Thursday, March 22, 2018

Bucs sticking with Dirk Koetter for 2018

Choosing stability and overlooking the recent lack of success, the Bucs have informed coach Dirk Koetter he will return as head coach in 2018.

The Glazer family, which owns the team, made the decision Friday afternoon and general manager Jason Licht informed Koetter that he would be back next season despite a 4-11 record which includes a pair of five-game losing streaks.

"Obviously, I'm very grateful to the Glazer family of their support," Koetter said Friday night on his weekly radio show. "But I think that anything further on my status or the status of the staff or what we're going to do in the future should wait until after the game on Sunday.

"Everybody is evaluated at the end of the year, including me, and we'll start that process come Monday."

Koetter is 13-18 in his two seasons as head coach but has been instrumental in the progress of third year quarterback Jameis Winston.

In coaching a third season, Koetter is getting an opportunity not afforded to to former Bucs Greg Schiano and Lovie Smith before him.

Among the reasons for sticking with Koetter includes the fact that Winston suffered a shoulder injury that forced him to miss three games and saw him struggle to play three others while hurt.

Over the past  four weeks since returning from his injury, Winston leads the NFL in passer rating (114.5) and yards per attempt (9.25) while ranking third in completion percentage (72.0), fourth in yards (1,221 and tied for the fourth most touchdown passes with eight.

There had been much speculation in the past few months that former Bucs coach Jon Gruden, the star of Monday Night Football, was closer to returning to coaching and that he might considering taking his old job in Tampa Bay if it became available.

Gruden was inducted into the team's Ring of Honor on December 18 as the Bucs lost to the Falcons 24-21 on Monday Night Football.

A year ago, Dirk Koetter went 9-7 and the Bucs missed the post-season by the third tie-breaker to the Detroit Lions.

Koetter  was the Bucs offensive coordinator when Winston came to the NFL. As head coach, he still is the play-caller and mentor entrusted to develop the franchise quarterback and fulfill his promise as a No. 1 overall pick.

"Dirk has been here (since) my first year,'' Winston said. "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, (quarterbacks coach Mike) 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."

Koetter was notified of the decision just two days before the Bucs play their season finale against the New Orleans Saints at Raymond James Stadium. The fact that Licht delivered the news would indicate that he will return in next season as well. The Bucs picked up a one-year option for 2018 on Licht's contract at the start of the year.

In addition to continuity with the offense and Winston, there are several other reasons the Bucs felt Koetter deserved a chance to right the ship.

The Bucs have played tough down the stretch. Six of their last seven games have been decided by one score with Tampa Bay going 1-5 in those contests.

Injuries also were a major factor in the record this season. The Bucs have seven starting quality players on injured reserve, including defensive end Noah Spence, who played in only three games before undergoing shoulder surgery.

The Bucs have invested heavily in surrounding Winston with a supporting cast on offense at the expense of their defense. Tampa Bay has drafted only two defensive linemen in the past four years and are last in the NFL with 20 sacks this season.

In retrospect, the Bucs probably should've waited for Winston to fully recover after he sprained the AC joint in his right shoulder at Arizona Oct. 15.

Winston was unable to practice until Friday, and despite a good second half in a loss the next week at Buffalo, he was unable to make certain throws and turned down others.

Playing Weeks 6-9 when injured, Winston went 65 for 105 (61.9%) passing for 722 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions for a passer rating of 79.9 Since returning from injury at Green Bay Dec. 3, he is 95 for 132 passing (72.0%) for 1,221 yards with 8 TDs, 2 INTs and a passer rating of 114.5. Winston's 302 yards per game passing average since returning ranks first in NFL ahead of Tom Brady (292 yards).

"The numbers are so dramatic. I think, like a lot of stuff, that is a hard thing to measure because no one really knows,'' Koetter said. "A shoulder injury to a quarterback, 'Okay, does it affect him five percent? Does it affect him 10 percent?' At some percent there, he wouldn't have played. The doctors wouldn't have cleared him to play. So, it's a hard thing to judge, but the numbers are so dramatic. When you talk to Jameis about that, he's got a couple other things that he would point to, but it's really hard other than health – I mean, he is healthier and that is the main difference."

Both Koetter and Winston had said a report that their relationship was "in a bad place," was false.

In the past two games, Winston has played his best football. The past two games, he has completed more than 75 percent of his passes with four touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of at least 130.

But other factors — such as Hurricane Irma postponing the season opener at Miami, injuries and missed kicks by Nick Folk and Patrick  Murray, have contributed to the poor record.