the NFL and college football through his ESPN gig, has gone on record to share his desire to work with young Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston and has credited general manager Jason Licht with doing a good job of collecting talent in the draft.
“I would like to develop Jameis,” Gruden said. “Who wouldn’t want to develop Matt Ryan or Jameis Winston, you know? What are we saying here? If we had taken one it would have been a lot of fun. Unfortunately, you’re drafting one in the sixth round, and you’re developing Bruce Gradkowski. You know? You’re developing Chris Simms at the end of the third round.”
If Koetter doesn’t find a way to get this team on track and do a better job with game management, a problem that has reared its ugly head too many times dating back to the loss to the Los Angeles Rams last year in Week 3, you’re going to be hearing Gruden’s name more and more from the media and the fans as a candidate to replace Koetter if it ever came to that.
And that name might be appearing in the Glazers’ minds, too.
The Glazers have already fired their last two coaches – Schiano and Smith after just two years. Morris was canned after three seasons, and one year removed from a 10-6 record.
Would they do the same to Koetter if the Bucs underachieve and underwhelm in what is supposed to be a breakthrough, playoff year?
Some view the Glazers’ quick, trigger-finger approach as impatient.
I’ve always applauded it and viewed it as the Glazers not settling for mediocrity.
A 2-3 record is mediocrity, folks, especially as the Bucs are currently dead last in the NFC South. The Panthers lead the division with a 4-2 record and the Falcons and Saints are both tied at 3-2.
Keep in mind that the Bucs were 2-3 after five games last year and Koetter was able to right the ship and finish 9-7. But that was thanks to a sudden dominance by Tampa Bay’s defense, which doesn’t look nearly as dominant this year, especially after surrendering over 400 yards and 38 points to Arizona, which was 2-3 coming into Sunday’s game.
And that was also with a healthy Winston. Tampa Bay’s starting quarterback went down hard on his throwing shoulder in the first half and exited the game early. After the game Koetter said that x-rays were negative and that an MRI is scheduled for Monday. But Koetter may have to rely on backup Ryan Fitzpatrick next week at Buffalo – and perhaps beyond.
“He’s not the first or last quarterback that is going to have an injury,” Koetter said after the game. “Obviously there is a big injury in Green Bay as well today. Injuries are an unfortunate part of the game. Jameis is as tough as they come. This isn’t about toughness. This is about – you know, he got a shoulder injury and couldn’t throw the football. He couldn’t do his job. We’ll just have to see what happens.”
The Glazers have already shown a penchant for going back to the glory days for a head coaching hire with Smith. Could they do it again with Gruden, who would be a much better option than Smith ever was?
The players love Koetter, who makes sure that football is fun for his players, and haven’t showed any amount of frustration with their head coach yet. But perhaps the Bucs players are too focused on dancing to hip-hop and trap music in practice and their daily ping-pong tournaments in the locker room than they are their upcoming opponents.
Koetter needs to put the kibosh on that until this team can start coming out focused to play football in the first quarter. Real fun comes from winning football games, not ping pong matches.
For whatever reason, the Bucs are too often unprepared on Sundays and get off to too many slow starts. Playoff teams don’t act that like. That’s on the head coach.
The Bucs haven’t seen an increase in points per game in the last three seasons that Koetter has been calling plays despite an increase in talent along the offensive line and in the team’s arsenal of weapons. That’s also on Koetter.
I like Koetter and hope he can turn the Bucs around and do it quickly. This team would be better off with some stability for the long term – but only if there is progress.
If Tampa Bay is still going to go 10-6 and have a shot at the playoffs, Koetter will have to push the right buttons – and become much better at game management – to have this team go 8-3 down the stretch. The fact that the Bucs have yet to play the Panthers, the Saints or the Falcons makes it a daunting task.
If Koetter isn’t up to it, I wonder if the Glazers start thinking that Gruden, who won three division titles in Tampa Bay in addition to the Super Bowl, may be.